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How to Avoid Death by Writing

Who knew chairs were so dangerous? (photo by Tui Snider)
Who knew chairs were so dangerous? (photo by Tui Snider)

Sitting is good. No, wait! It’s bad!

I know it’s obvious, but here you go: Writers write. It’s that simple. If you want to call yourself a writer, you had better spend a bit of your time putting words onto the page. As Mary Heaton Vorse summed it up, “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.”

But herein lies the rub. More and more studies are coming out which say that sitting for long periods of time is bad for you, really, really bad for you. If you don’t want to Google it yourself, here’s a typical article on the subject entitled Sitting for hours can shave years off life.

From what I’ve read, after 15 minutes of precious, productive seat-time, your literary passions begin to kill you… literally! Who knew writing was so dangerous?

Of course, not all writers write sitting down. Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe wrote standing up as mentioned in To Sit, to Stand, to Write. These days, some folks have desks allowing them to stand (and in some cases even walk on a treadmill) as they work.

Good for them, but my writing habits are more akin to Mark Twain and Truman Capote; both men preferred to write while sitting, sometimes they even wrote while reclining in bed. Like them, I prefer to be comfy when I write, with a cup of tea or coffee nearby and my cat within easy petting range.

In light of recent studies, perhaps Monty Python was onto something with the “Comfy Chair” sketch:


Save Your Life with a Kitchen Timer

While I know what gets my words flowing, I also intend to live a long and healthy life. That’s why I’ve come up with a simple writing technique utilizing a potentially life-saving device you probably already own: a kitchen timer. I call it the On/Off Method and perhaps it will work for you, too:

1. Set kitchen timer for 15 minutes.
2. Write as fast as I can until it beeps.
3. Wrap up my sentence, but stand up as quickly as possible once it’s done.
4. Set timer for 5 minutes.
5. Spend that time doing laundry or some other mundane household chore, the more physical, the better.
6. When the timer goes off, start over at step one.

Unexpected advantages to the On/Off Method

In addition to potentially extending my life, my On/Off Method has some unexpected advantages. Knowing that I “only have 15 minutes to write” makes me writer faster, with less time spent staring blankly at the ceiling wondering what to write. Silly as it may seem, this mini-deadline keeps me on task.

Another surprise is how productive those 5 minute writing breaks are, not just because I’m getting chores done, but because they really help my writing. Something about mundane tasks frees up my mind and gets ideas flowing. I can’t help but write in my head during the break, so by the time I get back to my computer, I’m raring to get those words down.

What about you? Do you have a strategy for writing that keeps you from sitting for long periods of time while still achieving your writing goals?

Inspired by Catherine Ryan Howard

Oh, I should also mention that this post was inspired by Catherine Ryan Howard’s post A New Year, A New Routine (Or, The Problem With Goals). I recently discovered her fabulous blog and not only is Catherine a self-published travel memoir author, but she shares a wealth of self-publishing information on her blog. Yes, I could find this info elsewhere, but Catherine presents it in a clear, concise manner that really sinks in. I’ve learned so much from her that I also bought one of her travel memoirs as well as her excellent book on self-publishing. I’ll certainly be talking about her more in future posts. In the meantime, check out Catherine Ryan Howard’s blog for yourself!

#Row80 Check-in

Speaking of writing goals, here’s my weekly #Row80 check-in:

Finish my quirky Texas travel book by January 31, 2014: I put in several hours each night after work, but I kinda crashed on my first day off by sleeping much later than planned, then feeling tired and blah all day. Oh, well! Since then, I’ve been writing up a storm. And, yes, I use the On/Off Method all the time.  Another thing that really helps is the next item:

Daily writing check-in via email: Morgan Dragonwillow and I have started checking in with each other each evening via text and email. It’s been really helpful.

Blog 3X per week: My 2014 blogging schedule is to post each Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Mondays are for Texas travel, Wednesdays are for #Row80 and self-publishing updates, and Fridays are for quirky and/or world travel posts. So far, so good!

What is ROW80?

ROW80 is short for A Round of Words in 80 Days. It was created by the author, Kait Nolan, who describes it as, “an online writing challenge that knows you have a life.” Basically, ROW80 is a way for writers to connect online and share progress on their writing goals. Click on the aforementioned link for more information.

To join in and cheer on other ROW80 writers, check out the A Round of Words in 80 Days website. You may also simply click on any of the blogs in the following list:

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Published inTravel Photo Essays


  1. […] When the timer goes off, I set it for 5 minutes and use that time to do some menial chore around the house. During that time, my mind keeps writing and I often come back with ways to get through clunky areas in my project. This also keeps me from sitting for more than 15 minutes at a time. (You can read more about my On/Off Writing Method in a post entitled How to Avoid Death by Writing) […]

  2. Do the getting up and moving around already but can’t figure how people write standing up – I keep hearing they do and it works – I discovered another health hazard 18mts ago when I had heart failure – I noticed I couldn’t write sad scenes, (it goes for angry or scared scenes as well) heart couldn’t keep up with the hormones released with the imaginary grief! checked with doctor he confirmed that brain cannot tell the difference between real and made up emotion – so the conclusion would have to be that if we really pour our best into a scenes like this, re-read, tweak them, edit them agonise over them we are creating high stress levels within us which are in fact having real time effect on us! – I can manage them, they have regulated heart, but I still cannot spend long periods and I have to get up and do something to drive away the chemical reaction

    • Tui Snider Tui Snider

      Wow, Alberta!

      While I’d read that the brain can’t differentiate between the real and what’s vividly imagined, I never connected the dots between that data, the vivid imagination required to write well and the impact that could have on a writer’s health.

      That is really something to consider. I used to get panic attacks a lot, but have come up with a slew of things that keep me calm. Luckily, I don’t have any desire to write horror.

      I do find, however, that writing a restaurant review is best done on an empty stomach.

      Thank you for another thought-provoking comment! I’ll be mulling this idea over a lot, I can tell.

      p.s. As for standing up and writing… I dunno, I can barely chew gum and walk. It would really take some getting used to.

  3. My day job keeps me on my feet, so by the time I get home, Im ready for death by sitting! LOL Still, I try to get up and move when I sit for a while.

    • Tui Snider Tui Snider

      Good for you! My ideal day jobs are ones where I get to move around.

  4. Unfortunately, my day job keeps me on my backside for the majority of 9 hours. Though I do try to get up every hour and at least stretch or walk around a bit. At home I’ve gone to a stand-up work station. It was a bit of an adjustment but at least it keeps me standing.

    • Tui Snider Tui Snider

      Sorry about your day job. I know how that goes! I’m lucky that with my job, I can take all my phone calls standing up, which helps.

      I’m curious about your stand-up work station. Did you buy one or create it yourself? If you ever blog about it, let me know. Inquiring minds, and all that.

      Thanks for stopping by! :)

  5. Very good advice! I know if I sit or otherwise stay still for too long, I end up stiff and achy.

  6. Hmm…What about alternatives to sitting, like sitting on one of those balances balls or one of those “kneeling chairs?” I have to work on this because I sit a lot. Maybe I could read while standing. Now you’ve got me thinking!

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments on my blog, by the way. :) Good luck with your ROW80 goals.

    • Tui Snider Tui Snider

      Good point, Denise! I haven’t heard any data on balancing balls and kneeling chairs, although I have a kneeling chair once and liked it. I think a balancing ball would be a lot of fun, too. (Maybe I’ll get one for my birthday in March.) Desks of the future will probably resemble jungle gyms at this rate.

      Thanks so much for dropping by my blog. I really enjoyed your posts this week. Oh, and glad I got you thinking! :)

  7. Trying to get a jump on the Row80 blogs. Thanks for the reminder of the timer method, although I see you have changed it from 30/10 to 15/5. I will try that tomorrow and see how it works for me. Also I need to get back to writing at my wood island desk so that I can stand up more.

    Thanks for sharing about sitting and how bad it is. I knew that it wasn’t good to sit for hours at a time but I didn’t know it was best to move/stand every 15 minutes. I feel bad for all of those office workers chained to their desks, my honey being one of them. They don’t let her take a break because she doesn’t smoke. I told her to take one anyway.

    Great job on your goals and I will catch you tomorrow (er later today)!

    • Tui Snider Tui Snider

      Heya Morgan! It’s so nice to wake up and see the post that went up at midnight has already gotten a comment. :)

      I keep running into these articles about how bad sitting is. At my office job, I actually have the timer on my
      phone go off every 15 minutes. If I happen to be sitting when it goes off, I stand up and stretch. I also make
      a point of doing all my phone calls standing up and walking around.

      As far as smoke breaks go, she could buy a pack of cigarettes and take a break with a friend who smokes, but
      not actually smoke any! I’d like to tell you my whole smoke break story, but I think it’s long enough to be
      a blog post, so thanks – I’ll talk about it on my next #row80 check-in!

      I actually vary my On/Off times quite a bit. If I’m really rushed and I know I’ll be doing something physically
      active once I’m through with an article, I do my Top of the Hour (TOTH) routine. For that, I write, write, write,
      but make sure that I stand, stretch and take a few deep breaths at the top and bottom of each hour.

      Talk, chat, email, and/or text ya later! :)

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