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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Putting Your Backside in the Chair When it's a Pain in the Tush!

Patty Smith Hall has been making up stories to keep herself occupied since her parents forced her on boring Sunday drives into the Georgia countryside when she was too young to stay home by herself. Now she's happy to share her wild imagination and love of history with others, including her husband of 29 years, Danny, two smart and gorgeous daughters, and a Yorkie she spoils like a grandbaby. She resides in North Georgia.

Putting Your Backside in the Chair 
When it's a Pain in the Tush!

Writers are always told that one key to getting a publishing contract is to ‘put your backside in a chair and write!’ But what if you physically can’t sit for any length of time without being in a great deal of pain? What do you do then?

For the last four years, I’ve been going through a season of suffering. I won’t go into the whole boring medical explanations behind it, except to say that finding a chair that doesn’t leave me in tears after just a couple of minutes has become my holy grail. And yet I know, like others visiting today, I’ve been called to write.

So how do writers who face chronic, debilitating pain write?

Stay in Constant Prayer
Dealing with constant pain usually does one of two things to a person; either it sends you running in every direction, chasing every lead for a reason for the pain, a ‘why’ behind the agony or it drives you to your knees. I’ve done both. But one very important question I’ve put before God (besides the whole ‘why me?’) is if writing is in His plan for me. I wanted to make sure I was in God’s will and had to prepare myself if God required me give up writing or the hope of publication. It’s a dark place at times, but also one where your faith is stretched in new ways each and every second of the day. 

Equally important is the need to be ready to handle the pain if He sends confirmation to continue writing. Working through chronic pain or illness takes a inhuman toughness only God can give. So I’ve turned even more to His Word for encouragement. Sticky notes on my computer with scriptures--my favorites are 2 Corinthians 12:9 and Romans 8:28.

Finding a way to write
Okay, you’re prayed up, know that God wants to you write, even got your scriptures to encourage you--now what? How do you get your ‘backside in a chair’ when it’s a pain in the tush?

1)  Standing desk and ergonomic rug
One of my favorite people (and best selling novelist!) Camy Tang came up with a wonderful idea to deal with her chronic back issues. At her desk, she keeps a box that she places on her desktop when she feels the need to stand. It’s the perfect height for her computer and allows her to continue working while giving her a chance to stand and stretch.  If you have an island in your kitchen, that’s also a great place to work without having to sit. If you want something a little more decorative, there are many standing desks available on Amazon, starting for as little as $50.

Another important item that works wonders is an ergonomic rug. These are designed to help relieve fatigue on the lower extremities and is well worth the price (which can range anywhere from $30 to well into the hundreds.) I’d suggest you try it out first--yes, you may look crazy, standing on a rug in the middle of Bed, Bath and Beyond but better to make sure it’s the right rug for you than waste money.

1)  Alphasmart word processor
You’re sitting at your desk or in your favorite chair, ready to write and it’s just not comfortable. You fidget for a few minutes, hoping to find that perfect position but it just isn’t happening. Maybe the chair upstairs would work but that means dragging your computer up a flight of steps and you’re not even sure you can make it without falling down. That’s where an Alphasmart can help. Weighing under a pound, this portable word processor has eight individual files which can save multiple chapters and be downloaded into Word with just the press of a button. And you don’t have to worry about tripping over cables--four AA batteries is all you need to keep writing for months at a time.

1)  Egg Timer
I don’t know about the rest of you, but when I get writing, time just slips away from me. I’ll look up and two hours would have gone by. Good for my book. Not at all good for my back. So now I keep an egg timer on my desk and set it for 35 minutes. When that bell goes off, I stand up and move. Take a bathroom break. Fold a dryer full of clothes. Anything to get moving. Then I go back to my desk and reset my timer. I may not write as much but I’m not in as much pain either.

1)  Digital pen
The pain is so bad, you can’t even sit up. So now that you’re flat on your back, what do you do? Consider a digital pen. A bit thicker than a standard pen, it has the capability to transfer your writing into Word files while also serving as a recording. It’s not for everyone, and it’s expensive starting at $119 (plus the specialized notebooks.) So once again, try it before you buy it.

5) Pen and paper
Old fashioned, yes, but when you’re flat on your back and desperate to write, it’s an easy alternative. Not much of an added expense - I can buy my favorite pens and writing tablet for under $5. With the back-to-school sales beginning, you can stock up on notebooks and pens for later. Yes, your writing will still need to be typed into the computer but writing freestyle is very liberating. I’ve written the first draft of my last four books like this. It’s slower, but still gets the job done. 

Hearts in Hiding

Engineer Edie Michaels loves her life—she has a good job, close friends, even a chance at romance with former soldier Beau Daniels. But she could lose everything if her secret comes out that she's the German daughter of a devoted Nazi. When her father sends spies to force her loyalty, everything Edie values is at risk.

Time in a Nazi POW camp changed army medic Beau Daniels. When he discovers a letter of Edie's written in German, he can't help his suspicions. Is she truly the woman he's started to love? Or has she been the enemy all along? With Nazis on Edie's trail, the pair must fight for truth, for survival—and for love.


  1. I've watched you walk this path and it's taught me a lot. I don't write against pain, but the discipline is so important. :)

    1. And you've been a blessing, driving me places and cheering me up when I get so frustrated over it all. I thank God every day for you and the Seeds!

  2. Excellent ideas, Patty. I'd like to add one more. Dragon Naturally Speaking. It's a bit pricy and it takes a while to feel comfortable speaking your story with 'comma' 'period' etc. I started by training myself to 'no longer hear the punctuation' by using it on emails, comments and short blog posts.

    I don't use it all the time but when my wrists bother me I don't hesitate to use it.


    1. I've tried Dragon and it just doesn't work for me. I think it's because I have such a distinct Southern accent, it doesn't quite know what I'm saying when I say it! But I can see where it would help, particularly for people who have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome or nerve damage in their fingers.

      Thanks for coming by, Diana!

    2. Diana and Patty,

      In the last two months I've experienced some significant weakness and pain in my forearms and hands, and have realized writing eight novels in four years with lousy posture and a small laptop wasn't such a good idea. Fortunately, Dragon Speaking has come to my rescue. I'm using it right now. Otherwise, I'd have to take a lengthy break from writing altogether.

      I've had to make other fixes, of course. Better posture, better chair, better computer, getting up and moving regularly and, now, wearing braces on my wrists. But thankfully, I'm able to keep going.

      Dan Walsh

    3. Dan, so sorry to hear you've been hurting! And so glad you've found ways to keep working!

  3. Thank you. I needed this encouragement. I, too, have issues with my body. It's hard to concentrate when you hurt. The different options cited offer hope for those days when sitting in the chair hurts too much to write. Now, if I could just find a way not to fall asleep when I get comfy in my recliner!

    1. Oh, Karen, I'm so glad you are encouraged. Whenever I'm hurting and get down about the whole writing thing, I remember the Apostle Paul--three times, he asked God to remove the 'thorn of his flesh' and though God choose not to remove it, Paul developed a faith in God's sufficient grace. Knowing that is the only reason I can keep going at times.

  4. Oh how I wish I'd seen this eight months ago when I had to assume the position of flat on my back for a few months. It took burning off nerves to get my back side back in the chair. Good info for the future and to share with others who have back issues.

    1. I have that same burning pain in my backside(though it's not the inferno it was before surgery!) so I can completely relate. It's miserable! Hopefully, you won't have problems again but if you do, I hope these suggestions help. And it can be done--I wrote 3 books flat on my back!

    2. Oops, I meant four. Forgot one still in my notebook. ~grin~

  5. Thanks for some great new ideas! My egg timer is my best friend when I work at my desk. My doctor and physical therapist just prescribed a TENS unit for me which has been wonderful! I'd like to use it on the plane out to the ACFW conference, but I'm afraid it might be unsettling for others to see a passenger with wires attached to her neck. LOL!

    1. I'd take it! You're going to be in a strange hotel room bed, on your foot more than usual and carrying not only a purse but probably a notebook or a tote. Just make the airline aware of your situation before you board and be prepare with a letter from your doctor.

      Thanks for coming by!

  6. Thank you so much for letting us know writing with chronic health issues can be done! I don't suffer as much with pain (although there are days when I do) as with chronic exhaustion, brain fog and often-debilitating depression, and there are so many days I struggle with getting two words out into the word processor, much less entire chapters. But I believe God wants me to write, for whatever His purpose is. And you've given me the hope and encouragement to keep going, Patty. You're a Godsend today!

    1. I'm glad you're encouraged--it's hard when you feel like crud to think about just doing what you have to get by, much less working on your novel. And if you can get two words on paper, then that's two more than yesterday! Just keep plugging along!

  7. me too. I am seriously considering Dragon Speak. Standing isn;t an option for me. :) Pain in my arms and legs . . . but we do live in an age of lots of electronic helps. Also just writing when I am up to it, and giving myself the freedom to stop when I'm not. Discipline to make the best use of my time. I write as I face 2 deadlines on Aug. 1st after months of hospitalizations, weakness, and pain. A real walk of faith!

    1. Amen, Darlene! I had a deadline a week before I had spinal surgery and wondered at times how I would ever get through it. But the Lord held me up, and my friends held my hand, and we managed! I'll be praying for you to meet your deadline!

  8. Oh, and forget 35 minutes. I've turned on the line number as continuous. I save after every line and check the time after every 3 lines. After 15 min., I allow myself to check emails and FB. Working that way, the small hundreds stack up over the course of a day. Better to write solid for 15 min. than not at all . . .

  9. The symptoms of my chronic illness are the biggest barrier in my writing life.
    I love my alphasmart & iPad. Unfortunately editing on it is not easy.

    A few other suggestions depending on where the pain is:
    Voice dictation, it doesn't always translate correctly though.
    wrist splints if you have wrist problems.
    Silver ring splints for finger problems.
    A stability ball is good for you back.
    Audiobooks if you don't have the energy to physically read.
    Pillows to prop up arms, set under your back, or tailbone.

    1. Another item I forgot is a great ice pack. For a while, I sat on a huge bag of frozen corn but found a fantastic ice pack I can pull from the freezer and it stays cold for over an hour.

    2. Yes, there's one called CryoMax that's so cold, they only recommend using it 20 minutes at a time. I like it because it stays solid, no more mushy, damp clothes.

      Thanks so much for this post. The Bible verses are exactly what I needed. I'm struggling with a fibro flare right now and the brain fog that comes with it and using pain meds. Words just don't come. Even the movie projector in my head refuses to run.

      But, just like you said, I know there's a purpose for this and there's a reason God called me to write. Such an encouragement!


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