Do you suffer from physical pain relating to your writing life?
Are you struggling with back pain, weight gain related to sedentary working, anxiety, depression, sleep problems, neck pain, eye strain, stress, loneliness, digestive issues, or Repetitive Strain Injury?
These are the most common issues reported by writers and if you struggle with any of them, you are not alone.
Writing is not a physically healthy job, but if you want a long-term writing career, then you need to look after your body.
I've been through my own pain journey over the last six years. I used to get crippling migraines that sent me to a dark room, and back pain so bad that I couldn't sleep, as well as stress levels so high that I wasn't able to breathe normally.
Now, my back pain, migraines and RSI have almost gone completely, and I manage my writing life in a far healthier way than ever before. I share my personal journey and insights with you in this book.
My co-author is Dr Euan Lawson, who shares his insights into how we can reduce pain, improve health and build a writing career for the long term.
"Simple, actionable advice that applies specifically to writers. Beyond physical health, [it] also dives into emotional and psychological well-being, which are so often overlooked by similar books. After reading The Healthy Writer, I feel less alone with some of my health concerns and have the tools I need to improve my writing workspace and develop healthier habits."– Kate M Colby, 5-star Amazon review
"I've been looking for a book like this for a long time. It's an amazing look at the emotional, mental, and physical cost of being a writer and how to work on improving your health to keep your writing sharp. With advice from a doctor and Joanna's experience, it's a well rounded exploration of keeping healthy."– A. Judy, 5-star Amazon review
"A wonderful balance between medically important information and practical applicable techniques for writers of all types!"– PK, 5-star Amazon review
"We all have cracks. We just hide them from each other."
Ruby Wax, Sane New World
Writing is part of who we are, it's how we make sense of the world and how we connect with others through the page.
For some it's therapy, for others, it's income, but for all of us who call ourselves writers, it's an integral part of our lives. We cannot give up writing no matter what the cost.
But we are not just brains that pour words onto a page or a screen. We have a physical body that needs looking after if we are to make it through a long and happy life creating and writing and living life to the full.
The unfortunate truth is that writing can be an unhealthy way to spend your time and many writers end up with chronic physical pain issues and/or mental health problems along the way. Let's face it, hunching over for hours every day, eyes fixed on a bright screen, hands bashing away at a keyboard or scribbling on a page can result in conditions that hinder a full life.
But it doesn't have to be like this. You can be a healthy writer, and this book will show you the way.
I'm Joanna Penn, New York Times and USA Today bestselling thriller author (under J.F.Penn), non-fiction writer, podcaster and international speaker. I make my living from my writing and most of my days are spent creating words on the page for books, blog posts, emails or social media. I've suffered from many of the issues writers face – back pain, headaches and eye strain, repetitive strain injury, weight gain, stress and burnout – and I've spent the last five years trying to reduce my pain in order to have a happier, healthier writing life. I'll share my personal journey with you as well as what has worked for me.
My co-author is Euan Lawson, a British medical doctor, who brings the expertise and scientific point of view to the book as well as thoughts from his own experiences.
Together, we want to help writers reduce their pain and live a healthier life so we can all write for the long term. We hope that our combined approach will give a balanced view of what a healthy writer can be. The different chapters each give an indication who is writing, although sometimes we have merged together within one chapter. All the medical studies and references discussed are in Appendix 2.
Disclaimer: Although Euan is a doctor, he is not your doctor and this book is not medical advice. It contains thoughts, suggestions and information that we hope will help you, but please seek appropriate medical advice for your situation.
There is a risk that any book about health can get preachy, but this is a not a book about denial. It is not necessary to live a life that would make a monk weep. We are not aspirational ascetics, denying the flesh for the greater holiness of the written word. This is not an exhaustive book covering everything possible, but we hope it will help you feel less alone in your journey toward wellness.
It is about empowerment. It is about sustainability. It is about making change that will help you become a healthy writer for the long term.
How we decided what to include in the book
In a survey I ran on TheCreativePenn.com in August 2017, over 1100 writers answered questions that helped us put together the topics to focus on. The most common health issues reported were sedentary behavior/sitting too much, stress, back pain, weight gain, anxiety and sleep problems. Others reported headaches, eye strain, loneliness and depression, digestive issues, and Repetitive Strain Injury. There are quotes throughout from writers who agreed to share their problems and tips openly.
Thanks to everyone who responded and we hope that this book helps you with some of these issues and make your writing a sustainable career for the long-term.
We have much in common, but we are also individuals
People are infinitely variable and your experience of a medical problem is likely to be substantially different from another person's, even with the same diagnosis. It's part of the medical profession's role to sift and sort people, putting them into various boxes, adding labels to ease the process of finding the best possible ways to help. That's the science of medicine. The art has always been in recognizing that there are limitations to that when managing people.
You need to get to know your body and your mind over time. How you respond will be different to the next person, so you need to treat this health journey as a lifetime adventure, just as the writing life can continue until we breathe no more.
We all have layers of history written into our bodies – habits we've acquired, patterns of behavior and thinking that we repeat, and these can result in pain that must be peeled back, layer by layer, over time. You might find that you change one thing and then discover more issues underneath. This process is entirely normal, as you'll find with Joanna's personal journey to a pain-free back or Euan's shift from fat to fit later on.
So, why did you pick up this book?
Whatever comes to mind first is the place to start, but hopefully, you will also find more inside these pages that will help you as the layers drop away.
We can show you some directions to consider, but you will need to find your own way to a healthy creative life as a writer. We hope this book highlights some pitfalls and gives some pointers.
How to use this book
Part 1 outlines the most common health issues that writers face and offers some actions for how you can remedy the situation. Not all problems are applicable to everyone, so we hope that you will dip in and out of this section for anything that might help you over time.
Part 2 looks at ways you can reduce pain, build resilience into your life and actively move toward being a healthy writer. This section also gives you ideas and tips for improving your health even further and enjoying being active. Euan is a runner and Joanna has started walking ultra-marathons and we both share ideas on how to incorporate more activity into your writing life.
Note: We are both in the UK but our readers are international and we recognize that health care options and associated costs are different by country, so please weigh up any advice against your situation.
We don't cover the topic of disability in any significant detail, either physical or severe mental illness. If you have specific medical conditions, then you should take advice from your doctor before embarking on any new or exotic treatments.
"To keep the body in good health is a duty … otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear."