Recently I developed an exceedingly painful problem with my back. The agony had become so acute that I began to think I might actually have to go to the doctor (shock!). Walking was painful, sitting was painful — everything had become difficult. As I headed off to campus the other day, I felt an extra twinge as I threw my bag on my shoulder and thought, oof, better use the other shoulder.
Predictably, perhaps, the pain began to lessen as the day wore on.
By the end of the day, the pain was nearly gone. Yes, I had made a bad habit of always carrying my (inevitably too heavy) book bag on the same shoulder all the time and that’s what threw off the muscles of my back and hip. Amazing that all that pain came from just one thoughtless habit.
I’ve had repetitive stress injuries before, so I ought to have guessed it. Most of those have come — no surprise here — from writing. I’ve learned how to avoid those bad habits and made my work more ergonomically thoughtful. Nothing like getting aganglion cyst to tell you that you have some bad habits. Fortunately the time I developed those lumps, I was just heading off for a semester in London. My doctor said “wait and see” rather than “let’s do surgery” right away. Oddly enough, when I wasn’t sitting behind a computer working on term papers every day, but wandering around my favourite city and writing longhand, the cysts went away.
Occasionally they flare up again: I put on my wrist braces and remind myself to take more breaks. But for the most part it’s all about developing better habits. The same applies to writing, of course. We get into habits — turns of phrase or plot avenues — that become too stock to be fresh. A good editor will winnow them out — that’s why you must “kill your darlings” as William Faulker said. Be ruthless — anything that’s not pulling its own weight needs to be jettisoned.
And try moving your bag to the other shoulder now and then.