Sunday, 19 July 2015

Put your back into it?

‘Only try to do it yourself and you will learn how arduous is the writer’s task. It dims your eyes, makes your back ache, and knits your chest and belly together. It is a terrible ordeal for the whole body.’

Any guesses when and by whom that was written? How about the C10th, by Prior Petrus, in a commentary on the Apocalypse? Petrus was of course talking about hand-writing sacred manuscripts, not to mention drawing fantastical beasts and illuminated letters in their margins. He wasn’t thinking of creative writing, or typing. But have things changed that much?

Last month I wrote about the emotional pain that writing, especially personal writing, can bring out in us. But what about the physical pain? I have had a ropey back for 35 or more years, about as long as I’ve been writing seriously, and the two may not be entirely unconnected. Couple that with secondhand chairs in the office I used to work in, and the one I volunteer in now, and it’s a recipe for major ‘twinges’.

I visit an osteopath for monthly ‘maintenance’, which is a more pleasant experience now that I’ve switched from one who doesn’t know her own strength, to one in the same practice who hasn’t trained on the Olympic wrestling team (that’s a joke, but in fact I did once visit a masseur in Austria who had worked on the Olympic wrestling team, and when he tried what he called reflexology, it was more like being in the hands of a torturer).

We think of writing as a mental task, but actually it’s quite a physical one, whether you hand-write first, go straight to screen (I do a bit of both - poetry by hand first, prose straight to screen) or are still bashing away on your mother’s old Remington (my late mother learned to write on a slate with a slate pencil when she was at primary school, but then that was in the 1920s). And we need to take care of our physical wellbeing.

I’m the worst offender for sitting for hours following my muse, and then wondering why when I finally stand up, I can’t. I’m trying now to remember to set a digital timer, which will remind me to stop, get off my chair and do some stretching every hour or so. I also walk for at least half an hour every weekday, which is more for my heart rate. blood pressure and cholesterol
than for my muscles (I had a retinal haemorrhage scare recently) , but it certainly helps my seized up muscles too.

What do you do to make sure writing doesn’t mess up your God-given body as well as your brain? And what physical exercise do you do for your mental health? As the world’s least sporty person, I have to force myself to exercise, but it’s just as important to warm up for writing (and to cool down from it) as it is for athletes.

Veronica Zundel is a freelance writer whose latest book is Everything I know about God, I've learned from being a parent (BRF 2013). She also writes a column for Woman Alive magazine, and Bible notes for New Daylight. Veronica belongs to the only non-conservative, English speaking Mennonite church in the UK, and also blogs at


  1. This is so true Veronica. We writers should look after our bodies and yet we are so poor at it

  2. Ditto re the back, Veronica, though mine is due to a twisted pelvis. But I'm the world's worst at sitting for hours and then wondering why I can't get up. Perhaps an alarm is the way forward?

  3. My dogs can be really annoying when I'm mid flow and they decide its time for a cuddle or a walk, they generally leave me no more than two hours before they decide they are in need of some attention. They are a welcome break that saves me from sitting for hours - I also find the walk clears my mind ready to start again afresh.