Anelise Chen Recommends...

“A few years ago, my friend and I began keeping an e-mail chain about writers who have wrecked their bodies through writing. It’s true: Occasionally intellectual labor is as backbreaking as physical labor. There’s the well-known example of Giacomo Leopardi, whose prodigious output—the result of countless neck-straining hours stooped over his desk—permanently deformed his spine. Then there’s Herman Melville, once an active, swashbuckling young man, who dove with such intensity into his whale book that his entire family circulated letters conspiring to make him rest. Ignoring their pleas, he emerged from Moby-Dick plagued with eye spasms, anxiety attacks, and debilitating back pain. W. G. Sebald already had back problems when he started writing The Rings of Saturn, so his solution was to write lying flat on his stomach with his forehead propped on a chair. Sometimes desperate circumstances call for desperate measures. Writers tend to forget that we are also the custodians of a physical body, one that aches, yearns, and tires. Driving it with caffeine and self-flagellation works temporarily, but long-distance strategies like investing in an ergonomic keyboard and comfortable chair probably work better. I am cheered by Jonathan Lethem’s example: I hear he writes on a treadmill. Journeying into the land of the psyche is no easy feat; training is required. Writing is an endurance sport, so to make it to the finish line intact, we have to take care of our bodies: stand up, walk a mile, pace yourself, stay hydrated, and be kind.”
—Anelise Chen, author of So Many Olympic Exertions (Kaya Press, 2017)