As I sit at my desk and stare at this screen, I’m reminded of the impact of writing on my body. I recognize being able-bodied carries a tremendous amount of privilege, and there are many others with various physical or other conditions which make the act of writing exceedingly more difficult, or even impossible. However, I do think, even for an able-bodied person, the sheer amount of time that writing requires you to be sedentary is not inconsequential. One’s back, neck, legs, eyes, and other body parts are put at risk if one isn’t careful. Compounding this is the fact writers love reading, another generally static activity. While writing feeds the mind and soul, it can really take a toll on us physically.
I still remember the weekend before Coconut Dreams had to be locked and prepped to go to the printer. It felt like marathon after marathon to get it to that stage, and yet, I’d wanted to read it again, one last, last time before it was final. I was exhausted, but I woke up early on that Sunday. When I looked in the mirror, I noticed my right eye had a red splotch in the white part (which I learned is called the sclera). It looked like I’d just lost a fight, and seeing dark crimson was quite gruesome and frightening. After frantically googling, I thought it might be a subconjunctival hemorrhage, but there weren’t any eye doctors open at that time to confirm. I got it checked out the next day, and thankfully it was what I thought it was, and there were no long term effects. I did end up getting some reading glasses that same day though. As for the book, I took this ailment as a sign from the universe that I was done. Physically, I could not do any more.
During the time I spent writing my book, I also worked in an office and spent most of my day on a computer. I wouldn’t advise this for anyone who already has an excessive amount of screen time. From blue light worries (which I most recently read is more spectacles-sales-tactic than science), to “sitting is the new smoking,” this isn’t the best combination. I also used to write in bed. I actually prefer to write in bed. In those ungodly hours of night or early morning, it can sometimes shorten the space between thought and typing. Unfortunately, my back won’t let me anymore. If one has the financial means, I’d recommend any writer invest in a half decent desk/chair/monitor setup.
These days, I terribly miss my main exercise. I’ve played soccer since I was a kid and love it. For me, it’s magic how running around chasing a ball for an hour or two a week can improve my overall state of being. Exercise really helps clear my head. It’s much harder during the pandemic to get motivated, especially when I don’t have a team depending on me to show up. I’ve tried to do more yoga at home/stretch and other activities, but it’s not the same. I even tried installing a pull-up bar the other week. I’d bought it years ago, and finally—being stuck indoors—decided to put it up. Unfortunately, the drill bits I had weren’t long enough to fit the casing of the bar, so I had to screw it into the wall with a screwdriver. I live in an older place, and for some reason this was exceedingly difficult. I ended up throwing my back out trying to install something that likely could have helped with my back.
Perhaps the best we can do is seek an equilibrium. I’ve tried (and sometimes failed) to set firmer boundaries with myself, such as screen time limits, walking, biking, or just forcing myself to take breaks, even if it's just getting away to eat, drink, or go to the washroom. I think we writers put a ton of pressure on ourselves to finish the scene or poem or thought, and don’t always listen to our bodies. Some believe it is romantic that artists suffer for their art. I don’t really agree with this, nor do I believe writing will take any less time going forward. This challenge will likely continue, so all I can say is take care, and best of luck in finding your own balance.
Okay, time for break now! ;)
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.
Derek Mascarenhas is a graduate of the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies Creative Writing Program, a finalist and runner-up for the Penguin Random House of Canada Student Award for Fiction, and a nominee for the Marina Nemat Award. His fiction has appeared in places such as Joyland, The Dalhousie Review, Maple Tree Literary Supplement, Cosmonauts Avenue, and The Antigonish Review. His linked short story collection, Coconut Dreams, was called a "stunning debut" in Quill and Quire’s starred review and The Globe and Mail named it one of the best reads from Canadian small presses. Derek currently lives in Toronto and is working on a novel in the magic realism genre.