Thursday, February 5, 2015

'Writer's Bottom' and how Facebook and a treadmill saved me from getting it.

I suspect that many of you, like me, are time-poor. My enormous, all-encompassing dreams of being an incredibly famous and well-loved writer have to fit in with four kids, two dogs, a husband in ministry and a Sunday school roster.

Practically, this is how this lack of time works out for me: I don’t exercise.
I justify it in all sorts of ways. It takes too much time, it wastes my day, I’m not very good at it anyway. Also, pain.

However, the sad fact is that (and I suspect I’m like many of you also in this) I sit on my bottom. A lot.

And it’s not all that good for me. I am at distinct risk of developing Writer's Bottom. (Do you really need me to explain what that is?)

Things came to a head last year when I watched a doco on why moving around will stop an early death. (It was a bit more complicated than that, but that was how my brain heard it. YOU ARE GOING TO DIE!!!)

I counted up the hours per week I spent on my rear end and grimaced. It didn’t look too good. But honestly, I just knew that there was no way I was ever going to cut down my writing work and replace it with, agh, *exercise*.

My dilemma was miraculously solved when, twice in the following week, I read about treadmill desks. What a revolutionary, efficient idea. Here was a desk that was also an exercise machine. You could walk – and work – at the same time.

Of course I looked them up immediately and nearly keeled over (see? early death is imminent) when I saw the price. Three grand to stay alive for 10 more years seemed a small price to pay, but when the books are only just selling fast enough to pay for my cello lessons and the four kids and two dogs still need to eat, the treadmill desk seemed like an impossible dream.

But I knew that I still needed a treadmill desk, because, tummy flab. And I’m not a girl to turn away from a challenge. So I turned to the almighty power of social media and asked my Facebook friends if they could help me. Did any of them have an unused treadmill sitting in their sheds that they’d be willing to lend? 

An old friend from Sydney had just the thing and, even better, she was prepared to give it to me. We had a lovely coffee one morning and I came home with the first part of my plan.

The second part was hitching up some kind of desk apparatus. I googled ‘DIY treadmill desks’, studied the pictures and set my brain to designing something that wasn’t going to cost a lot. It took a few goes (the desk part has to be at the right height) but I came up with something that worked. 

My original desk setup was just too low so I added a second layer.
My current desk set up is made out of (1) an old computer desk piece, (2) glue and staples, (3) Velcro and (4) the kids’ matchbox car garage which was sitting unused in the toy room. (Unsurprisingly, it was free. I had all the materials in the house or the shed. In fact, the only things I spent money on were replacing the belt for $100 and purchasing a ‘split’ keyboard so my arms aren’t constricted, for $160.)

The next test was to see if it actually worked. The first time I walked and typed it was a bit confusing. I found I could type well enough, but editing was tricky. And there was constantly a nagging feeling in the back of my brain, which kept asking me, ‘hey, why are the legs moving here?’ Once I explained it all to my frontal cortex, it seemed to get the idea and now it doesn’t bother me anymore.

I don’t use the desk all the time. I keep it for my dedicated writing hours (as opposed to my fafffing around on Facebook hours) but when you think that I have 6 to 9 dedicated writing hours per week, that’s actually quite a lot of walking. Yesterday, for example, I walked for 2 and a half hours before I decided that I had been quite virtuous enough and would now rest my tired feet. In that time I wrote 2,500 words, and then another 1000 sitting on my bottom, feeling quite relaxed and at peace with the world.

Note the split keyboard. My laptop sits on a shelf just behind the treadmill desk, at eye level. 

Setting up a treadmill desk doesn’t have to be at huge expense, and it could just improve your health and the fit of your jeans. What do you think?


  1. Hi Cecily - a great post and what a great idea :) I've been having similar thoughts - though I might just make time to walk around the neighbourhood on a regular basis. I'm curious though - once your brain got used to the idea - did you find the walking helped you concentrate as you wrote, did you notice any improvement in creativity or was it about the same. Thanks for your post.

  2. I haven't noticed much difference in creativity. Perhaps that will come though...

  3. Absolutely, positively brilliant, girl. Beats watching the weather as to exercise. My set-up is in the living room, but maybe I could get my son to clear out his junk in the spare room. Hmm much food for thought here, Cecily. I often leave my PC and walk around the room but only for 15 mins or so...not enough.

  4. My treadmill backs on to my desk, so I keep the laptop on the shelf and connect it to a free standing screen on teh desk. then it's a simple display switch as to which screen I use - sitting or standing. We are fortunate to have a neat little alcove space in this room.

  5. LOL Cecily. I think you get the gold star for the most original CWD post ever! I would never have thought of that, but what a great idea. I guess it's tricky setting it up ergonomically to start with, but once that's done, it looks brilliant. Now you just have to invent an app that will tell you how many words you're writing per km :)

    1. Everybody wants to know that. But I say there is no answer. However I have done 2000 today in about 1.5 hours.can't tell you how many kms...

  6. You are amazing Cecily. I am most impressed. Alas I do have a writer's bottom. But I also have fibromyalgia - which means my body is allergic to exercise. I do manage a 45 minute walk outdoors daily most of the time and have stuck to it for 16 years. I also think I'd find it a bit confusing to walk and write. My body doesn't multitask well.

    But I take my hat off to you. Sounds like you've hit the grand solution. Well done! And happy walking and writing or should I say 'Happy write-walking?" :)

    1. That's difficult Anusha. We all do what works for us though. A daily walk is more htan I have done in recent years.

  7. Innovative idea, Cecily. (Guessing you've done a risk assessment, including ergonomics?) I'm afraid my multitasking would fail if I had to run and type concurrently. Mind you, I do tend to get lots of ideas while pounding the pavement. It's just holding them in until I can get my hands on a pen and some paper that's the trick! :) Hope it's a 'write good tread' for you ...

  8. Amazing, Cecily--well done to you! I think your idea might be just a tad too late for me, in more ways than one--maybe my function is to act as a warning to other writers that they might well end up like me unless they spring into action!!!

  9. you are too funny your writing and your sense of fun. Thanks for your are inspiring BUT I don't think I would be able multi-skill quite like this, so it looks like writer's bottom for me! :-)