A blog about the amazing things teenagers do, about writing for teens, books for teens, and occasional forays into my world and the world of publishing.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Combatting Writer's Butt--Walking and Writing

I’m writing this from a treadmill at my local gym. Yep, walking and writing, that’s my new thing. It’s my way to combat writer’s butt.

In a former life, I had small kids, I ran around the house chasing them and cleaning up the messes that they made. This helped me stay in some semblance of shape. When my kids got older I made it to the gym 4-5 times a week and I loved to run outside. I completed a half-marathon and a few 10ks back in 2005. As much as I’ve been in denial, times have changed. When I started the whole writing thing, I found myself sitting more and more. My favorite place to write was (and is) the couch in front of the fire.

A year ago, my youngest son started school, and I started writing more seriously, I spent more time at the computer, and since I was now sending out queries, I had to have the rejection chocolate handy. Now with a book slated for publication (insert scream of joy/exhilaration/disbelief here) writing has become a job. With deadlines looming, kids on crazy schedules, and oh yeah, housework, dinner, laundry, (etc. etc. etc.), my gym/running time has become non-existent, (and rejection chocolate has nothing on on-submission and now revision chocolate.) Hence, writer’s butt has crept up on me.

And it’s not just my butt (or my thighs or my stomach) that are suffering because of my long hours on the couch. I have found that although I’m trying to fit more into my day, I have energy to do less. For my health and sanity, I needed to find a way to be active without spending hours at the gym or on the road running.

I’m a big multi-tasker, (what mom isn’t?), so when I read about the idea of a treadmill desk, or working/writing and walking, I knew it was something I needed to check out. I googled treadmill desk and came up with several articles and ideas based on research by Dr. James Levine of the Mayo clinic. I loved the idea, but I don’t have an extra $4,000 to invest in the treadmill desk found on Amazon. Another website suggested building a desk onto a treadmill, but again, a good treadmill, like the one the author suggests you build the desk on costs $1,500-$2,000.

I started looking on Craigslist for a good used treadmill, but I wasn’t finding anything in the price range I had set for myself. I needed another solution, and quick, because I’m not a patient person and my butt wasn’t getting any smaller. In my Googling, I came across the Surf shelf, a plastic shelf that you can strap your laptop to so you can use it while you walk. Most of the reviews on Amazon for the Surfshelf were good. I already have a gym membership, and since the Surfshelf said it would fit on any treadmill, I decided to try it. This was a $40 solution, (plus my $30 a month gym membership).

I’ll be totally honest. When I opened the package for my SurfShelf, I thought it looked cheap. The idea of strapping my laptop to this contraption scared me. Have I mentioned that I call my laptop “My Precious?” (said in a Lord of the Rings, Golom voice). But I didn’t have any other solution, so I loaded the SurfShelf into my laptop bag, waited for a slow time at the gym so I wouldn’t be totally embarrassed if this didn’t work (10:00 on a Friday night), and headed to the gym. With much trepidation and doubt, I strapped the surf-shelf on, secured my laptop, and started up the treadmill.

In just a few minutes I went from skeptical to amazed. The SurfShelf actually fit on the treadmill at the gym, the keyboard was at a comfortable height for me to work, and it felt secure. (Does it sound like I’m doing an infomercial? If I am, I’m not getting paid for it.)

I had to make the text on my laptop the size of a page width so I could read it. Once I did that I found out I could write fairly well while walking at 3 mph. (Dr. Levine's research and everything else I've read recommends a slower pace than that.) The first day, I burned off almost three hundred calories. The hour went by so fast, I was surprised when I looked at the clock and it said after 11:00.

That was three weeks ago. Since then I have used my SurfShelf several more times. I have walked up to three hours with a break after every hour so the treadmill can cool down and I can stretch and go potty. I have written 1,500 to 2,000 words, critiqued for my group, revised, and even written a blog post. (This one.)

The advantages of walking and writing at the gym are these:

  1. I’m writing and burning a lot more calories than I would if I were sitting.
  2. I’m away from my house and the distractions of laundry, dishes, etc. I realize all of those things have to be done, but sometimes I spend my whole day cleaning and don’t get to the writing part. Leaving the house reinforces to me that this is my work time.
  3. My gym doesn’t have internet access, so I don’t have the distraction of the internet, although this can be a plus and a minus. The internet for a writer is a necessary evil. I’m able to focus better, but I miss being able to do instant research while I’m writing.
  4. I feel like the motion, and maybe the flow of blood to my brain helps me focus so my word count is actually up from what it is when I’m sitting down.
  5. If I’m using equipment at the gym, I know it’s high quality, and someone else maintains it for me.

The minuses for writing at the gym are:

  1. Funny looks.
  2. The gym itself can be distracting—Televisions, other people’s conversations, music, the hot guy lifting weights across the gym, (but that also could be considered research, right?) I like to wear headphones to keep myself focused, even if I’m not listening to music.
  3. No power source at the gym, I can only work for the length of my laptop battery.
  4. I can’t write and walk and write whenever. My gym has late hours, but it still requires a ten minute car ride to get there.

Other minuses for me have been that my back, legs and feet do hurt after I’m done, but I’m getting more used to it, and frankly, my back hurts when I sit on the couch and write all day too. However, I am looking for better shoes.

I should point out that I started in okay shape. I’m only a few pounds over what my BMI says is normal for my height, and I can still run three to five miles continuously.

I am a little concerned about the effect of static electricity on my laptop. Every time I move my hands from the keyboard to the treadmill I get shocked. I’m not sure if that’s doing anything to hurt my laptop or not. Also, I keep a hand towel with me because my hands get sweaty and I’m worried about what that will do to my laptop.

Overall I’m really pleased with my experiment, but it’s still a work in progress. After hitting the gym three times last week and watching what I ate, I dropped two pounds. Still a long ways from my goal, but it’s definitely progress.

I am still looking for a used treadmill on Craigslist, so I can walk/write whenever I want to, but for now I’m happy with the way my walking and writing is going. I’ll keep you posted.

So tell me, how do you feel about this whole idea?

How do you stay in shape through long hours at the computer?


  1. What a great way to get work done and keep in shape! I like to take a book down to the gym in my apartment's basement and just read while I walk (less static electricity) but perhaps I should get a SurfShelf!

  2. Oooh, I'd never heard of SurfShelf so this was very interesting to me! I have tendonitis, so I can't type on laptops, but writing and walking at the same time sounds fantastic.

    When I lived in an apartment with a gym, I would read while on the stationary bike. It was a nice way to feel doubly-productive. Now I take breaks by riding a regular bike outside or going on long walks when I'm feeling stuck for inspiration or just need time away from the computer.

  3. Oh, my heck...I need the Surfshelf. A couple of times I've propped my laptop up on my treadmill, but it's awkward because you have to keep a hold of it at all times to keep it from slipping. This would definitely get me to exercise more regularly. I'm going to check it out. Will they fit all treadmills I wonder?

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. This is a great post!! I found it interesting, informative, humorous and engaging. Congrats! (And since I've only met your mom once, you are probably safe from me telling her you used the word "butt" in your title). :)

    As for what I do to stay in shape while writing - NOTHING!! you have inspired me. I'll need to come up with something; no treadmill & no gym membership but you've given me something to think about. Thanks!! Nicely done.

  5. Thanks Stephanie and thanks for editing for me:
    "three hours the atvanttages for me irs" is a good example of why editing off the treadmill (or at least taking it slower for a while) is a good thing. And I appreciate you not telling my mom :).

  6. I get readers butt which is why I do stairmaster - I can read and workout at the same time. Granted, I go slowly and all the other people at the gym are pumpin' it. But still...


  7. I wonder if the surf shelf would fit my treadmill? I may have to buy one. Keep me up dated on the static and the sweat danger to the 'puter. I love my 'puter and think of it in the LOTR "my precious" manner as well. Thanks for the info.

  8. Fantastic! Definitely something for me to think about. Especially since I'm lucky enough to own a treadmill. I've done a lot of thinking while running and walking, but usually jot ideas on a notepad (straddling the treadmill momentarily) or into a digital recorder to go over later. I did a bootcamp with some friends to drop off some writing butt, and then turned to ice water as my writing snack. Sounds strange but it totally works. Now when I get hungry, I'm forced to get up and get something which of course gets me away from my desk, onto my feet and moving more. Good luck!