Writer’s block is not a valid excuse for not writing. You can break through it by using one of the many kick-ass resources available on how to find ideas, re-slant articles, improve your brainstorming skills and more.
But what if you literally can’t write? What if your wrists give you too much pain when you touch a keyboard, or try to hold a pen?
Life-threatening or permanently damaging health conditions aside, a hand or arm injury is one of the worst things that can happen to a writer. And thanks to our constant love affair with our computers, hand injuries are becoming more common among writers.
In May 2013, I was diagnosed with nerve entrapment in my wrists. The pain was driving me crazy. At one point, it hurt even when I wasn’t doing anything.
The pain had been going on for 3 weeks when I got my diagnosis. It wasn’t the first time I’d had this problem. The condition can last anywhere between a couple of days and several months, depending on how serious it is and what you do to get better.
As someone who takes her health seriously —or, more accurately, as someone who would go nuts unless she could start writing soon— I followed my doctor’s instructions, which included using an ointment regularly, taking vitamin B, resting my hands as much as possible and wearing splints, especially while typing.
And while it’s extremely frustrating, it’s not the end of the world.
Luckily, as bloggers, our careers aren’t just about writing, and neither are our lives. So I came up with a list of practical and fun activities for tough, non-writing times. The good news is, most of these tips are also applicable to writer’s block:
No, seriously. It’s not like you’re slacking. You can’t write. During the early stages of a nerve entrapment episode, it’s possible it hurts even when you take notes the old-fashioned way, by hand. So use this excuse to procrastinate properly.
But do stay away from your computer as much as you can.
I realize it’s like being separated from your baby (especially if you don’t have actual offspring to attend to), but even the most ergonomic of keyboards isn’t your friend right now. If you do have to use it, minimize the time you spend with it. Cut back on Internet surfing and social media, for instance.
Unless you have a cold that requires bed rest, go out and remind your friends what you look like. Have fun. Get crazy. Just don’t abuse your hands — so bowling isn’t a good idea unless you plan only to watch and keep score for your friends.
Make memories worth writing about. You know what they say: The more exciting your life, the more interesting your writing.
Network in Person
This is the perfect time to attend conferences and other networking events. Sure, you can’t take notes much, but you can record some essential stuff (if recording’s allowed at the event) or ask others to lend you their notes so you can get a copy printed.
You can network online any time, so use this injury time as your opportunity to make friends and contacts face-to-face. Don’t forget to bring your business cards. You have those, right?
I recommend swimming. 5 days in the sun and sea worked wonders for my hands. Walking is great, too.
We need to keep in shape for a healthier body anyway, so exercise regularly but without going overboard. Your brain and body will thank you in the most spectacular ways.
Record Ideas on Your Phone
I’m guessing many of you don’t own tape recorders. I know I don’t. So I use my smartphone or MP3 player to keep track of ideas.
Ideas tend to flow at an alarming rate, particularly during times you’re not supposed to be writing. So save them all. You’re not retired, after all. You’re just on vacation. Well, sort of.
Go Window Shopping
Shopping is a lot of fun, and it helps to release stress (as long as you don’t spend more than you can afford!).
But this time, use your eyes and legs more than your arms. Going through racks, especially with splints, can hurt. You can always come back for stuff later if you see something you like.
Equip Yourself for Success
You’ll need to optimize your working environment to prevent this injury from reoccurring. Make sure you have an ergonomic keyboard, mouse, and wrist support. Now’s the time to buy them if you don’t have them already.
Experiment With Podcasting
Podcasting can spice up your content, increase traffic and appeal to a wider audience.
You’ll still need to type file names and keywords, and push the save button, but recording your content is easier and faster than typing an entire article, especially after you get the hang of it.
Try Video Blogging
Everything about podcasting also goes for video blogging.
You can generally create stuff with the equipment you already have, but if you realize you lack the basics, add them to your shopping list. Don’t go overboard, though. If you realize video blogging is not for you, you might regret the purchases.
Find Quality Speech-to-Text Software
For a Mac user, there aren’t a lot of free options. The free ones I found didn’t work all that well, and they were way too basic.
Mac has its own speech recognition and dictation software, but everything you write is saved by Apple. Ouch. And it can’t keep up if you tend to talk fast.
The most popular choice for Mac seemed to be Dragon Dictate (which doesn’t have a free trial), so I decided to gamble 200 bucks. And I went with the mail order version so I would also get Dragon’s own microphone and avoid potential compatibility issues.
Unfortunately, the mail order version comes with a DVD. I didn’t realize the DVD-drive requirement for the product before ordering, and that’s my bad. But it just didn’t occur to me that their only with-microphone option would completely ignore MacBook Air users!
So it cost 200 bucks, and purchasing an external DVD drive (because transferring the files from another Mac didn’t work) to finally install the product.
There’s also a downloadable version at about 130 bucks, but then you need to buy a quality microphone. The compatible ones are listed on the product website, though.
Installation isn’t complicated, and if there are any problems, support staff generally respond quickly.
Voice-training the software doesn’t take much time, though getting used to dictation and using the right instructions might. Especially at first, talking won’t feel as natural as typing and it may be slow going. But once you get the hang of it, it’s a big help in the wrist health department, and it will increase your productivity.
Windows users are luckier, as there are many more free tools and free trials you can download. Unfortunately, my ancient Lenovo laptop couldn’t utilize any of them. But blogging guru Jon Morrow shares his recommendations for Windows users in this video on speech recognition tools for bloggers:
Listen to Your Doctor
OK, this tip is more pragmatic than fun, but I can’t emphasize it enough. I have 2 splints for my wrists and wherever my Mac goes, they follow.
As comfortable as my Mac is, and despite my health being better, I still use the splints when I feel the potential pain piling up or when I have to do excess writing.
(And I still love typing more than dictating.)
Things will eventually get back to normal, but it doesn’t mean you should return to the old habits that got you into trouble in the first place. And there are a few things you can do to remain healthy:
- Take regular breaks from your computer. This condition can always come back, so don’t forget to exercise your hands and arms regularly, and remember to step away for breaks. This also benefits your neck and eyes.
- Don’t lose your splints, or forget where you placed your ointment. Just in case.
- Write in bulk whenever inspiration strikes. Life is unpredictable with or without wrist injuries, so it’s best to have some back-up posts.
Staying away from your keyboard might not be ideal, but it’s manageable. Remember it possibly happened due to some unhealthy working habits, so this is the perfect time to adopt a healthier lifestyle, as well as a better appreciation of time.
And when you’re able to type again, don’t procrastinate! Get the words out while you can, in case tomorrow’s harder than today.
Photo: Ian Koblyanski