Can writing really be hazardous to your health?
Published: August 16, 2011
I’d been freelancing for a few years when I decided to purchase a life insurance policy. I remember the agent asking me numerous questions about my lifestyle. Towards the end of our meeting, he mentioned disability insurance. I just laughed and told him I wouldn’t be needing that unless I fell out of my chair.
Kay B. Day
That mindset soon changed.
Many of us know the hazards of sitting for extended periods of time. Blood clots and weight gain, among other negatives, are possible if we don’t take breaks during our creative outpouring. As the Internet matured and writers adjusted accordingly, a whole new world of hazards cropped up. For one thing, we can now keep our laptop or writing device handy at all times. Gone are the days of the two-ton screen, monitor and processor. That portability creates a sort of attractive nuisance—a tendency to ork longer than we should or even at times when we should not. Even eye strain can be a problem. That can be eased by blinking or by moving your eyes away from the screen to gaze at a distant object for a few minutes.
I have vivid memories of the day a lightning storm hit during one of my copy-desk stints for a wire service. I put off shutting down because I knew that would create an unacceptable time lag. As I tapped out one tricky story on foreign affairs, a lightning bolt hit fried my laptop. Aside from the crackles and the cooked laptop, I wasn’t hurt. I was momentarily shocked, though, at how a single moment can alter a schedule it would have been wise to alter in the first place.
The nature of the Net is like a 24/7 news cycle—always on with stories always breaking. If you really enjoy your work, there is the pitfall of solitude. When you freelance, there are no water cooler gossip or co-worker lunch outings. It’s very easy to become so wrapped up in what you are doing that you lose touch with what matters most. That’s one reason I no longer do wire service work—the eternal hours of not being able to leave the computer. When you have a contract like that, there’s no fallback, no calling in sick. If you do, you cause an editor problems and you will likely end up parting ways.
Consequently, I have learned to schedule my office hours more reasonably and sometimes, even when a major story breaks, I simply walk away because I know another will come. Despite rumors to the contrary, writing is a people profession. Others help us grow as writers, and after all, other people are how we often find our best stories.
There’s also a safety factor for Internet writers and bloggers. If we write about controversial issues, that safety factor may get dicey. For that reason, I don’t post specific information about matters like my birthdate, my hometown or my travels. I see people announce specific plans on social media, and that’s fine if your settings are selected with privacy in mind. But if you’re a public figure, publicizing your travel plans may not be wise. The same goes for keeping others informed about every step you take—what restaurant you’re eating at and where you’re going when you leave. Just as you never know who’s watching you on a city street, there’s no way to know who’s watching you on the Web.
Another hazard I hadn’t thought of until I picked up a lot of newspaper work involved driving. I often find myself in strange places and even the best GPS navigation system will sometimes take you on a less than satisfactory route. For some reason, whenever I’m lost, there’s always a foot-heavy driver behind me. My solution for that is to roll the window down and wave the impatient driver to go ahead of me.
A couple years ago, I was driving in circles trying to find a business where my interview subject was waiting, and I noticed a driver kept honking and waving. I assumed he was frustrated with my meandering. I could not figure out why my waving didn’t convince him to go ahead of me. Finally he pulled up beside me and motioned for me to roll the window down.
“Did you know your trunk is open?” he asked.
Over the years I’ve found myself in any number of hazardous situations I never envisioned when I bought that insurance policy. I’ve been on a plane when the landing gear malfunctioned and on another plane when they held us so long on the runway I thought I would never board a plane again unless my life depended on it. I’ve stood in a rural area where there were no houses for miles as a photographer climbed down into a hole in the ground with our car keys in his pocket. It was only when he got to the bottom that I realized we would be in serious trouble if he happened to drop those keys or have an accident. I’ve been lost in strange cities and I’ve pulled muscles in my back as I transported boxes of books to private signing events, a challenge I never envisioned as a wannabe book author.
Despite the hazards that were more bountiful than I ever imagined, I wouldn’t trade being a writer for any other profession. I have, however, learned to be more respectful of those hazards.
As I finish this column, I know my cell phone will soon beep shortly. That beep will tell me to move around because I’ve been sitting for awhile. Technology may deliver hazards to the writer’s health, but it also delivers solutions.
Florida journalist Kay B. Day has won awards for poetry, nonfiction and fiction. The author of two books, she has written for
The Christian Science Monitor, United Press International,
The Florida Times-Union and Sky News. To learn more about Kay Day, see kayday.com. To read Kay's other Web Savvy columns about writing for the Web, click here.