Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Ergonomics for Writers Part One: Quit Slouching!

By: Catherine Dilts

Writing can be a literal pain in the back. Or wrist. Or posterior. Don’t let bad habits ruin your ability to create. I am fortunate to work at a company that employs a full-time professional ergonomist. Mary Plehal kindly shared valuable information specific to writers. Your particular needs should be verified by your health care practitioner.

Perhaps your mother, or some other well-meaning person, urges you to sit up straight. Or outright nags you to quit slouching! Annoying though it is, your helpful posture "policeperson" is correct. Poor posture while you are writing can cause all sorts of problems.

How do you maintain correct posture, without the presence of the posture police?

Best Practices for Posture

While Sitting:

  • Your head should be balanced over your shoulders
  • Shoulders are down and relaxed
  • The low back has an inward curve
  • Knees are very slightly below hip level
  • Elbows are close to the torso and forearms are supported
  • Feet rest comfortably on the floor or on a footrest

I’ll bet just looking at this picture made you sit up straight!

Correct Adjustment of Your Chair

I know some of you are going to complain that you have no choice about your seating arrangements. You are a poor starving artist who only has a straight backed wooden kitchen chair, or who has to grab a stool at the coffee shop. Even under the worst circumstances, some of these hints can be implemented. Keep in mind that the goal is to adjust your seating to support good posture.

  • First Adjustment:
Raise or lower the height of your chair so that your shoulders are relaxed at your sides and your hands are slightly below your elbows when your fingers are resting on the keyboard.

  • Second Adjustment:
If your chair is too high, use a foot rest. The foot rest should be angled, especially if you wear shoes with heels. Knees should be slightly lower than hips. Very tall workers may need to raise their desk surface to accomplish this.

  • Third Adjustment:
The height of your back rest should place the forward low back curve (lumbar support) of the chair into the small of your back.  This is the most common chair adjustment error. Most chairs have the lumbar support too low.

  • Fourth Adjustment:
The tilt of the chair back should be in a very slight recline vs. straight up or tipping forward. This relieves pressure on the low back

  • Fifth Adjustment:
There should be a 3 finger width gap between the front of the chair and the back of the knee.  Too much of a gap decreases support for the upper body. Too little or no gap decreases circulation and causes workers to scoot forward due to pressure behind the knee

Slide the seat pan forward or backward (if this adjustment is an option)

  • Sixth Adjustment:
Arm rests. Typical problems:
Shoulder winging = Too wide
Shoulder elevation = Too high
Shoulder slouching = Too low
Forward leaning = Too far forward if they prevent you from getting close to your desk

Adjust armrests to eliminate these problems. If this is not possible, remove the armrests all together.

Best Practices For Standing

I am fortunate to have a sit-stand desk at work. I wish I could afford to have one at home! These desks allow you to raise and lower the surface. As you’ll learn in another installment of Ergonomics for Writers, changing positions is ideal to avoid fatigue. Consider standing while you write, if you have access to a stable surface of the correct height.

  • Head and shoulders are balanced over hips
  • Shoulders are relaxed
  • Feet are hip width apart
  • A foot rest is used intermittently
  • Shoes are supportive
  • The desk surface is approximately 2” below relaxed elbow height
  • A standing mat is used on hard surfaces


Good posture is the key to avoiding physical fatigue while writing. Keep these suggestions in mind as you are creating your next novel. Breaking bad habits takes time. I find it helpful to pin posture reminders near my work area.

Join me next month for a continuation of the series. We will cover topics including desk arrangement, eye fatigue, and stretching.

Thanks again to Mary Plehal for her professional advice and illustrations for Ergonomics for Writers!

About the Author:  Catherine’s fifth published short story appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine’s May 2016 issue. The second novel in her amateur sleuth murder mystery series, Stone Cold Case – A Rock Shop Mystery, is available on-line via Barnes & Noble and Amazon, and in e-book for Kindle. She anticipates a fall release for book three. With a day job as an environmental regulatory technician, her stories often have environmental or factory-based themes. Others reflect her love of the Colorado mountains, fishing, and running.

You can learn more about Catherine and her writing at: