Writing Postures

About 8 months ago now, my husband and I were very excited to buy a home, one that was big enough to house the children. We had been searching for the perfect house for months, had put an offer in on another house that fell through when the inspection revealed fatal flaws in the old place… but this one was all shiny and newly renovated and the only minor flaw was that it didn’t have a fourth bedroom to use as office/guest bedroom. No problem, I thought. I’ll make the dining room into my office. We can put the First Reader in our (very large) master bedroom so he has the quiet he needs, but I’ll be out in the public spaces so the kids stop invading our bedroom all the time to talk to me.

Right. So that was a tactical error, as I am certain any parents reading along have already realized. But then, I compounded it. See, at work we’ve been transitioning folks into standing desks – cool ones you can raise or lower depending on what you need at the time. I looked at the price of one, shook my head, and went looking for cheaper options. I allowed myself to be seduced with the idea of a counter-height desk with a drafting table top. I could sit at it in a tall task chair, I could slant the writing surface to use it for art, I could mount the monitors (I currently work with two) on adjustable arms. So in theory, it could be used for standing work, sitting, art, writing… Yeah. I think you’re already ahead of me here.

About six months into this whole experiment, I was very painfully aware it was Not Working for me as a writer (or an artist, but that’s a different story). It’s not just the sit/stand desk that isn’t quite the right height for either (I’m short. The task chair I bought gives me no back support because little Hobbit legs, unless I sit crosslegged on it, which I do, but then I have other issues). The big problem is that I can’t get away from the hubbub of daily life going on around me. I dearly love all of my teens, I really do. I treasure the times I get to spend with them as they are nearing the day when they will fly the nest and I’ll sit here lonely staring at my phone awaiting their call. Ahem. It’s not that I want to be… oh, heck. I’m excited about becoming an empty nester. But in the meantime, my little (note: they are all taller than I am now) monsters need me. And they try to tiptoe around when they know I’m writing, and that might possibly be worse than walking up and starting to talk to me about their favorite Twitch streamer (don’t ask. I have no idea).

So I discovered the only real way I could write was to retreat into my bedroom, to the armchair by the fireplace next to my husband’s desk, and use a little tray table I bought for crafting as a writing surface for my tablet and keyboard. Essentially, my travel writing setup had become my all-the-time setup. And this still had flaws. For one, the height was still wrong for my hands versus the keyboard. The ergonomics were bad. So… it went on. I wrote less and less and struggled with time for writing and because it hurt, wasn’t wanting to write even when I carved out time.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to find the writing posture that works for you. I’ve discovered a few things over the last several years – this changes, for one. What worked for me as a writing environment in 2013 doesn’t work for me in 2019 and it’s not just that the house around me has changed. What I finally started doing was experimenting with different things. For one, I now have an office that is remote from the house, where I can go and write. I don’t play music there, I don’t have background noise of a video playing, I just write. And it’s working for me. The other thing that is working for me is a lap desk. Oddly enough I hadn’t considered one, until I was down visiting Dorothy and Peter Grant, and I picked up Dorothy’s and used it. I ordered one as soon as I came home, and I’m using it almost every evening. It allows me to write comfortably in my bedroom armchair hideaway, and I can sit in bed with lumbar support and write there, too.

I’ve gone from struggling to get a thousand words a week, to reliably averaging a thousand words a day. I’m also keeping myself accountable in my tiny writing group online, using an app with a word tracker, and just plain making writing a priority. But the place to write comfortably was the biggest hurdle in all of that. If it hurts, you will avoid it, even if subconsciously. Take the time to evaluate the ergonomics of your writing set up, if you find yourself starting to dread sitting down to write. It might be part of the problem.

In the coming weeks, I am going to be testing out a walking desk, another idea Dorothy Grant gave me. We have the treadmill, just have to figure out how best to create a surface at the correct height to hold my keyboard. I’ve already played around with it, and discovered that I can write and walk at the same time. This should be interesting!


(header image: photo by Cedar Sanderson)



    1. I’ve missed you!

      We are still in Ohio. Chose to stay in the same town, so the Little Man could have continuous school through high school. And we like this little town, it’s easy commute to the cities with a more rural feel.

  1. I had the best desk at work – it was a rolling desk. Quite cheap, just some metal pipes joined together, with good quality wheels. The surface wasn’t all that fancy, just a flat top.
    But, boy! Did I get a lot done, while also getting exercise.
    I left it behind when I retired. Shoulda asked to buy it from them.

  2. For the past 20 years I’ve used what started life as a cane deck chair — a low-slung hemispherical contraption apparently designed to contain drunks (once you sat down, you couldn’t get back up). Filled the void with pillows and topped it with two old couch cushions, and the thing is remarkably comfortable for long hours of use. I sit low enough that my knees are slightly elevated, which takes strain off various lower joints, and am a bit slouched/leaning back (turns out when someone actually did the engineering, this is the posture that puts the least strain on the back and neck… and I was like, D’oh.) It’s ugly and a floor hog and is long past decrepit (it was old when I got it, and the seat is now partly held up by a length of 4×6), and I’ve tried and tried to replace it, but nothing else works so well.

    An old speaker box provides a handy footrest when desired.

    And I type with the keyboard in my lap, with my elbows just resting on the cushion, and the mouse is on a side table (well, actually it’s a metal milk crate that’s lost its floor, topped by a typewriter pad) level with the chair arm, so my arm can rest on the surface. So no strain on shoulders, neck, wrists. The desk and monitor are about 4 feet away, so more comfortable for the eyes, and a good distance for putting my feet up (yeah, on the desk. What else is it for??)

    Basically the whole arrangement lets me stay in a neutral-relaxed position, with minimal pressure on any one body part (important for us bony-assed types), and the result is I can work as long as need be.

    It’s a wretchedly cobbled-from-junk setup, and for me it works far better than anything else.

  3. Yeah, last spring and summer, I’d gotten myself into some trouble, because of bad computer ergonomics (keyboard resting in lap, and mouse as bad), and from not having a good surface to write on. Cleared some space, and got a couple of little folding tables. Much improved computer ergonomics. Also can read and take notes comfortably. Improved the chair situation a bit also.

  4. I learned the hard way what doesn’t work (breaking a kitchen chair by scooting it away from the desk.) I now have a proper desk chair with wheels, a typing desk, separate keyboard and track-ball. And the computer is perched on top if several books, so that the screen is at eye level, and I can scoot it farther and farther away as my eyes get tired.

    Now, if only the computer doesn’t go “boing” and make me replace it. Because the newer models do not have USB ports (grrrrrr) or CD/DVD drives, and I need both of those.

    1. No USB ports?!? That is Seriously Weird. One more reason to (quasi) homebrew when possible. Sheesh.

      I’m glad my tablet can connect to two bluetooth devices at once (keyboard and headset) and if not charging, I can plug in a trackball (with adapter cable). It’s almost enough to make me consider traveling with it instead of the laptop. Putting a SSD in the laptop might influence things the other way again, but I’m trying not to spend that much – even if it isn’t all that much.

    2. A lack of CD/DVD is becoming unfortunately common. The lack of USB ports surprises me, unless it is a Mac – Apple has had a penchant for limited or proprietary ports since at least the first Mac.

        1. And you’re supposed to — not touch type, or something? Because the keyboard’s too small?

  5. Ergonomics is my wheelhouse. I have a Masters in PT and I’m also a furniture maker. Whenever this subject comes up, I recommend people go look up a book called Homo Sedens, The Seated Man, by AC Mandal. Published in 1985, the book contains the research which shows that EVERYTHING we were taught about posture and “sitting straight” is completely wrong.

    Once you accept that the 90 degree seated posture is utterly wrong, then you can find out what actually works.

    A combination of sitting and standing works. Sitting too long is a guaranteed long term problem. Expecting humans to sit in offices for 8 hours is idiotic. Stand up, walk, squat, sit on the floor, perch on a stool, do everything. You have to move or you’ll get rusty.

    The specific sitting position I developed for myself is slightly reclined. I have my monitor positioned so that my eyes are level with the -center- of the monitor. You do not want to be permanently looking up, down or to one side. Dead center or upper-third of the screen is your target.

    My table is about 29″ wide, putting my face about 36″ from the monitor. I spent money on the monitors because that’s what you look at all day, 23″ Acer and a 27″ Samsung. I do research on the smaller one, writing on the big one.

    The table is a Shaker-style trestle I built. Hard maple, 6′ long, 29″ wide, 30 1/4″ tall. 1″ thick top. Generous 45 degree bevel on the edged of the top, which helps keep me happy where my forearms rest on it. Sharp corners dig in.

    It has a cross beam between the trestles that I put my feet up on. I type pushed back from the table, only my forearms are supported, the rest of me is leaning back. Any high-backed office chair will do, assuming it isn’t a big catcher’s mit overstuffed style. Hard cushions are better.

    All the school teachers are screaming “NOOOOOO!” out there right now. A slouchy, reclining seated position? INSANE!!!!

    The advantage is that it takes all the pressure off my lower back, and puts my neck in a position of mechanical advantage. It looks slovenly, but being me I consider that a plus. Two raised middle fingers at all the idiots yelling SIT UP!!

    I’m 6 feet tall, long legs, 230lbs. This seating position works for me. It is not for everyone. That is worth repeating:


    Other people have found great success sitting on a big physioball, or some other setup of slanted chair, slanted work surface, sit/stand, what have you. You don’t need a Masters to figure this stuff out, it isn’t that hard. But you DO need to know that the traditional 90 degree posture model is wrong, and what the parameters for success are. Dr. Mandal did research for a long time to find those parameters.

    Go thou forth and read The Word, that ye may prosper therefrom. ~:D

    1. Yep, pretty much my setup, except mine was concocted from scraps and experience rather than purpose-engineered. Sit low and slouched, all muscles and joints at rest rather than under tension, viewing area in the natural position that requires no head angling, and a lot of flexibility to put feet here-or-there.

      I also wiggle-and-twitch constantly, so I’m never truly sitting still… something is ‘going’ ALL the time. Funny thing, while I type, all the other wiggle-and-twitch stops; apparently it doesn’t matter which body part is in motion.

      1. I was reading your comment from before, and what you’re describing is essentially what I do. I’m starting to see this type of thing showing up in higher-end office settings, where people have to scan code all day long. They’ll have a variety of work stations, some reclining, some standing, some sitting. There’s some NDT [Neuro Developmental Training] stuff lying around as well, rocker-boards, balance balls, stuff like that.

        I’m unsure how much NDT helps cognition in already healthy, super high function adults, but it certainly adds a much needed exercise component to your day. Balancing and trunk exercise from a bit of casually bouncing on a physio-ball is exactly what one needs in the middle of the day.

  6. I’ve got a fit desk, and can pedal away as I read on my laptop, but I find my upper body and shoulders move to much for writing while pedaling. So it’s become my editing desk, with frequent pauses for corrections or notes.

  7. So wait, you like my lap desk and my treadmill desk? Does this make me a good influence? The mind, it boggles! 😛

  8. I recently asked my husband to buy me a few footstools, as it seems nearly all chairs in Australia are for people a good 15 cm taller than me at the minimum. My feet always dangle and I am forced to sit cross legged otherwise. This is not good if I have to suddenly get out of the drafting chair, and my legs have gone numb. As the frequency of When I Need To Get Up has increased, this became necessary.

      1. Oh, I forgot to mention; tables can also be taller than comfortable for me, so there was a while where I sat with my legs folded seiza style; y’know, that Japanese sitting pose one sees most in martial arts classes.

        I rather miss at times having the bed-with-desk-at-foot setup. If I ever get a separate office room, I want a sprawly window seat where I can do that again.

  9. I’d concur with Phantom182. The chair is critical. I spent the money on a Miller Aeron chair in the correct size for me. You’ve seen my computer table set up, it’s ugly, but it works. And THAT is what counts, what works for you… 😀

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