Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI): A writer's worst nightmare

When I graduated in December of 2004, I immediately landed a full-time job as a technical writer. Because the small company I worked for was based out of Boston, we all used laptops (I was one of several local writers hired for a specific project, but the Boston employees had to travel on a weekly basis). This was the first time I'd ever been in the position of typing and staring at a computer screen for 8+ hours a day, and I was surprised by the effect it had on my body: there were many days when my wrists ached deep inside them, the pain sometimes extending nearly to my elbow, and I'm pretty sure the sudden worsening of my vision over the past year was due to the strain on my eyes.

Of course, the occasional pain in my wrists was a concern, particularly because my mother had developed carpal tunnel syndrome several years before. Still, I never really considered how serious the problem could become. This week on Will Write for Chocolate, Debbie Ridpath Ohi posted an article on her experiences with Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI), and the impact it had on her writing lifestyle. It's frightening to read about what she went through. Goodness, I can hardly imagine not being able to type, and voice recognition software doesn't sound like much of an improvement.

The point is, though, that this kind of thing could easily have happened to me, especially with a boss that didn't care about ergonomics and believed in driving his employees as hard as possible. Fortunately, I am now able to dictate my own work habits, and although I think I am on the computer more than ever now, my typing habits are probably also much healthier than they were before. For one thing, I work intermittently throughout the day, which means that I take frequent breaks, as Debbie suggests. Also, the portability of my laptop means that I can write wherever I want, and my favorite position is generally sitting in my rocker, on my couch, or in bed, with my laptop on my lap. I've been told that it's best to type with your computer or keyboard on your lap, because it facilitates a more natural position for your wrists, so it's probably more than just laziness that makes this my favorite writing posture.

For all my fellow writers, or even just those who spend a lot of time on the computer, I highly recommend Debbie's article on RSI, as she offers a lot of preventative tips that she's learned via her own experiences.

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