Challenges Writers Face (1): Sitting as the new cancer

Chimamanda Adichie and Wole Soyinka used to illustrate the story. [Photo credit:

Writers choose convenient environment and positions that make their thoughts flow. Overtime, however, most writers have been known to sit at their desks to write. In an age-long tradition that glamourised the art, this is done in a study! But writing desks and chairs may be going out of fashion as have the good old cigarette and cigars because they are killers.

Rose, who went to her husband’s study one night to serve him tea stood at the door for several minutes, wondering what had happened to her husband for years. She could not talk because of the agreement on silence in the study to enable him concentrate. But the new sight was so strange she couldn’t help it.

“My dear, everything ok? Why are you standing to write on a raised desk that looks like a pulpit?” She asked her hand holding firmly to the tray.

Tim turned reluctantly to look her way and motioned to her to put the tray down.

That was when she noticed what he wore. “And you are wearing only shorts? Haaaaa!” She muffled a scream, wishing desperately to call his mother.

“I will explain,” he stopped writing to say, and dashed across the brightly lit study to her.

Still standing, he explained how sitting for long hour “kills faster than cigarette.” Rose had persuaded him to stop smoking the year before.

Prolonged sitting, which people, including most writers, do, has been found to be as dangerous as smoking, if not more.

Indeed, findings presented at the 2015 Inaugural Active Working Summit also found that sitting increases: Lung cancer by 54 percent; uterine cancer by 66 percent; and colon cancer by 30 percent.

The increased risk is thought to be linked to weight gain and associated biochemical changes, such as alterations in hormones, metabolic dysfunction, leptin dysfunction, and inflammation—all of which promote cancer.

Concerns about the effects of prolonged sitting has heightened so much that when Apple cashed in on it, many people easily related to the marketing soundbite, “Sitting is the new cancer.”

Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook is noted to have warned that “sitting is the new cancer,” in reference to a feature in the Apple Watch that reminds its wearer to stand up more often. “Ten minutes before the hour, it will remind you to move,” said Cook.

That was smart because sitting kills!

Some writers saw it coming. Writing positions have indeed been undergoing variations. While some write standing, others do so lying done. Both positions have become inviting by the availability of iPads and even mobile phones with large screens. Many people write on their mobile phones in comfortable positions and forward to their computers.

Victims of prolonged sitting write include Glennell Rosburg. She said, “I have a writing injury! It’s true. I have a certifiable writing injury. I went to the podiatrist recently and he told me that the large bump on my ankle which I believed to be a tumor that I would immediately die from was actually just a writing lump.

“Okay, he didn’t call it a writing lump, but after examining me, x-raying me, and questioning me he determined that the hard chair I sat cross-legged on for hours at a time was slowly destroying my leg. All the pressure and weight from my entire body was on my poor ankle. And there was the moving back and forth, the getting up and down…all that friction. And so my body created a barrier to protect my bone from the chair. It’s like a cushion, he said. Your body made an ankle pillow. Diagnosis complete!

Basically, I have to stop sitting cross-legged. But it’s so hard! It’s my position. I think best and I write best when I sit that way. When I told my doctor this, he prescribed a softer chair.”

Some great authors who wrote while standing

Ernest Hemingway: The habit of standing to write is one that Hemingway “had from the beginning,” explained George Plimpton in an interview.

“He stands in a pair of his oversized loafers on the worn skin of a lesser kudu—the typewriter and the reading board chest-high opposite him … moving only to shift weight from one foot to another.”

Vladimir Nabokov. The Russian author, best known for his work Lolita, ranked No. 4 in the list of the Modern Library 100 Best Novels, stood while he worked.

Philip Roth. Considered one of America’s greatest living authors, Roth stands at a lectern to writ and paces while he thinks, claiming to walk half a mile for every page.

Thomas Wolfe. This almost seems like a tall tale (pun intended—you’ll see what I mean). The author of Look Homeward, Angel was “a very tall fellow,” who wrote standing up in his kitchen, according to Wikipedia.

Authors Who Wrote Lying Down

Marcel Proust reported that he wrote lying down in his famous brass bed, especially during his final years when illness forced him to complete Remembrance of Things Past while confined to his cork-lined bedroom.

Edith Sitwell who was reputed to have slept in a coffin from time to time, also enjoyed her bed. “All women should have a day a week in bed,” she quipped. At the end of one particularly long day working in bed, she observed: “I am honestly so tired that all I can do is lie on my bed with my mouth open.”

Edith Wharton, the author of The Age of Innocence and other novels, retreated to bed in order to escape rigid expectations about what women should wear. The freedom from her corset liberated her thoughts as well. She even celebrated her eightieth birthday in bed — with a candle-covered cake that caught on fire.

Truman Capote quoted himself in an interview with The Paris Review: “I am a completely horizontal author,” he admitted. “I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy.

William Wordsworth reportedly preferred writing his poems in bed in the complete darkness, and would start over whenever he lost a sheet of paper because looking for it was too much trouble.

W.G. Sebald, who worked on The Rings of Saturn while plagued by back problems, was in a similarly unenviable position: He lay on his stomach across the bed, propped his forehead on a chair, and placed the manuscript on the floor to write.

Details of harm caused by prolonged sitting

Experts explain that at the molecular level, your body was designed to be active and on the move all day long. When you stop moving for extended periods of time, it’s like telling your body it’s time to shut down and prepare for death. They describe what happens in various areas of your body after prolonged sitting:

• Heart: When you sit, blood flows slower and muscles burn less fat, which makes it easier for fatty acids to clog your heart. Research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, for instance, showed that women who sit for 10 or more hours a day may have a significantly greater risk of developing heart disease than those who sit for five hours or less.

• Pancreas: Your body’s ability to respond to insulin is affected by just one day of excess sitting, which leads your pancreas to produce increased amounts of insulin, and this may lead to diabetes.

Research published in Diabetologia found that those who sat for the longest periods of time were twice as likely to have diabetes or heart disease, compared to those who sat the least. Sitting for more than eight hours a day has also been associated with a 90 percent increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

• Colon Cancer: Excess sitting may increase your risk of colon, breast, and endometrial cancers. The mechanism isn’t known for certain, but it could be due to excess insulin production, which encourages cell growth, or the fact that regular movement boosts antioxidants in your body that may eliminate potentially cancer-causing free radicals.

Digestion: Sitting down after you’ve eaten causes your abdominal contents to compress, slowing down digestion. Sluggish digestion, in turn, can lead to cramping, bloating, heartburn, and constipation, as well as dysbiosis in your gastrointestinal tract, a condition caused by microbial imbalances in your body.

Brain Damage: Your brain function slows when your body is sedentary for too long. Your brain will get less fresh blood and oxygen, which are needed to trigger the release of brain- and mood-enhancing chemicals.

• Strained Neck and Shoulders: It’s common to hold your neck and head forward while working at a computer or cradling a phone to your ear. This can lead to strains to your cervical vertebrae along with permanent imbalances, which can lead to neck strain, sore shoulders and back.

• Back Problems: Sitting puts more pressure on your spine than standing, and the toll on your back health is even worse if you’re sitting hunched in front of a computer. It’s estimated that 40 percent of people with back pain have spent long hours at their computer each day.

The disks in your back are meant to expand and contract as you move, which allows them to absorb blood and nutrients. When you sit, the disks are compressed and can lose flexibility over time. Sitting excessively can also increase your risk of herniated disks.

An expert explains that after I reduced my normal 12 to 14 hours of daily sitting to under one hour, the back pain I’d struggled with for decades disappeared.

• Standing requires you to tense your abdominal muscles, which go unused when you sit, ultimately leading to weak abdominals.

• Hip Problems: Your hips also suffer from prolonged sitting, becoming tight and limited in range of motion because they are rarely extended. In the elderly, decreased hip mobility is a leading cause of falls.

Sitting also does nothing for your glutes, which may become weakened, affecting your stability and the power of your stride when walking and jumping.

• Varicose Veins: Sitting leads to poor circulation in your legs, which can cause swelling in your ankles, varicose veins, and blood clots known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

• Weak Bones: Walking, running, and engaging in other weight-bearing activities lead to stronger, denser bones. Lack of activity may cause weak bones and even osteoporosis.

What to do now?

Experts say you may sit to write, but shouldn’t be for too long before you change position. Welcome to standing!


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