Writing Discussion

The Standing Desk Experiment

Sitting down all day at work, coming home to sit for several more hours wasn’t doing me any favors. About a year ago I started noticing the toll writing was taking on my body. My neck and back ached so badly I had to see a massage therapist. My wrists were also incredibly tense, and would ache whenever I sat down to the laptop (laptop keyboards really aren’t that ergonomic).

Something needed to change or I couldn’t go on writing. I decided to see if putting together a standing workstation might help. I know I’ve mentioned it on the blog before, but I hadn’t been using the setup consistently until now. It’s been a couple months since I’ve been working this way, and all those aches and pains are gone. It might not all be due to the standing desk, but whenever I switch to sitting, the pain flares up again, so I think it does make a difference.

standing desk
My temporary standing desk setup

Some learning points:

  • It’s hard to stand if you’re not used to it. It took more than a month before my legs stopped complaining about it. I worked up from 20 minutes standing at one time, then sitting for a while. Now I can go an hour or so without a break.
  • Don’t stand still. Moving helps. Shifting weight from foot to foot and taking steps away from the keyboard helps make it easier.
  • Move the monitor to just below eye level if you can. If you’re working on a laptop it may hurt your neck if you’re craning your neck down to see the screen. Having a separate keyboard fixes this problem.
  • Wear shoes or get a mat to stand on if you’re just starting out. My feet hurt more than anything at the start. Your feet will get stronger, don’t worry! I don’t even notice my feet anymore.
  • Sometimes after a long day at work, I’m so tired I still need to sit down.  I’ve seen a guy who has a standing desk at work bring in a bar stool for that purpose. It’s just the right height to lean on!
  • If you’re looking to DIY, and you’re about 5’5″ Ikea bar tables are about the right height for the keyboard. All you’d need is a box or a wall mount to sit your screen on top of.
  • Make sure your arms are at a 90 degree angle.
  • I wish I had somewhere to put a mouse too.

Try out a temporary setup before investing in a proper standing desk. I propped a tray table on a shelf of my dresser and it’s almost the ideal height. The back  of the tray table is propped up with Gatorade bottles. I also tried using a shelf on top of my regular table. That was the right height for my hands, but I didn’t have anywhere to put my screen. The shelf also kept shifting. I’m sure there are plenty of ways to DIY this if you search the internet.

I really like my standing setup. It doesn’t take much room either. It’s saved my wrists and back, and possibly my silent writing career (If this didn’t work I’d have switched to dictating my writing). Now the laptop is parked up on top of my dresser almost all the time. Its easy to run back and forth from the kitchen or other parts of the apartment since there’s no chairs in the way.

I’ll admit that after about a month, and still being too tired to stand, I almost gave up the idea of a standing desk. I do love it now though. You can get used to it! Maybe one day I’ll buy or make a more permanent workstation but for now this works.

What’s your writing space like?

P.S. I haven’t had enough time to do research for the Creature Compendium lately. Fear not, I’ll be adding to it when the holiday season and work deadlines are all done.

13 Comments

  1. When people talk about writers having different methods, they’re usually talking about pantsing vs. planning – not about ergonomics. It’s so great that you found something that works for you.

    I don’t have a “writing space” as such. A laptop on a table is as close as I get, but I write anywhere and everywhere, as long as there’s a computer or a pen and paper (or these days I write scenes on my phone :-)).

    1. T. S. Bazelli Author

      I wish I could do that! My fingers are far too clumsy and slow on my phone though. Sometimes I’ll just take my laptop along elsewhere, but this is my preferred space, as temporary as it is 😉

  2. Oh my gosh, I LOVE this idea. I’ve been having a load of trouble with neck pain lately – actually just went to the doctor last week and she said the angle I’ve been holding my head/neck at while I write has inflamed the muscles and I need PT to help – so this is something I’d definitely consider. Thank you, thank you for sharing this. I’m so glad it’s working well for you and that the aches have diminished!

    1. T. S. Bazelli Author

      I think having the screen at eye level would help with that! Apparently that’s a pretty common issue for people, especially now that people look down at their phones constantly. It might work for you too 🙂

    1. T. S. Bazelli Author

      If I had more space I’d be tempted to try a treadmill desk. I know people who swear by them. I’m not sure I could focus, but it might be the same as the standing desk… just a matter of getting used to it. Someday!

  3. My writing space is still the living room couch. With the laptop on my lap.

    I know it’s not ideal, but it’s what we’ve got. Eventually, there may be an office space (a medium-term goal of our ongoing home project is a combined office/craft room). But we’re not there yet.

    Glad you found a setup that’s working for you, and limits your pain.

  4. My friends in technological development are all into this. It was a rage in Silicon Valley a few years ago. But with my hamstrings, and left knee, and ankle problems, I don’t think I’ll be able to adopt it soon. Still, maybe I should try just a little? Not like I don’t get up and pace during writing sessions already.

  5. Thanks for sharing your experience with a standing desk! It’s something I wonder about a lot (because yes, what writer doesn’t have aches/ergonomic issues?) but have only sort of toyed with, testing it out a bit by writing at the kitchen counter. So I value hearing from someone I actually know — and seeing your configuration! I’d be curious to see what changes/improvements you make in the coming months, and what pros/cons you find in the longer term.

      1. I know I’d want to customize the keyboard height, for sure. Right now it’s a bit too high up for me! I have to stand on a text book!

        That’s a great link though, and something I might consider for a more permanent solution (and cheap!)

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