Screenwriters don’t think about ergonomics all that much. How does the saying go? “Typists type. Screenwriters stare out windows.”
And when screenwriters are staring out windows, what are we doing? We’re sitting at our screenwriter desk. And when we’re not? We’re typing our screenplay. And all that sitting down and mashing keys and staring out windows and at our monitors can literally be shaving years off of our glorious screenwriter lives.
Here are some quick screenwriting ergonomics tips you can use to ensure you’re not setting yourself up for pain and injury simply by sitting down at your desk and writing your screenplay:
Screenwriting ergonomics of the eyeballs
Eye strain from looking at your screenwriting app on a computer monitor can manifest in many ways: blurred (or double) vision, pain around the temples or head, exhaustion, or even just plain eye redness or dryness.
Avoiding eye strain can be as simple as taking breaks every 45 minutes where you’re not looking at the screen, making sure there is adequate light in the room other than the light coming from your monitor, or even adjusting the size of the text on your screen, which is super easy on both PC’s and Macs. For example, just using your browser right now, you can hold down CTRL and hit + or – and it will zoom up or down the text size on most browsers (hit CTRL-0 to return to normal).
And make sure your monitor’s contrast and brightness settings are at a level where they don’t hurt your eyes to look at it.
While writing your script: keep your wrists flat, level with the elbow
Screenwriters often get carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition that occurs when the nerve running through the wrist gets pinched or compressed, causing a dull throbbing pain over time, or even swelling of the fingers. Worse, it makes screenwriting very painful.
The good news is, once you discover how carpal tunnel syndrome happens, you can, most of the time, easily reverse the symptoms, if you act fast and change your habits permanently.
What habits? Mostly, carpal tunnel syndrome for screenwriters can be traced to how we hold our hands relative to our keyboard and mouse while typing. Go ahead and type something into a document right now and then stop yourself midway.
Now take a look at both elbows. Now look at your wrists. If your elbows are generally higher or lower than where your wrists are resting on your desk, you want to get into the habit of keeping those level to each other.
The angle makes all the difference. If the elbows and wrists aren’t level, over time, that causes more pressure to build on that nerve running through your wrist. And that’s what you want to avoid. Here are some exercises and more info.
Take a break from writing your script and stand up!
Doctors everywhere are starting to realize the health negatives of sitting down all day. According to a study by the Sydney School of Public Health at the University of Sydney, writers who sit for long periods every day accounted for 6.9% of the deaths of study participants. And compared to folks who spent only four hours a day sitting down, sitters’ odds of dying were 15% high for people who sat for eight hours, and 40% higher for folks who sat for eleven or more hours per day.
In other words, get off your gluteus, screenwriters! Jump up every thirty minutes and walk around, take a walk, do some jumping jacks… anything to just break up those long periods of sitting and writing at your desk.
If you’re writing your script by hand, take some basic precautions
UCLA recommends a few great tips for taking care when writing by hand, including:
Don’t lean too heavily on your forearm, make sure your elbow is at an open angle, keep your fingers relaxed, and use your wrist and forearm to move the pen rather than your fingers. Get their full list of ergonomic recommendations for handwriting here.
A standing desk is the screenwriter’s best friend
Vendors like GeekDesk.com specialize in manufacturing higher-end standing screenwriter desks that are adjustable vertically, but you can also buy a cheap standing desk for screenwriting for $200 or less, or even make one yourself.
The one I use is from Multi-Table. I’ve had this desk for over a decade now and it’s perfect. The height is adjustable by hand crank and the crank mechanism broke after about five years of use but Multi-Table support was great. They sent me free replacement parts for the gears and it took maybe ten minutes to fix. I can’t recommend them enough. It’s my own damn fault though because the desk is rated for up to approximately 120 pounds (which is a lot!) and I had it loaded with two monitors and three PCs and a lot of other heavy stuff that probably put too much of a strain on it. Plus I did a lot of up-and-down at the time the crank broke. Unless you’re dumb like me, and weigh down your Multi-Table beyond the point of absurdity, you’ll probably be just fine. I’ve since taken the load off my Multi-Table by putting a lot of the heavier stuff on the ground and paring down my monitor collection.
I want every screenwriter who reads this to change their life habits and live a long healthy life, because it’s not gonna be all that fun if I win the Best Screenplay Oscar just because all my competition dropped dead. No fun at all.