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Writing Hurts

A few months ago, someone on Twitter - yes, I’m still calling it Twitter - asked if other writers experienced hand pain and what they did about it. I replied that, yes, I do, and have for years. I told them some of the products I use, but I thought I’d write a blog about the part of writing that most people never talk about or even know.


That it hurts.


I am not in the minority of writers, either. Most of us, after writing for a while, begin developing hand or arm pain, maybe even back or shoulder pain, and more. I’ll talk about my own experiences in this blog, so I’m not speaking for everyone else, but I wanted to say something else first.


When writers publish today, they understand that it’s highly likely that their work will be stolen and posted somewhere without their consent. They also know that someone might end up even using their work to train an AI model; again, without their consent. This is the bad part of the business. Most of us, in my genre especially, are more than giving. I have heard many authors say multiple times and very loudly that they will literally give you a book if you can’t afford it. Yet, people will always steal our work for their own personal gain, and others will undoubtedly read it on a site that took it from that writer, either knowingly or unknowingly contributing to the problem.


Here’s the reason why that hurts me the most: writing causes me physical pain every single day. Yes, I write faster than a lot of authors, and that might mean I’m typing more or putting out more books than some, at least; and on top of that, I have a day job where I’m at the computer; but my hand and wrist pain didn’t start until I started writing novels and publishing them around 2016-2017.


I was writing easily 10,000 words a day for many days in the beginning and had no idea that my hands wouldn’t be able to maintain that pace for long. I probably should have, but I grew up with computers and typing. No one ever warned me that typing that much would lead to problems later. If they did, I was probably young and naive and thought that it didn’t pertain to me. On top of all of that, though, I started to experience severe elbow pain in my dominant hand and a little in the other side. I bought wrist braces, hand and arm rests, tape, and anything else I could find to help me cope with the pain. Seriously, my Amazon order history from this time period reflects this. I started taking anti-inflammatories, and when all of that didn’t help, I went to the doctor.


I was starting to develop arthritis, and very young at that. On top of it, I had golfer’s elbow, which is embarrassing because I don’t golf, and when people would ask what was wrong and I told them, they’d go, “I didn’t know you were a golfer.” And I’d say, “Because I’m not. I’m a writer.” I was prescribed a medication for arthritis, which helped a little, and I also went to physical therapy and learned some helpful stretches for my elbow specifically, but it still didn’t go away, so the doctors had to do a couple of steroid injections to get it to calm down enough for the stretches to work. Those who have never had one of those shots might not know that they’re incredibly painful and can take weeks to help, if at all. They also diminish in their ability to help after you get the first one or the second, so you can’t just keep going back to get another one. (I wouldn’t advise that even if you could, but I’m no medical professional, so that’s not really advice at all.) Eventually, the elbow calmed down enough, and I still do stretches every day to keep it calm, but the wrist pain never went away.


So, today, years later, I’m going to walk you through what I have to do to write a book and why. My hope is that by sharing my story, it might bring some light to what a lot of us go through to type you a story.


Here’s how it goes for me. In the morning, after I wake up and I’m ready to write, I have several steps to complete. First, I have my stretches. I do each stretch for ten seconds on both arms and do that at least three times. I’ll do this more if I feel that the muscles are extra tight. I will do this while I take a break in my writing later as well. That takes a few minutes. Then, I apply one of the creams or gels that I use, depending on how I’m feeling, because I don’t want to have to take anti-inflammatories every day just to type. Again, not a medical professional, but I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t recommend that.


I use a pain relief cream or gel if my hands are really bad, rub that in, and let it sit for a bit. I also use an arthritis pain relief gel, which I’m supposed to apply four times a day to the affected areas. One has lidocaine in it. The other has NSAID for anti-inflammatory needs. So, it’s usually a “pick my poison” situation for that day. I also have to take weeks of breaks from the NSAID stuff after a period of time because that’s what it says on the box, so I do that as well.


After that’s dry, I will put on compression gloves. I have tried so many braces, gloves, tapes, and wraps over the years that I’ve probably spent thousands of dollars just to keep my hands in decent working order. Currently, I’m using gloves that work for a few weeks, but they start to lose their compression pretty fast, so I have to get a new pair. We now order these in bulk, and I sleep in these gloves (a different pair) as well to prevent swelling at night.


I sit in my specific writing chair, which has helped tremendously, but I’m still not pain-free, and I start typing. I used to easily be able to type those 10,000 words without taking so much as a bathroom break, but now, every few hundred words or so (and sometimes, less), I have to stop typing for at least a few minutes. I might do a stretch. I might just not move at all. Then, I get back to it and repeat those periodic stretches until I’m done. I try not to get it to the point where I’m in so much pain that I can’t or shouldn’t continue and will usually switch activities before then. I have a hand massager I use religiously, which helps whenever I have my hand stuck in there, at least, and I’ve even tried TENS therapy for some relief.


I’ve had MRIs and X-rays, more physical therapy, gone from medicine to medicine, and nothing really makes it go away. I can’t even remember what it feels like not to have pain or inflammation in my hands. I used to play multiple sports without issue, and now, I struggle with grip strength and carrying anything heavy or holding things for a long time. It has impacted my daily life. Cooking isn’t as easy as it should be when I need to move a pot of boiling water or whisk something. Taking out the trash, my wife has to give me the light bags and carry the heavy ones herself. Even driving can be painful at times.


Unfortunately, there’s not much I can do to remedy this. You might say, “Well, type less. Put out fewer books.” I can’t. My brain won’t allow me to, in the same way it won’t allow me to use dictation software, which I have tried more than once. My brain moves even faster than I type, and I type pretty fast. I end up incredibly frustrated and unable to continue, so as many times as I’ve tried, I’ve decided to give up on it for now. I know that I might have to return to it in the future, so I’m delaying the inevitable.


Yes, I’ve tried ergonomic stuff. I actually use an ergo mouse, and it has been a godsend, but nothing else helps much. I have tried different desks, different chairs, standing, sitting, writing at different times of day and not writing at all for a period of time to give myself a break. My breaks used to be a day or two, but now, sometimes, they have to be weeks - and that’s when I edit or do something else - but the day I start writing again, my hands are still in pain, so even a break doesn’t help much.


Today, and every single day when I type, I usually think, “This is one less word I’ll be able to type in the future. Do I really need to type this?” That is usually for work because at work, I have Slack, and Slack has audio and video messaging options that I use a lot to “save my words.” Luckily, we don’t use email much where I work. When typing docs for work, though, I have the same thought. “Is this word worth losing another one later?”


That’s just part of my writing process these days. Even as I type this now, I’m thinking that. My poor wife has even offered to let me record what I want to write and she’d type it for me later, but that’s just not how my autistic brain works. I can’t say the words out loud. I have to type them, see them on the page for my brain to be satisfied, and writing is how I get relief from the rest of the stress of life and the world, so I can’t not do it. And I need it pretty much every day or I’ll start to have problems. I’ve said this before somewhere, but my wife can always tell when I need to write. There’s something I give off; probably palpable tension, annoyance, and general frustration. It tells her to tell me to “go to my office and write.” So, simply not typing at all isn’t an option for me.


I go through this every day. Do my stretches, apply creams and gels, sometimes take anti-inflammatories, and put on my gloves. I take my breaks. I do more stretches. I continue on. If you’ve read this far, you might be tempted to send me suggestions of things to do or try, and I’ll kindly ask you to skip that this time. I’m not writing this for that, but I appreciate the thought.


I’m writing this because I wanted to say that when writers tell you that blood, sweat, and tears went into their work, they often mean that literally. And in a world where art is often discounted - so much so that someone can say they’re an artist when they use an AI prompt, and get mad at us for calling that theft - it hurts.


It hurts emotionally, mentally, economically or financially, and for many of us, it hurts physically as well.

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6 Comments


Maryann Fuhrmann
Maryann Fuhrmann
Oct 29, 2023

I feel for you and I’m amazed how dedicated you are to get your books out. Respect.

Being in constant pain takes a toll on you. I too have arthritis in my joints. It just sucks!

A question… Given your need to take frequent breaks from typing, do the breaks affect what you are currently writing or the way you are writing it?


Technology needs to step up so it can grab what’s in your head and convert it to electronic form without needing your hands. Maybe one day.


One possible workaround… If you could find a way to divert what you send to your fingers to type and speak it instead, the app otter.ai does bang up jo…


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Nicole Pyland
Nicole Pyland
Oct 29, 2023
Replying to

Thank you! I agree with you that it would be nice for technology to be able to pull it out of my brain. My breaks don’t really cause me to lose track if I’m still actually focused on the writing. If something else distracts me though, like life stuff, it can be hard to get back into it. Usually, I type until I get to a good spot and then break. I’m used to it by now so that helps too. I can’t use dictation software of any kind. It just doesn’t work for me. So, it’s not an option right now, unfortunately.

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Be careful with the anti-inflammatory medications. Both over the counter and prescription. They can cause kidney problems. I speak from experience. I went through 6 months of steroids to treat it a kidney condition (Minimal Change Disease) caused by them. I also had to severely change my diet.

I don’t know what state you are in, I’m in IL where medical marijuana and recreational are legal. CBD cream really works. I can only speak to the stuff I’ve gotten at a dispensary. For my knees I take a small dollop and massage it in for at least 1/2 an hour. Just that little bit takes away the pain. I’m sure it doesn’t work for everyone, but it’s worked for me…

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lolycarrillo
lolycarrillo
Oct 21, 2023

Thank you for your work. It’s meant a lot for many women, myself included. You should not have to endure pain to share your craft. Warm regards.

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Thank you for sharing this! I had no idea and it makes me appreciate you and other authors so much more.

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Thank you so much for sharing this.

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