Thursday, April 8, 2021

Trees, Bees and Day-drinking: a guest post by Kris Calvin

Sitting typing isn’t what we evolved to do, no matter how rewarding it might be. At your desk and/or away from it, how do you counteract the physical toll a writing life takes on your body?

Catriona writes: I'm doubly delighted today. First, I get to dodge this question, to which my answer would be . . . unedifying. Second - and much more important, my friend Kris Calvin is here! 

Kris is my film-going buddy (the day we sit in the cinema watching Paddington 3 is the day we'll know this is over); the taker of all the best and most flattering photos I post; a tireless advocate, organiser, and educator; an insanely and unquestioningly generous pal; and . . . what's the other thing . . . oh yes! A bang up writer too.

Kris's thriller ALL THAT FALL is out on the 13th; the launch party is at Murder by the Book on the 23rd. Details here.

And now, Kris Calvin:

Repeat after me: “Laptops are the enemy.” Or more accurately: “Laptops not positioned on a riser with a separate keyboard at an ergonomically correct height are the enemy.”

I came to fiction writing relatively late in life. Prior to that, for decades I used a laptop to write policy briefs and advocacy analyses in my career as a child health advocate and nonprofit manager. 

One morning, I woke up and my elbow felt like I’d been stung by a thousand bees. Tears were running down my face when my youngest son found me at 7am downing a shot of whiskey in the kitchen, channeling a gunfighter in the Old West who’d been a little too slow on the draw. (I’m not a drinker.) 

As the result of typing on a laptop for years, not only at a desk, but also in cafes, lying on the sofa (sound familiar?), I had inflamed, worn down, and otherwise annoyed a disc in my neck, until it opted to send dramatic signals to a nerve in my elbow saying, “Cut it out!” 

I spent weeks confined to bed, followed by months of physical therapy.

Fortunately, I’ve discovered accommodations that have mostly prevented recurring episodes. These include limiting myself to a specific work set-up with the screen at eye level (using either a desktop or laptop on risers), dictating rather than typing (the use of the mouse inflames my neck, who knew?), and utilizing a special cushion that keeps me aware of my posture when I sit and drive. If I fail to observe these rules, my neck, via its messenger, my elbow, is not shy in letting me know it’s unacceptable.  

Now I tell anyone that who long hours typing—including my writer pals—to position their screen at eye-level and to dictate when possible. I emphasize that there is no time like the present to begin this practice, because I had no warning. None. No subtle aches, no “maybe I should change position” feelings before I was standing in my kitchen, downing Maker’s Mark whisky in the hopes that it would prove to be my salvation.  

As to more active efforts at taking care of myself physically, I swam a mile each day at the local pool until the pandemic hit. (Emma, the protagonist in the book I wrote in 2020, swims laps daily —if I couldn’t, at least she could.) When the pool became inaccessible, I acquired an indoor recumbent stationary bike. I plan to alternate between swimming and biking when the world opens up.

Lastly, and perhaps most important to me, I’ve positioned my writing table where I can see trees and the sky through a window to the outside. I know that isn’t possible for everyone, but I’ve found a peaceful view and a feeling of connection to nature (perhaps through artwork if an external vista is not an option) help my breathing, my blood pressure, and everything else.

Kris Calvin
 is the author of the thriller novel, ALL THAT FALL (April

13, 2021; Crooked Lane Books). She served for more than 20 years

as the CEO of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and was

honored for her leadership in advocacy for children by the 

California Legislature and Governor’s office. 

You can visit Kris online at


Catriona McPherson said...

Welcome to Criminal Minds, Kris. (I'm typing this on a laptop - hands like claws, head bent.)

Susan C Shea said...

Kris, welcome and congratulations on the book launch! Like Catriona, I type this with claws, head bent. The problem with your excellent advice is it only works ( I tried for years at the office) if you can look at the screen while you hold your hands so far below that you can't see the keys.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Hey, Kris, thanks for dropping in. See you at the launch of your new book.

James W. Ziskin said...

Hi, Kris! Welcome and thank you for the advice. Best wishes on your book launch! Jim