What’s that you say – you wanna stand up to write?
Some years ago, I hosted a writing course called Stand Up and Write. I forget why I worded it that way, since the course was certainly not about standing up to write, however, this post is about that very activity.
Ernest Hemingway apparently had a ‘tower workroom’ which he retired to when the need arose, but most of his writing was done standing at a bookshelf in his bedroom with his typewriter on top.
Hemingway wasn’t the only devotee of standing up – Dickens, Virginia Woolf and Philip Roth are only a handful of the many famous writers who’ve pursued the habit. And authors aren’t the only fans: Thomas Jefferson had a six-legged ‘tall desk’, while Otto Von Bismark and Winston Churchill stood up to do specific tasks during their working days.
But there are more pressing reasons for standing to write rather than sitting:
As John Moir pointed out back in 2008 (Poets and Writers)
“Sitting down to write…can actually lead to a decline in mental acumen”
Which is clearly not a good situation for a writer, but recent studies (and there are lots of them) show that standing to write is better for our health – it improves posture, burns more calories, generates a genuine tiredness (so we sleep better) and prolongs life.
Since my day job used to involve a fair bit of sitting on my butt, and because I’d had lots of problems with back pain, I decided it was about time I did something about it. Now, there are all sorts of ways to bring your writing desk up to a suitable height, but I wasn’t going to be knocking up a workbench myself, and since, at the time, I didn’t want to fork out for one of those gorgeous Varidesks that really are the biz when it comes to standy-up writing, I managed to persuade my line manager to get me a proper standing desk. (Actually, someone else in the company had one and no longer wanted it, so they gave it to me.)
At home, I used to do my writing on a laptop at the kitchen table and as there was nothing else in my house that’d give me that additional height, I resorted to that good old standby method of piling-things-up. Admittedly, a teetering tower of books and boxes with a laptop perched on top wasn’t going to work in the long term, but I reckoned it would do as an experiment.
So, did it work? You betcha! Although there were pros and cons as I expected, I was surprised to find it quite a comfortable position, enabling me to get several hundred words banged out before I resorted to my usual butt-on-the-chair routine.
These days, I have a standing desk of my own at home. Unlike my work one, it isn’t electric but has a winding handle to vary the height according to the height of the writer.
It has to be said that it isn’t the easiest habit to get into – standing up to write is plain weird at first and it’ll probably feel weird for a few days, if not longer. However, it’s worth persevering as there are several health benefits, as mentioned above. It also made a massive difference to my back pain, which now hardly bothers me at all.
There are a few provisos in terms of posture, such as the old nugget about your eyeline being just below the top of the screen, keeping your head upright. With laptops this doesn’t really work as you’re always going to be looking down/hunched over the damn thing to some extent. Which is why (before I bought the standing desk), I forked out for a new PC, rather than another laptop.
I can’t say it’s given my imagination a boost, but it has helped me stay motivated, which has to be good.
A most interesting idea, Colin. I can’t say that this has hit South Africa as yet, I have never seen a standing desk.
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They’re getting quite popular, though most folk don’t like change, so it’ll take a while to catch on.
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