Fitness . . . Just Another F Word?

For some, the mere mention of the word fitness sends us into, well, fits. One friend of mine is convinced fitness is the ultimate F word. She’s a nurse with a job that keeps her active and on her feet, but that’s not the case for us writers. Writing is, by nature, a sedentary activity and so are many writing-related activities. Things like reading, research, and interviewing people for background information are almost always done sitting down.

Since this Wednesday marks National Women’s Health & Fitness Day, it’s a great time to look at some of the ways writers can get out of that seat and stay active.

Get a treadmill desk. You’ll get used to it quickly (I did) and you’ll find your energy, creativity, and general fitness improving. If a treadmill desk isn’t doable for you, consider a standing desk, or sit on a balance ball chair. Any of those options don’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition; I switch from my sit down desk to my treadmill unit multiple times a day.

Set a timer so you remember to get up and move around, ideally every hour. Some writers go so far as to do push ups and sit ups during their break time. I am not one of them.

Take a daily walk. Team Sheltie demands a walk several times a day, even in inclement weather. I normally take them out first thing in the morning and again just before dinner, but in the winter when the light levels are low, I sometimes switch it up and get them out midday. Invariably, I come back to my desk energized and primed to write.

Look for reasons to be active. Gardening keeps me upright and moving (and my muse seems to really like digging in the dirt). Work in a hike when you visit with a friend. Cycle to the library or the grocery store. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Small things, simple things, but the small, simple things add up.

Stretch. My weekly yoga class is a lifesaver, not only for my cramped and tight muscles but also for reducing stress. You don’t need a class to do yoga, however; the stretches can be done anywhere you have a few feet of floor. Pick postures to loosen your shoulders and neck from being hunched over the keyboard (bow pose, eagle arms, fish or ear to shoulder) and your hips and hamstrings from sitting (lizard, half-pigeon, the warrior, or the bridge).

Finally, baby your hands and wrists. It may not be part of being fit and active, but injuries to hands and wrists will curtail output, which could lead to depression, which could lead to more time on the couch. Check your posture; improper posture when typing can strain your wrists. Use an ergonomic mouse with a track ball and alternate hands. Stretch and flex your wrists and hands regularly. I like to use a squeeze ball; I keep mine on the desk as a reminder to use the thing (it doesn’t work sitting in the drawer). Finally, seek help the minute you feel pain. I’ve successfully treated wrist pain with acupuncture, while other writers rely on physiotherapy, ice or a wrist brace.

Happy healthy writing.

Giving Thanks

Thankful13This blog post originally ran in 2013. Aside from needing a few tweaks, it’s as fresh now as it was back then. And since we just celebrated Thanksgiving, I decided to run it again. Happy
Thanksgiving, belated though it may be!


When I do author talks or school visits, one of the questions I’m often asked is what I like best about being a writer. Until now, my answer has usually been twofold. I’m most thankful, I generally say, that I can write in jeans and slippers (there’s something incredibly freeing about not having to pluck, mousse, iron, and endure heels before plonking down at the desk). I also like that I can spy on people at the grocery store without feeling at all guilty about it. Character is truly revealed in the mindless acquisition of food. Is my subject buying Kraft dinner or quinoa? Wearing sweats or silk? Do they stack and toss? Smile or glare? Rush or linger? Treat the cashier with kindness or indifference?

But there are many other reasons I’m thankful to be a writer.

I can ask questions of anyone, anywhere, and at any time, all under the guise of research (Although I do refrain at weddings, funerals and during bikini waxings).

I have a valid excuse for a few extra pounds since writing requires sitting for many long hours. Even a regular gym routine and using a treadmill desk hasn’t helped (and, no, copious quantities of mint Girl Guide cookies have nothing to do with it).

I get to read. A lot. And this I can do on a treadmill or an elliptical. Even in the car at a stop light. Until the guy behind me honks.

I can write anywhere and at any time. Though I don’t recommend mixing laptops and hot tubs. Especially after midnight. Trust me on this.

I set my own hours which means I can get a root canal or take off to watch a movie do intense research at the archives in the middle of the day. And I don’t have to ask my boss.

I am always learning. Fun, neat facts like ‘intelligent people have more zinc and copper in their hair’ and ‘women blink twice as often as men do.’ Without these random bits of trivia my life would be seriously incomplete.

I don’t have to draw – not characters, not covers, not inside art. And everyone else is thankful for this too, believe me.

I get to experience the thrill of the unknown twice a year when the royalty checks land in the mailbox. Sometimes I even get to shop afterwards. On a related note, self-publishing as Laura Tobias means I don’t have to wait nearly as long for royalties. The money shows up much faster. And that’s much better.

I’m allowed to daydream. Staring into space for long periods of time is mandatory. And my family understands that even when I look like I’m paying attention, sometimes I’m not.

I play every single day. And that, really, is the thing I am most thankful for. I play with words, with worlds, with people and emotions. In my slippers, on my laptop, at the gym or in my office. I play. Only everybody else calls it work.

My September Reads

booksheadphonesIt’s been a year since I relocated my writing space from a cozy bolt hole in the basement to an office on the main floor of our house. I knew it would be an adjustment but I was looking forward to paring down, cleaning up and starting fresh. My old space was small and L-shaped with a single window overlooking my herb garden. My new office has higher ceilings, a large window that lets in more light, and a symmetrical shape that lends itself well to lots of shelves and two desks – my walking treadmill desk and a more traditional sitting desk. Team Sheltie loves that I’m upstairs. They love it so much that they’re in the office whenever I am. Luna dozes on the rug beside me when I write and Trace guards the door. He is the patroller of noise. He doesn’t like it; he’s convinced it’s out to get me; and he’s sure that barking his disapproval will make the noise go away.

Did I mention that the retired neighbor across the street has set up a work station in his driveway and regularly uses his power saw for a project I’m pretty sure is due for completion sometime in 2022?

There may be a set of noise cancelling headphones in my future.

When the noise gets to be too much, I escape into a book. Here’s what I’m reading this month:

On the Kindle: The Cinderella Weekend by Jenny Mills

At the gym:The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin

In the evening: The Heart’s Code by Paul Pearsall

Books read to date in 2016: 55

A New Office

The office reno is officially done. After twenty years of dwelling in the basement (and writing almost twenty books in the same space!) I’ve moved to a place of ‘honor’ on the main floor. Let’s hope I have another twenty years and twenty books left in me! All I need to do now is find some art for the walls and strip and refinish a plant stand for the corner. Team Sheltie is slowly getting used to the new digs.


Okay. Get in here.

january 152016 059










Yes, we know you have a manuscript in that cubby that needs revising . . .january 152016 053








But you need to get to the fresh writing first . . .january 152016 056








And no sitting down on the job. Get on that treadmill and start producing. We’re ready for a nap. january 152016 061

A Year of Writing at a Treadmill Desk

feet-on-treadmillThis time last year, I set up a treadmill desk in my office. I didn’t know how it would work out – or even if it would – but I was determined to give it a shot.   More and more studies are pointing out the dangers of regular sitting. Not only is movement healthy, but it engages the brain and it’s always good to have an engaged brain when you’re working.

A year into the practice and I can honestly say that working on my treadmill desk is so much a part of my day that I can’t imagine not doing it.  I walk slowly, probably about 1.5 kilometres an hour, which averages out to around 70 or maybe 80 steps a minute.  And I take regular breaks too, working on the treadmill for an hour followed by an hour at my sit down desk.  I rotate between the two stations two or three times each day, and I usually take a break somewhere in there to walk the dogs too.

After a year, here’s what I’ve learned:

I need to switch it up. After a month or so adjusting to the technique of working while walking, I began using the treadmill desk almost exclusively for several weeks. And I paid for it.  My feet got sore, my back started to hurt, and my hips ended up too tight. I have SI (sacroiliac) joint issues and I worried that maybe the treadmill desk would aggravate the condition. As soon as I limited myself to an hour at a time on the treadmill, and stayed at or below 3 hours a day, I was pain free. And my chronic SI pain from regular sitting disappeared.

Shoes matter.  Since I go to the gym I’m in the habit of replacing runners regularly and I always buy high end shoes. It’s even more important on the treadmill. I’m replacing my runners every six months these days.

Walking does engage the brain.  It’s not a fallacy.  Working on the treadmill also eliminates any tendency I might have to surf the web or check email. As long as my manuscript is open on my monitor and as soon as my feet start moving, my brain moves along with them. Getting into the story and keeping it flowing is easier when I’m engaged in physical activity,=.

Walking is easier than standing. The treadmill will sometimes stop when I’m in the middle of a scene and want to keep going. I used to stand and continue writing. I paid for that with low back strain. If the treadmill stops now when I’m in the middle of something, I finish up my paragraph or maybe two (I allow myself five minutes, max) and then I step down and take a break.

Walking makes you thirsty. At least it seems to make me thirsty. I always have a glass of water or herbal tea beside me when I write. At my sit down desk, I’d often forget to drink it. At my treadmill desk, I never do. So my water intake is up too and that’s also a good thing.

It’s not as hard as you think.  Over this last year, I’ve had people ask me how it’s going and say they’d like to try a treadmill desk but they know they couldn’t do it.  Don’t be so sure.  The pace is so slow after a while the movement becomes habitual. And, quite honestly, if I can adjust to it, anybody can.

This Christmas, my kids got together and sprung for a FitBit which I find much more useful than a basic pedometer (mine has a sleep monitoring component which I absolutely love).  With the FitBit on my wrist I’m getting a better sense of how those daily steps add up.  During the week when I write, I average between 15,000 and 17,000 steps or about 10 kilometres a day.

That’s not bad for a day on the job.

Staying Alive While Walking My Way to ‘The End’

deskandtreadDriving home with the treadmill in the back of the SUV, I began to worry that I’d been overly optimistic about my ability to walk, write (and ideally think) at the same time. What if I couldn’t adjust to the thing? What if we’d gone to all this time and trouble and money and the treadmill ended up being a giant dust collector in the corner of my office?

My worries were unfounded. I adjusted very quickly. It took me a couple of days to get over my nervousness that I’d fall, and to feel comfortable walking and typing (and thinking) at the same time.  Before long, however, I found the 1 mph speed too slow; I routinely walk now at 1.5 to 2 mph. I also incline the tread a couple of notches as this gives me a more natural feeling step.

My goal is to use the treadmill four or maybe even five hours a day. Currently I’m up to three hours a day, alternating each hour with my sit down desk. After several months of this, I can honestly say I’m more productive on the treadmill than when I sit down. I’m less inclined to surf or check email. I’m more focused on what I’m writing.  There’s something about moving the body that makes my mind move too (It seems to me there have been studies backing that up).

walkingI like the treadmill best when I’m doing fresh writing or when I don’t have to look through books or papers for information.  If I’m writing an article with lots of sources or if I’m on the phone or searching through books, it’s easier to sit with material spread out beside me. But when I’m writing manuscripts or blogs (like this one), walking seems to help the process. I even did a substantial revision for The Art of Getting Stared At while walking and that worked well.

I couldn’t have set this up on my own. Mr. Petrol Head did the hard stuff and made it work. Here are some tips:

Make sure the floor is level before you get the treadmill. If it’s not, level it out.

To make the adjustment easy on my eyes, we set the treadmill monitor the same distance away as it is at my sit-down desk.  This is less of an issue if you’re only using a treadmill desk but because I move from one station to another and I wear glasses when I work, this was important.  We could have wall mounted the monitor but we had brackets and shelving on hand so we used them.

We used the same method (examining my position at my sit down desk) to determine the correct keyboard height. Because I hold a lot of tension in my shoulders, I was worried that typing standing up would be unnatural and cause me shoulder pain.  I also wanted the option of having my mouse even lower. Mr. Petrol Head built two shelves just below the treadmill arms and attached them to the treadmill frame. He temporarily clamped them in place so I could try out the height for a few weeks. When I was sure the height was right, he drilled through the frame of the treadmill (being careful not to cut through any wires) and bolted the shelves into place. Now that I’m used to things I keep my mouse on the same shelf as my keyboard and use the lower shelf for books and papers.

I run two monitors from one desk top computer. I plug and unplug each one as needed. I use the same keyboard and mouse, and simply move both when I move.

Lighting and functionality. I have a combination of recessed pot lights and spot lights in my office and none were well-positioned to light the treadmill keyboard. I got around this with a gooseneck desk lamp that I clamped to a nearby shelf.  Those nearby shelves have also aided significantly in functionality. I can leave my water bottle within easy reach, or the phone if I’m expecting a call. In a pinch I can put papers on them too.

One last suggestion – wear decent shoes.  I had sore feet after the second week so I invested in a good pair of walking runners that live in my office and are dedicated for the treadmill. I also remember to stay hydrated (which might be another reason my focus has improved).


Walking My Way to ‘The End’

feet-on-treadmillI’ve wanted a treadmill desk for years. Writing books requires a lot of sitting, and though I go to the gym regularly, do yoga, and walk Team Sheltie daily, that sitting wasn’t doing me any good. I could feel it in stiff hips at the end of the day. I could see it as my pants got tight. With a family history of heart disease, obesity and diabetes (both my mother and my grandmother) getting off my butt was a priority.  Each passing birthday seemed to underscore my slowing metabolism and my need to increase my activity level. Yet I needed – wanted – to keep writing.

I tried standing up to work for a while. It was incredibly fatiguing and my low back didn’t like it. A treadmill desk seemed a wise solution. Since I read on both the elliptical and stationary bike at the gym, I didn’t think I’d have trouble adjusting to moving and typing.

I started looking at manufactured treadmill desks, but my budget was low and they were expensive so that option was out. Unfortunately the budget wasn’t the only thing that was low.  I also have a low ceiling.

My office is in the basement.  It’s a lovely L-shaped room with charming nooks, a little bay window with an upholstered window seat overlooking my herb garden. But it’s a small space with a ceiling clearance of about six feet.   Treadmills have a base anywhere from five to eight inches off the ground before you step onto the walking surface and I’m 5’4”.  That meant finding a low height treadmill with a reasonably compact set up.   I needed it to fit into my office in such a way that my existing desk remained. I wasn’t sure how I’d adapt and given that I work for about seven hours a day, I wanted the option of toggling back and forth between two work stations. That also meant two monitors, possibly two keyboards as well. As the potential costs and complications ratcheted up, my enthusiasm and determination plummeted.

Enter Mr. Petrol Head AKA The Man I Married who not only loves cars but also loves a challenge. And he yields a mean hammer. He built my window seat and he took it upon himself to figure out a way we could make a treadmill desk work.

He measured and mulled, finally concluding that we could squeak one in if I would move my existing sit-down desk closer to the window seat, if I was willing to buy a low height treadmill, and if I could find one with arms that were short, straight and wouldn’t get in the way of a keyboard (not as easy as you might think).

After a lot of on line research and in person looking at new and used models (and passing on several too-big Nordic Tracks which I seriously coveted), we decided on a mid-range Tempo model from Canadian Tire. The bottom-of-line line model seemed too flimsy and the high end version had bells and whistles I didn’t need. I began saving my pennies and went to work relocating my sit-down desk. At the same time, a good friend switched from a PC to a MAC and she sold me (for a ridiculously low price) her (nearly new) monitor, keyboard and mouse. Thank you, Lea Tassie.    My long-held dream was close.

imgtreadmilldeskstandaloneA few weeks before we were going to purchase the new treadmill, the same model showed up on Used Victoria. It was a year old and had been used maybe a dozen times (funny, that nearly new trend was rampant in virtually all the used treadmills we looked at). We hustled out to take a look.  It was just what I wanted. Same model and in beautiful shape.  I was ecstatic. “We’ll take it,” I told the seller though a niggle of doubt crept into my mind. It looked a LOT bigger by itself than it did in the store beside all the other behemoths.

“Get on,” the seller urged.

So I did. I stepped onto it, raised my arms like I was typing, and I stared straight ahead at a monitor position. They turned it on. And I almost fell off.    “Slow it down.” I grabbed the arms and steadied myself. “I need it on the lowest possible speed if I’m going to be able to work on this thing.”

The seller looked at Mr. Petrol Head. Mr. Petrol Head looked at me. “It’s on the lowest possible setting,” he said. “It doesn’t get any lower than this.”

I didn’t believe him. (Mr. Petrol Head lies). He wasn’t lying then.  It was on the lowest setting.  It was also destined to be ours.  We brought it home that afternoon.

Next week: how we set it up and how it’s working.