Solution to Writing Obstacle No. 16:

“I get terrible back pain when I sit at my computer writing too long.”

In terms of comfort, what worked when you wrote rarely may not work when you are writing regularly. You may need to change where and how you write in physical terms.

Let’s talk about where first.

I know lots of people are bed writers, both now and historically. A whole cast of famous authors wrote in bed, including Edith Wharton, James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Mark Twain, George Orwell, William Wordsworth, Vladimir Nabokov, and Truman Capote. 

But when I see people curled up in bed, I just think “ouch!” 

So, whether you write seated in a bed or on a sofa or in a chair, make sure that your back is not curved into a C. Nor should you sit up straight, in an L shape, at a 90 degree angle, where all your spinal disks are stacked up on top of each other. This is one of the worst postures!

Rather, research shows that the best shape for your back when sitting at work is a 135 degree angle

The best chair for this is an Aeron or Mirra, which allow you to recline at such an angle. Of course, such chairs are very expensive (although I recommend buying them used; they are indestructible and last for decades). But, if you just don’t have the cash, you can do what I did when I first found out this information: buy a cheap folding lawn chair. They are the only cheap chairs that have the right angle. For some reason, most office chairs just don’t give you enough of a recline.  

Some people swear by working standing up and I think it can make for an excellent change of pace. One definitely moves more standing up, which can help with back pain. But then sometimes you get foot pain! Further, the research suggests that sitting to work is not terrible. It is better to focus on changing things up, moving regularly while writing. Which is why many academics are devotees of yoga and swimming, which loosen you up before or after a day of writing.

Finally, it’s essential to state that sometimes, no matter what, your back hurts. I’ve lived with terrible back pain, and I really hated it when someone excitedly recommended some magic solution (which I’d generally heard at least 100 times before). As my mother wisely said, there is no silver bullet for back pain, no one thing that will solve it. Indeed, nothing does more than help 5 percent and you just have to keep stacking up those 5 percent tricks. Having the right chair, getting up and walking around every hour, and staying hydrated are my main go-tos for addressing back pain. But I sympathize if none of those work. 

Solution to Writing Obstacle No. 15, one of the health obstacles listed on page 31 of Belcher’s Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success (University of Chicago Press, 2019).