No Novel is Worth Your Hands
Today’s article is something a bit different. It’s actually a (slighted edited) transcript of the accompanying youtube video. Feel free to watch that if you’d prefer to listen, or keep reading below:
Sharp stabbing pains, burning, tingling, or numbness in your hands during or after a writing session is not normal, and you should stop immediately to prevent serious damage.
Hey, guys, ETJ Writes here! I want to talk to you today about the health of your hands while writing.
I was actually inspired to make this video by a post I made on tumblr about two years ago talking about what to do if you start feeling burning, tingling, numbness, etc., in your hands while you’re writing.
Now, I always wear these braces while I’m writing—this did not occur because of writing, um, actually my hands are fine right now, so that’s good. But a couple years ago I did something to them. I tried a new activity, and I did it too intensely too quickly, and I started to have searing pain all down the backs of my hands—both hands.
It started out in the one, and then I was using the other hand more, and then it switched to that hand too, and it was just—it was not fun. It got to the point where I really felt like I couldn’t move my hands, and given that my bread and butter is being a musician, I was kind of freaking out over the prospect of not being able to play piano. So immediately I went out, and I got these braces, and I got some help from people who worked on the computer a lot, and I want to talk to you today about what you can do to avoid damage.
This is especially important as NaNoWriMo is coming up, and a lot of you take this time of year to be like, “Hey it’s time to finally start, finish, do whatever I need to do on my novel—whether I’m on the first draft, second draft, third draft, I’m gonna use this time to get it done.”
However if you’re not someone that writes every day and you go from zero writing or minimal writing to a tonne of writing all at once, you are going to overwork your hands, and you’re gonna stress them out.
Again like I said, I was inspired to make this video by a post I made on tumblr a couple years ago. I remember I put it out—I think it was in October? And I said NaNo was on the way, and I described some things that are not good to do; just kind of a general reminder to people and what happened was . . .
The post was dead silent. Then all of a sudden in like the last week of November—this is like a month and change after I made the post—the notes start piling up and piling up and piling up, until in just a matter of weeks I had over 700 notes on this post, which to me told me that people jumped into NaNo, started writing, felt pretty good for most of it, and then in the last week or so their hands started bothering them so badly they started looking for things on the internet talking about similar experiences and how to fix it, and they stumbled across my post and started reblogging it.
And by then maybe it was too late. So hopefully this video comes in time for a lot of you to be able to set yourselves up for success and not failure when writing.
I want to split this video into two sections. First I want to talk about what I do personally, and then I want to share some experiences and tips on the notes of the tumblr post, and then of course feel free to put your own experiences and your own tips in the comment section down below.
So without further ado, like I said, once I started noticing the burning and tingling in my hands I went out and I got some braces. Actually I started with the one, and then I ended up with two, and these are actually my third set because after a while they wear out, and I wear these a lot.
I don’t currently have any pain in my hands, however once you’ve damaged something there’s always the possibility of damage occurring again, and I find that if I use the computer for more than 30 minutes—whether it’s just using the mouse or typing—I start to feel a little strain on my hands. Nothing that you couldn’t push through, but it’s not good to push through that type of thing and if you push through it every day you’re going to make it a little bit worse and a little bit worse and a little bit worse until you end up at the worst possible extreme which is needing surgery. We don’t want that.
So I wear these every day on my hands whenever I’m doing any type of work on the computer. I will also wear them when gardening; sometimes I will wear them when I am writing by hand. I will wear them when I am sewing; I will wear them when I’m doing a lot of small fiddly activities I need to do with my hands, because hopefully that will prevent it.
There was a point where I had to wear these constantly every day for a period of several months until my hands got better.
Now—I’ll take this off so you can see; you can get these at Target; they’re pretty nice—there is usually a little metal thing that goes inside of here. I’ve taken that out because it’s too rigid for my hands at this point, but if your hands are really paining you, the metal will be very useful to provide support to your hands—especially overnight—but I find at this point it’s too rigid, and I don’t need something that hard so I just take the metal out.
You can also wash these easily in the dryer, particularly if you take the metal out, and that makes it really nice. Just put it in the washer/dryer; just toss it in with the rest of your regular laundry, and you are good to go.
I wear these all the time; they are the Futuro brand and they just fit my hands really well. They make them in left and right sizes—you can get braces that are one size fits all, but I have found you get better results when they’re tailored specifically to right and left hand; they come in different sizes as well, and you can get small, medium, large—I think I have a medium for my hands—and of course they make men’s and ladies sizes.
The other thing you can do as far as braces goes—you can get those ones that go all the way down your arm. It’s always a good idea to consult with your doctor if you have serious pain about which brand to get, but these are great.
Now these are cures right? Or crutches/aids. What should we do to prevent the use of these? Now again I do use these as preventative to stop my hands from seizing up, but how do we get there in the first place?
Well one of the things you have to do is get your hands ready for an extended period of typing. Thankfully since I have been playing piano since I was about nine years old and flute since I was about twelve, I don’t actually have an issue with playing flute or piano. Even if my hands are hurting, I don’t have pain doing that because I correctly have all the technique that I need for that.
What I always tell people, my students, when they are starting piano for the first time is: just take it a couple minutes at a time, five minutes, ten minutes, twenty minutes; just slowly work up to that. You don’t want to jump into a whole half-hour straight away or else you can create damage, and we don’t want that.
Same thing with writing. Right now it is the middle of October. If you start now doing a little bit of writing every day—200 words, 500 words maybe—and slowly work up to a thousand by the end of October you will be ready to hit that 1,500 (1,667 to be specific) word goal every single day for NaNoWriMo. You don’t want to just dive in cold the first day.
Now another thing you can do is hand exercises, and you can do these before or after you have finished your writing session. I’ll take the brace off again so you can see.
One of the things you want to do is take your hand like this—make sure that you have your thumb involved—and you’re just going to take your other hand, keep your hand up like this, and you’re just going to gently press back as far as you can, and then just kind of hold that for about ten seconds-ish—maybe five seconds depending on your level of comfort. This should not hurt if there’s nothing wrong with your hands. If there is immediately a little bit of pain here then you have some lingering or potential damage about to happen, and doing these stretches every day can help with that.
If you feel like you don’t get a good enough stretch with your hand, you can then put it against the wall for a better stretch; and you want to do this in both hands like I said for about five to ten seconds on each side.
Of course you don’t just want to stretch the bottoms of your hands—and you’ll feel it on the top too, but you don’t just wanna stretch these bottom tendons down here—you wanna stretch the top [as well]. So then you’re gonna take your hand like this—and I’ll take this off.
You wanna take your hand and gently curl it under and just press, and again this should not hurt. If it hurts that means you either need to do these stretches more or consult your doctor or just be very careful about the amount of work that you’re doing because that means you’re very tight here.
Any time you feel any pain do not try to push through it. You’ve got to stop and then just do these—and these are good to do anyway just to relieve tension but these are preventative—and if you can do these every day before your writing session that’s going to really really help you to make your hands feel good. You can also do them afterward if your hands are feeling a little bit stiff.
So those are some things you can do:
You can wear these braces which are very comfortable especially once you take the metal out. They are easy to wash/keep clean, and I always use them when I’m on the computer and other things I know will strain my hands if I go more than 30 minutes doing them.
The other thing you can do is these stretches I’ve indicated (as well as soaking your hands in warm water with salts/oils of your choice) and then of course just trying to get enough sleep, enough nutrition; those things are all going to contribute to the health of your hands.
Second part of this video: I want to read over some experiences that people had and they put in the notes and just kind of comment on them here.
One of the first notes I had comes from user h-brooks-writes who wrote: Yikes, this happened to me last night after writing sprint.
(A writing sprint is a very short intense writing session. You try to get as many words as you can, focusing on quantity versus quality.)
My hand felt kind of floppy and a bit numb (I could still feel things but my hand didn’t really . . . focus on the textures? If that makes sense), and my elbow-to-wrist area was kind of sore. This all settled in about half an hour after I’d stopped writing for the night.
So you can see it doesn’t really matter if you feel it right away or after a delayed time, you may have done some damage if you just rushed into [writing] without doing some warm-up exercises first or getting your hands acclimatized by writing on a more continuous daily basis, because writing every day—yes it does stretch our brain muscles and our ability to write, but it also physically helps our hands be ready whether we are doing it by hand or typing. Even if you’re doing dictation you need to warm up your throat and your voice—but we’re talking mostly about the hands so that’s where I will stay focused.
I have another note from michaelbyorkwrites who said: When my writing output rose for this blog a few months ago, I started to get a pretty bad burning pain in my hands, wrists, and forearms.
Again you do not want that, it is very very bad for you, so you have to stop immediately because otherwise it will just get worse.
Another user called heywriters said: OH. Okay. My hand and wrist go numb and feel “cold” lately when I hand write or keyboard type for long periods of time. I thought it was my posture and have been ignoring it.
Your posture actually can play a role when you’re typing. A lot of the times the keyboard’s like this and our hand is like that. When your hand is like that, it’s shortening the tendons in your hand.
If I relax they’re still there, but they’re not as pronounced versus here you can really see—I’ll come up close—here it’s more relaxed, here it’s really stretched, and if you are writing like this with your hand like that every time you type you’re writing on shortened tendons, and that is going to just increase the tension and make things worse. If you can get like a writing a pad that you can put [beneath your hands] and keep your hands more in this position, or try to keep your hands lifted and not at this angle, that will help as well.
if-all-I-have-are-words said: I absolutely MURDERED—in all caps— my wrist last night (I pinched it over at the base of my thumb by lying on my hand) and my carpal tunnel started acting up so y’all [don’t make my mistakes]
Yes, you can definitely injure your hands in other ways not related to writing, and that does bring on the dreaded carpal tunnel syndrome, which again you can mitigate by using a good pair of braces, hand stretches—even soaking your hands in some warm water nightly before or after you do your writing sessions.
ladyhacksaway said: hey guys, put some serious thought toward dictating your first drafts if you can. the current tech on google docs for speech-to-text (and other services) is actually really decent and your first draft is going to need editing anyway!!! try it out a few times. it’ll feel awkward and freewrite-y at first; that’s ok. we’re talking about first drafts.
And they’re absolutely right! If your hands pain you so much you can’t write or you want to know that you’re doing good preventative care for your hands, then try speech-to-text. You can use Siri on Apple iPhone or Google docs on any phone if you have it set up correctly, or even in your computer, and there are other softwares you can buy that will do an even better job.
Again with NaNoWriMo you might have to figure out how long will it take you to say the 1500 plus words you need every day to beat your quota, your daily quota, but once you get used to that that is definitely an option to get all those words out there without even having to use your hands. Again you would have to do some warm-up exercises so you’re not damaging your throat when you’re speaking, and maybe have a cup of warm tea that will keep your throat soothed, but that is definitely an option if either your hands already pain you or if you’re worried about the possibility of that happening.
You can even switch off day-to-day. Some days you could use your hands, some days you could use your voice.
babysimpala who was originally missjenniferb said: I lived in braces for EONS. . . Saw different specialists; got steroid injections first then gave in and got the carpal tunnel surgery. Left wrist first – six months of p.[hysical] t[herapy] then the same on my right wrist afterward. Eight months apart.
Of course that’s the worst case scenario if you have to end up getting surgery. It’s no fun, and there’s a long recovery time before you feel like your hands are truly yours again, so we’re trying to prevent that.
Now however babysimpala who is Jessica added a little follow-up where she said: For those with Fibromyalgia try MyPainAway . . . . It’s a lotion.
She has neuropathy (both arms and legs from being type 1 diabetic) and it is AMAZING.
So there are some lotions and things out there you can use. As always if you’re feeling pain and it’s really, really bad definitely talk to a doctor and talk to a physical therapist.
I would not recommend a chiropractor because there is a whole set of different licensing you have to go through, and I’ve heard some horror stories about chiropractors, but physical therapists—especially one who deals with hands/wrists, all this kind of area especially—will know how to help you.
You might have to see a couple to find one who works with you and your needs, but if you are experiencing a lot of pain and you do not want to go for the surgery route try physical therapy first, and then of course if surgery is absolutely necessary as a last resort, you can consult with your doctor and find the best option that will work for you.
All right I know that was a lot of info, but I really really want you guys to not have pain during or because of NaNoWriMo.
I want you to write your novels, and I want them to be the best you can be without having to push through pain.
So lots of sleep, lots of water, make sure you take breaks, try maybe dictating some of the days, and get yourself up to the level that you need to be by starting to write a few weeks beforehand if you’re not in a habit of daily writing. And then of course you can always pop a brace or two on your hands if you feel you need a little extra support.
I personally won’t be participating in NaNo because I know that amount of daily writing for me is just too stressful, but for those of you who are I hope this will be helpful and that you are going to be extremely successful with what you’re doing.
Again like I said in the beginning, any questions/tips please feel free to leave them in the comments down below. Hopefully we will all get through this season without any pain in our hands, but if you do get some you will know how to manage it.
Until next time,