Standing up for two weeks in the heat

Phoenix Necessity

Phoenix Necessity

OK, I am in an air-conditioned studio, but it takes a bit for the A/C to kick in when it’s 119 degrees outside. Yeah, you heard me right. I’m standing at my desk watching the grass turn brown and all the plants in my yard burst into little flames that puff out quickly because of the lack of oxygen in the air because somehow the state of Arizona has moved closer to the sun without anyone noticing.

But seriously, I have been standing at my desk for the past two weeks (during work hours, smart aleck) and it seems to be working out pretty well. I do take breaks to read longer documents while sitting, or after a long bout of standing I’ll move the tray down and sit for a bit. But surprisingly, I find myself anxious when I sit now and I want to stand back up. Scary, huh? Who knew?

So, the experiment is a success. The best part about all this is that while standing, I don’t scrunch up my shoulders while I’m at my computer. (You know what I’m talking about, you’re doing it right now. Relax those shoulders.) I no longer reach my shoulders to my ears without thinking about it. As a result, my neck feels a lot less stressed at the end of a long editing gig. And that is a wonderful bonus for someone with a history of neck pain. So, without even asking…here are my recommendations if you’re thinking of giving this a try.

1. Make sure your forearms are at approximately a 90-degree angle from your upper arms. For instance, stand up and bend your arms at the elbow and hold your hands straight out in front of you, palms down, parallel with the floor. The desk should be under those hands. I got lucky and the tray with my laptop hit just the right mark.

2. Get a gel mat. I found one at Costco for just $14.99 rather than the $50-$100 versions I saw online. It really does make a difference.

3. Try a few different pairs of shoes to find just the right ones that you can stand in for long periods. You’d be surprised what works. I have a pair of sandals that work much better than any sneakers. And, you may want to go barefoot like a friend of mine recommended.

4. Shift around. If you get stiff or sore the first few days, shift your weight around. It helps to move a bit.

5. If possible, step one foot in front of the other and lean forward and rest the front of your thigh on the desk. That gives you a bit of a break on your back. Thanks to Sean Preuss for this recommendation. If that doesn’t work, try putting a box or book on the floor and put one foot on it to ease your back a bit.

6. Dance. No kidding, it really helps. While I’m working, I’ve got music on and I sway to it. During a break to read emails or check FB, I put on some AC/DC or even some ’70s disco (shush, no judging). It feels good to move around and you won’t realize that you’re actually exercising a bit.

7. Sit down. This is not a contest. If you are sore or tired, sit down. Most advice I got was to move from standing to sitting frequently to give your body a break. The longer you do this, the easier it becomes and the longer your standing shifts will be.

8. Don’t buy an expensive desk or chair right now. Make sure you can do this before dropping big bucks on something that may wind up on Craigslist. Just a computer tray, a strong box or two, just make sure it’s sturdy.

Go for it, and let me know how you like it. I’m loving it and keeping cool with a fan and A/C here in AZ.

 

 

My Stand-Up Desk Experiment (Day One)

For those of you following, my week of solitude was a success. I spent a lot of time getting the writing done that I wanted, I watched a few movies, and I spent time with my great-nephew. Daughter had a fabulous time at camp and can’t stop talking about it, which is wonderful to hear.

As a matter of fact, I had such a wonderful week in my office that my back was starting to yell. Sitting in a chair too much can be quite painful, especially for anyone with prior back/spine issues. Considering how bad it is for you to sit in a chair all day, I decided to get/create a standing work station to see what all the fuss was about. First, I talked with Sean Preuss, a trainer to friends of mine and an author who writes standing up. Then I searched Pinterest and the Internet for stand-up desk DIYs just to get a feel for what I needed. Here are a few of the sites I visited:

1. One Year at My Standing Desk

2. The Standing Desk Experiment: Five Months In

3. Forbes Magazine: What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Standing Desks?

4. Lifehack: The True Benefits of a Standing Desk

What did I learn? The desk should be at elbow height or just below. Your arms should be at right angles from your body, including your wrists, while typing. An anti-fatigue mat for standing is a good idea. Get ready for a sore back and legs at first. Move around a lot if you can.

My Standing Workstation

My Standing Workstation

So, after all that research I started the search. I was planning on stacking books on my desk until I searched my teenager’s room and found a study computer desk we had bought for her a few years back. Since she doesn’t use it all that much anymore, (the dining table worked fine and she just graduated). It has two heights, and the lowest height is perfect for me. As you can see from the photo, it’s wide enough to put a mouse/trackball to the right. There is actually a built-in mousepad there. Too bad I don’t need that. There is also a light on the left for late-night reading.

Day one: I find myself shifting my feet a lot, side to side. I finally decided to put a box under the desk and rest one foot on it, similar to standing at a bar (except nobody served me a martini here. This bar sucks!). I have even stood for a bit with my foot propped behind me on the chair I’m not using.

The space right between my shoulder blades is screaming at me. I think this is just my body telling me that my posture is pretty damn bad and I should just sit down, but I’m not giving in that easily.

This little table gets cramped quickly with the laptop, trackball, and speaker. (What? I need my Pandora when I work.) The wire is too short to sit on the desk. But the good news is that there is a lot of room under the desk to put things. And, it can be folded down in case I want to sit for a little bit and take a breather.

I need better shoes. I think I need to invest in some really good shoes to stand in all day. It’s like walking all over Disneyland but without the big annoying mouse. My feet hurt like crazy, but I didn’t get any ice cream shaped like a mouse head.

From what I’ve read, it does get a bit uncomfortable the first few days. Some people say don’t do it all day on the first few days. I may sit after finishing this post, or I may take a walk. I will definitely be finding a gel mat to stand on soon, and hopefully one that doesn’t cost the same as my computer. Have you priced those out? Geez! I suppose it’s worth it, but I may be trying to make my own.

So for now I’m shifting side to side and shrugging my shoulders a lot. I have actually found myself swaying to the music and walking around my little office a bit more.

If you have one of these, let me know what you do to ease fatigue and soreness. I’m hoping this will be a great solution. I have heard that people lose weight after doing this, although that is not my goal. This is just my first step at trying to get a bit more fit, work out a little more, and live a bit longer.

Stay tuned for updates. I’ll let you know how the long-term standing sits with me. (Get it? Standing-Sits. Hehe, I’m crack myself up!)

Thanks for stopping by!

My Week of Solitude Begins

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I have one week of solitude, one chance to get as much writing as I want completed, one chance to do all the crafty things I need/want to do. I feel as if I’m going back into a time capsule without kids, without responsibilities, without deadlines. Why do I have this week? My daughter has gone to summer camp for one week. This means I am alone in the house for a week (not counting the Husband, who comes home at night.) Now, those of you who know me know that Daughter is a teenager and pretty much sleeps till noon and does her own thing once she wakes up. But the idea that someone else is depending on you to give them a ride, share lunch, go shopping, etc. means you work around those things.

This week is my chance to work around only what I want to do. And I want to write. Today I’ve written 2K words already and it’s just 1:30 p.m. Can I keep this up or will I sink into a week of rewatching Firefly and eating Ben & Jerry’s right out of the tub? We shall see, but for now, I’ve got a full calendar of lunch with friends and dinner with the man. In between those, I will be writing. If I don’t answer the phone, that’s where I’ll be.

What’s that you say? B&J has a new flavor? Wait, what? Joss Whedon is the one singing the Firefly theme song? Now I’ll have to watch it again just to hear that song. But hey, watching Firefly means I’m researching character development, right? No, wait, 2K words is not enough. Clara is on the threshold of going outside and I have to help her get there. I will not leave the writing studio, I will not leave the writing studio…Oh, this week is going to fly by much too fast.

Stretching your creative legs

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How do you stay inspired and creative? I seem to be on an inspiration rollercoaster lately. On the days I’m heading up the ramp slowly, it seems like I’ll never get to the end of this book, or ever get published. On the days when I’m heading down at breakneck speed and can’t stop writing, I feel there is no possible way I will fail. I’ve been to conferences, I’ve read the how-to books, I’ve talked to authors, etc. Now the only thing left to do is actually write the damn thing and get it published. No excuses…

But there are those days I’m heading up the slow ramp and I just don’t have anything in me to write, or I’ve written enough for the day. Sometimes I still feel the need to create and clear my head, so I break out the colored pencils and coloring books. A dear friend of mine taught me that coloring books are not just for kids. She came out for a visit and brought her coloring books and colored pencils and we sat drinking wine and coloring in our books. And I’ve discovered some of the most amazing coloring books out there are sophisticated and fun, as well as complicated and challenging. Some are based on famous paintings, history, intricate pictures of birds, waterfalls, flowers, abstracts, animals, etc. It takes concentration to color them in, and that means focus. And when focusing on my coloring project, everything else become clear. It’s almost a zen feeling to clear my head and create something colorful and fun.

So I’m coloring these days in between catching up on reading for book club, editing, writing, researching, and all the other things I feel I need to do. But this is something I do totally for myself and I love it. I’m renewed and ready to go after a page is finished.

What keeps you inspired and creative? Any new ideas?

 

 

 

 

 

The best kept secret in writing conferences

Comicon. The name makes people think of Superman, Anime, Manga, Zombies, Paranormal, video games, cosplay and more. But one of the best kept secrets of Comicon,  the Phoenix Comicon in particular, is the wonderful array of writing workshops offered during the convention. Regardless of what kind of writing you do, there are classes and workshops that will help you, I guarantee it. The authors are top-notch and the insights and advice are heart-felt and true.

What I love most about the presenters and speakers at Comicon is the willingness in all of them to answer questions, give advice and information, and help authors along on their journey. They all know what it’s like to wish to be published and work on that all-important novel. Whether it’s mystery, paranormal, sci-fi, steampunk or a cross of any of these, they are there to help. I took an entire notebook full of notes while in the 12 sessions I attended and I’ll be throwing some info out as I go, but just a few of them stick out without even looking at my notes.

1. Tom Leveen is the author of Party, a wonderful book with 11 chapters and 11 POVs, and Sick, which is his newest book featuring zombies and comes out Oct. 1st. He is an author with a genuine passion for writing and showing others how to be successful. In each panel discussion or solo presentation, he gives a grand performance and offers not only advice but has an infectious enthusiasm for writing that is hard not to catch. I left the convention newly determined to write the best MS I can, thanks to this guy. See him if he’s in your area giving any kind of presentation and go, and read his books. He lives in the Phx area so check out Changing Hands, a local bookstore with great writers visiting all the time.

2. Define your purpose. Just about all the authors at the convention made sure to mention that you must know who your audience is, what kind of book you are writing, and why you are writing. Sounds pretty basic, but if you don’t know who your audience really is (and “anyone who wants to read it” is not good enough) or where your book will be shelved, then you are short-changing yourself. Best quote (can’t remember who said it though, I think it was Tom)–There is a difference between wanting to have written and wanting to write. In other words, some people are happy just sitting behind the keyboard and writing away. But others are not satisfied until they get published. This takes another courageous step entirely.

3. Going along with the message above, if you write fan fiction, it’s time to branch out and write your own work. Fan fiction is safe fiction, right? You don’t have to create characters, someone has already done that for you. Break out of that and be brave-create your own characters and situations. For some people, fan fiction is a great way to begin writing and stretch (and for just a few, you can get it published if you change the names). But in the real world, you need to create your own universe.

Ok, these are the top three I remember right now. More to come soon. I’ve got some editing to catch up on and some writing to tackle.

Oh, and if you’re thinking all I did was sit in a chair and listen to authors, I did spend a little time nerding out in the convention hall, having fun with the cosplayers and even kissing a few TV stars. Now you’re really jealous. The photo below is one of my favorites of the convention, where my daughter and I showed our love for Michael Rooker, also known as Merle Dixon from The Walking Dead. He’s a sweetie and we had fun talking with him.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Zombie Walk kicks off the Convention and the street is closed off for hundreds of people dressed as zombies shuffling down the road. It’s fantastic and so much fun. Grab a seat on the outside patio at Majerle’s restaurant and watch them walk by, even kids get into the fun.

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Finally, although I walked and sat and wrote, I did take time to sit and observe, which is one of my favorite activities. Even a few of the authors I talked with said that eavesdropping and observing others is a great way to build characters. So, I guess I was working as I watched everyone, right?

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Take it easy. See you next time…

A few thoughts on my day

CommuteThe morning begins. Usually taking the teen to class or to a friend’s. Yes, we have plenty of time to get ready, but we are night owls, which means we will always be running late in the morning. Eating in the car is nothing new.

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It’s mighty early

On the off days we do not have to rush off someplace, we end up retiring to our respective writing zones. She does homework, I retreat to my office and edit or write my own prose. The cats usually lounge around inside the studio or just outside, depending on the weather.

Old School Workin'

No, I don’t work on this, but I sure love to look at it. I’ve been collecting old typewriters for a bit now (they take up a lot more room that I thought) and they litter my home like newspapers in an episode of Hoarders. OK, not that bad, but when I dust them it feels like it. Looking at them reminds me how lucky I am to be a writer in the age of the computer, iPad, iPhone, and Internet.

I keep the windows open on a lovely day, the 8 Track playlists running, and the water flowing (gotta keep hydrated). Yes, some days there is a glass of wine or two, but that’s on special occasions. Hemingway I’m not.

What are you looking at?

What are you looking at?

When I return to the house for a bite to eat, I’m judged by those waiting inside for a snack. This guy pulled a muscle chasing the cat, which means he just sits around looking miserable (and waiting till he can pick up the chase). The other one is usually sleeping in a sunbeam somewhere.

photo 1_2The day is ending, and that means grabbing a bite, watching a little Supernatural (we’re catching up) and Monarch of the Glen (I just discovered this one) with a bit of the good Chivas. A little goes a long way, with TV and good Scotch. Am I right?

I love my days, and my nights. Of course, it’s not always this peaceful. Sometimes family visits, rain falls, cakes are baked, laundry is done, etc. Those are good days, too. Just not picture worthy sometimes.

What makes your day special?

It’s not the space that counts, but the writer in that space

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Where do you write? Do you need to have a cup of tea on the desk and classical music to write? Perhaps you need Metallica in your headphones while sitting at the local coffee shop. Does it matter where you write as long as you’re writing?

That’s the big question here. Does it really matter? To some writers, it isn’t a big deal–Have laptop, will write. To others, everything has to be in order before any writing can be done. Which type are you? I have friends who are happy to set out to a coffee shop and type away on a laptop. They love the hustle of the environment, the voices in the background and the unending supply of coffee and muffins.

I know a writer who takes his laptop to a local resort and sets up in the lobby with a Scotch. He uses the WiFi and has a night out and gets a lot of writing done. Me? I think after a few Scotches I may need a ride home, and I don’t know what I would be writing by then. Hemingway I’m not.

When I read Stephen King’s On Writing, I was so impressed at how he described his first writing desk, shoved in a hallway with the washer/dryer. And this was a typewriter, not even a laptop. He wrote some of the best stories and books there, proving he certainly didn’t need an office, or even a room, to write.

But there is something to be said with being among your books and a familiar setting, behind a desk where you are comfortable, right? Virginia Woolf had a separate writing studio, as did Roald Dahl and many others. Virginia wrote about a woman having A Room of One’s Own.

When I think of all the things I need in my office such as the printer, printing paper, printer ink, laptop, extra monitor, heater, A/C, iPod speakers, etc., I become acutely aware of the sparseness of Thoreau’s little cabin with a bed, small table and tiny desk. Or even Virginia Woolf’s one big table with paper and pens strewn across it. For a glimpse at their spaces, as well as many other famous writers and their spaces, check out this Pinterest site, and this one with photos of famous writers’ studios.

For some writers, it’s not where they write, but how they write. Rituals abound like having a drink at hand, writing only in the morning, writing longhand on a yellow legal pad, etc. We all have our routines, and our needs, and they are all legitimate. I don’t have any routine or ritual, although I prefer to have music without words to distract me. I have a special iPod playlist titled “No Words” that I update occasionally. Joan Didion said she needed an hour before dinner each night, with a drink, to review what she’d written that day. (Perhaps the drink helped.) I may start this one, couldn’t hurt. Check these out for more famous writing routines.

I used to write while seated at an office armoire tucked in the corner of my bedroom. I could “close” my office at night and hide the mess. It was small, but it had everything I needed in one neat little package. Then my husband remodeled the small shed on our property (it was there when we moved in). He added wood floors and a bigger window with a view to the yard. I added a desk from craigslist, an air conditioner (a necessity in the desert), and a small heater for cold mornings. This is my perfect space, and it even has a small refrigerator with chocolate and a bottle of Scotch. I wrote about it when he began the remodel, here.

Where do you write? Whether you find a spot at the local bar, in your own corner of the house, or even a separate writing shed like Woolf or Dahl, it’s the writing that counts. I am always interested in how others write, and in what environments. These differ as much as the books written in them. So, I guess the bottom line is don’t wait for the perfect space, make your perfect space and get writing.