Sunday, September 28, 2008

Writer's Elbow

Writing as a career includes many hazards: fluctuating markets, incomprehensible royalty statements, paying the full shot on FICA. There are also a few physical hazards: carpal tunnel, strained eyesight, being trampled from standing between Neil Gaiman and his fans. I half expected those hazards. What I did not expect was Writer's Elbow.

I type with one finger. (Yes, one.) This finger is on my right hand. My left arm rests on the arm of my chair, so that the left hand can be used to hit the SHIFT key (okay, one-and-a-tenth fingers, assuming that I need a capital letter every tenth character.) Lately, I have been averaging between 2,000 and 3,000 words a day on the YA fantasy I'm writing, which means I've been sitting at the computer for several hours per day. My left elbow rests or rubs all that time on the arm of the chair. This arm is padded, but nonetheless I have a painful rubbing away of skin, which breaks open, bleeds, scabs over, and then breaks open again.

Now, in the annals of work-related physical injuries, this is not exactly a biggie. OSHA does not need to be notified. What the situation is, is embarrassing. Writer's Elbow? Am I the only writer out there so afflicted?

If so, then I'm really embarrassed.

23 comments:

Ben said...

Ms. Kress, THIS is why I read your blog! All sorts of interesting facts that I can learn about some of my favorite books and stories. Like them being typed by one finger.

Can you take out an insurance policy on that finger? I'd hate to see something happen and you be unable to work!

cd said...

You're alone! Hide your scab in shame!

Lovingly,

cd

msisolak said...

My case of writer's elbow hasn't occurred because of the writing. It's when I'm *not* writing that I press my left arm against my chair seat.

Nor am I scabbed and bleeding, which almost sounds better. Mine's more like tennis elbow, with the tendons above and below affected, and achy much of the time. I may have to switch to an armless chair, sadly, because it's about posture more than anything else for me.

Have you tried a pillow on that chair arm?

Marsha

Tim of Angle said...

Get "Dragon Naturally Speaking" if you use a Windows box or "Via Voce" if you use a Mac. Then all you have to worry about is "writer's tongue".

Mark said...

More motivation for direct neural implants :-))

I don't suppose you can get disability....

gdtownshende said...

One finger? O.O I've had several friends who type with two, one on each hand, but this is the first time I've heard of someone typing with one finger.

I type with both hands, using all my fingers, but for the longest time I had a hell of a time with typing numbers without looking at the keyboard. Working as a switch tech in the cellular industry soon cured me of that, since it involves typing a lot of numbers, as well as switch commands, to update, maintain, and status the switch's database.

The only ailment I have on my elbows is psoriasis, which, when I don't take care of it and pick at it can break open, bleed, and scab over. When I do use the medication, my body responds well to it and the psoriasis goes away. I've got psoriasis elsewhere, too, but I brought it up only because of your mention of elbows.

I also suffer from carpal tunnel, as well.

Mike Flynn said...

Hey, I thought all girls had touch typing skills as part of their genetic heritage!

(RVK)

Daniel said...

I use a notbook computer with a touchpad right below the space bar (between my wrists). The touch pad isn't centered on the machine, it's more to the left. I used to keep both thumbs on the space bar (but only use my right thumb), but now I have to pick up my left thumb so that the second knuckle back or the meaty part behind that second knuckle don't play with the touchpad. I used to have the touchpad disabled, but (being an old machine) it started not working right with my mouse.

The point? My left thumb points way up, and it reminds me of how girls stick out their pinkies when drinking something. After typing for a while, it gets sore (on the back side, where the tendon pulls my thumb up).

Also, my wife's right wrist gets sore (beginnings of carpal tunnel), so sometimes she switches to use the mouse with her left hand.

Don't feel too awkward!

James A. Ritchie said...

Sounds like an elbow pad is in order. Just slip it on when writing, then slip it off when finished. Let it take the rubbing instead of you skin taking it.

James A. Ritchie said...

Sounds like an elbow pad is in order. Just slip it on when writing, then slip it off when finished. Let it take the rubbing instead of you skin taking it.

Annie said...

One finger?! I am in awe.

If you are in alignment though from shoulder on down that this is just overuse. Ice, anti-inflammatory and maybe an elbow wrap of some kind will help.

I type with both hands but have had carpal issues. Yoga and massage therapy have helped. Sauna is good too.

One finger. Wow.

Orion said...

Ah, repetitive motion injury!

It's never too late to learn to touch-type with all ten fingers. I bit the bullet when I turned 30, when I realized that keyboards were going to be an integral part of my life due to changing technology. Before that, it was four fingers, and maybe 25 words per minute. Now I cruise along at 80 to 100 wpm, and I don't have to look down at what my fingers are doing.

Yes, there's a learning curve, but it only takes about two weeks of daily practice to become functional at it. Full speed comes in a couple of months. I cheated a little, because I chose to learn the ergonomic Dvorak layout rather than the standard Qwerty or Sholes layout. Dvorak did a lot of time and motion studies to minimize the effort that the typist needs to put into typing, and it really helped me get my carpal tunnel flareups under control. No more neck and shoulder strain, either. The absence of pain is a wonderful thing.

Well, it worked for me, and I'd certainly recommend giving it a try (especially if you choose the Dvorak layout, available with a flick of the software settings on any PC or Mac). I'm still boggled by the number of people I know who have careers that keep them at the keyboard all day who aren't touch-typists.

Neal Holtschulte said...

You should take steps to eliminate this problem immediately before you develop bursitis. Seriously. An elbow pad or a different typing style both sound like good ideas to me.

bluesman miike Lindner said...

Fer cryin' out loud, Nancy...learn to type. It ain't brain surgery. Even so broken-down a bluesman as yours truly can make 8 fingers and a thumb make the piece of paper wonder what's next.

If Little Blues can do it, =anybody= can.

Nancy Kress said...

Thank you all for your suggestions. I'll follow through on some of them -- but NOT on learning to type. A few years into my writing career I did take a course in touch typing, and it slowed me down so much that I gave it up. I have a VERY fast one finger!

P.F. said...

I have three comments on this:

1. If Nancy can write her terrific stories with one finger, just imagine what she could do if she used two! Nobel Prize, or Pulitzer, at least!

2. I read somewhere that Harlan Ellison types with only two fingers, and he claims to do so at 133 words a minute!

3. Writer's Elbow is a well known condition. Just like Tennis Block.

Pebble Texture said...

Hikers get a similar condition when their boots rub a heel or ankle raw, and then a blister develops, which gets rubbed raw again, and so on.

I use a product called Molefoam in such conditions. It seems like it could help your elbow too. The technique is to make a donut shape of the foam, with the raw area left uncovered by the donut hole. The padding will elevate the raw area away from the chair arm, and the donut hole will let it heal without getting rubbed raw. You can use several layers of donut shaped foam, as much as is needed to elevate the raw area away from contact with the chair arm.

Mark said...

One more observation of ergonomics: I've lately been doing work that requires much, much sitting. Being an old, fat, arthritic dude (don't get that way-it's quite overrated) I'd get back pains, no matter what kind of chair I used. I got in the habit of regularly standing for a while as I did my work. Some work places are better for this than others, but what's on my short list for my next home computing station is a padded bar stool with a back (no arms, I don't even use armrests when I drive). I was this display desk in an electronics store that had height-adjustable shelves for the CPU (or other Stuff), monitor, keyboard and mouse. I'll let you know if anyone sells this off the shelf to the retail market, as the one I saw was actually a store display. I just couldn't help but notice how nice it was to have the option of standing or sitting to use the computer without having to adjust anything.

If I can't find one for sale I'm gettin' out the tools after I move to my next abode :-)

bluesman miike Lindner said...

Each to her own, I guess...whatever works. But the idea that a professional writer--one of your exceptional talent, Nancy-- relies on one finger... Well, it's like Jimi Hendrix needing a roadie to tune his guitar. And suppose something happens to the finger??

Nancy Kress said...

Hey, guys -- why, when I write about things important to writing SF, I get three or four comments, and when I write about Writer's Elbow, for Heaven's sake, I get a ton of reactions?

bluesman miike Lindner said...

Because we care about you.

P.F. said...

That's not fair! I commented on the global financial crisis as well! Not here, but still ...

Now, please, can we hear more about writer's elbow?

Hailey said...

I get Writer's Elbow too. But it is from hand writing everything. I know how to type, actually very fast, but I'm at the computer so much for other stuff, I like to write my stories by hand. But if I do it too much, my elbows kill me and are really sore later. :-/ I'm trying to learn to write with my left hand to even it out a bit but that is slow going.

Also, I think its pretty hard to go from one finger to touch typing. No wonder it slowed you down.

I learned to touch type with one hand and it was a very gradual process. One finger, then two, etc.

Good luck with the elbow.