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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

When you can't write...

by Linda Hall

I am so pleased to be invited to guest blog for your fitness and health month. I’ve enjoyed reading all of the posts- such great advice! Noodler Norah Wilson asked for my thoughts on the subject of what you do when you can’t write – when you physically can’t write.

Friday, February 29, of this past year I fell on ice and broke both bones in my right wrist. It was a pretty bad break and couldn’t have come at a worse time. (Or is there ever a right time?) I had guests coming on Sunday, a house to clean and I was bumping up against a deadline, and oh, did I mention that I’m right-handed? I can’t so much as draw stick figure with my left hand.

I spent the first few days at home in a morphine haze. The house ended up not mattering, company was rescheduled, and my package of edits from Harlequin sat in their envelope on my desk. At first I thought I would just do the edits. I would enlist my husband’s help and together we would muddle through the massive re-writes. So, I didn't tell my editor. This was a new contract and I didn’t want to blow it. I e-mailed my agent, however, told her that my right arm was totally out of commission, but not to worry – my husband and I would get this book done if it was the last thing we did.

A day later, my sweet agent called me and gave me a stern talking to. “I’ve talked to your editor. They’re moving the release date ahead.”

When I protested, she said, “Linda, you’re right-handed and you can’t write. It’s all taken care of. Don’t kill yourself.”

A nice email from my editor also made me feel better – somewhat – about my plight.

As the days wore on, I realized just how incapacitated I was. I couldn’t even blow dry my hair properly or put on eye makeup. I felt like a frump, and learning to eat with my left hand left many a soup slop on my shirt.

I was in a cast for seven weeks. I wish I could say that I endured it with grace and thanksgiving for all that I would learn from this experience. Not! Oh, there was some of that, I suppose. But mostly, I was just mad. Why couldn't I have fallen on my left arm? There were days when I was completely and utterly frustrated. Here I was a writer, and I couldn’t even add an item to my grocery list.

But even when we’re angry and frustrated, we can learn lessons if we listen and keep our eyes open. Here’s what I discovered:

1. The QWERTY keyboard is in your head not your hands. I was forced to move my mouse to the left side of my keyboard. It was awkward, uncomfortable, frustrating (you try it!). But, after about a week or so it started to be less so. As I began my one-handed typing, I realized that my left hand was automatically finding the letters that my right hand normally typed. The letters and words were all there - in my head.

2. I learned to listen. I am a note taker. I cannot sit in a meeting or church without taking notes. That’s my learning style, I guess. I’m also a journaler. With my right arm out of commission I simply couldn’t do that. I had to force myself to listen, to concentrate. For some strange reason, I found that if I cocked my head to one side, I could hear and remember better. Go figure.

3. One of the surprising benefits of using my left hand on the mouse was less shoulder pain. Long hours hunched into my keyboard, my right hand crazily on the mouse, as I scramble to a deadline, always left me with so much shoulder pain that I would reward myself with a massage when I finished a book. That hasn't happened since I broke my arm. I have a feeling it’s because I’m using my left hand and arm more, even now.

4. Maybe I’m increasing my brain capacity. After I broke my arm a friend sent me a link to an anti-aging article in Canadian Living magazine which suggested that to keep your brain fresh, try using your non-dominant hand for small things around the house.

5. I learned that this is a right-handed world. Simple things, like using scissors, or a can opener are incredibly awkward when you try to use them left-handed. It gave me an appreciation for our southpaw friends.

6. I learned the benefit of voice recognition software. Now, I won’t be without it. MacSpeech was newly available last year, and I ordered it for my MacBook. By the time I received it in Canada, however, I only had a couple more weeks in my cast. I loaded the program, anyway, and have been working with it ever since. I’m finding that it’s wonderful for first drafts. I put the headset on, stare into space, visualize my story and characters and just start talking. Come to think of it, maybe that’s helping with the shoulder pain.

It’s been a while and my right arm is better, but not perfect. But, I’ve learned that even through frustrating circumstances, there are always lessons we can learn.

Linda Hall
BLACK ICE, ACFW Suspense Book of the Year!
SHADOWS IN THE MIRROR, winner of the Word Guild award for best romance
SHADOWS AT THE WINDOW, July '08 - an RT Top Pick


At 11:14 AM, Blogger Merrillee said...

Hi Linda,
It's good to see you here on the Wet Noodle Posse blog. Thanks for sharing your story. I remember your mentioning this on the Love Inspired loop, but now I know more of the story. I've never broken my wrist, but I did sprain my right wrist. For a while I tried that left hand mouse thing. It was awkward, and I was much slower using it with my left hand. Thanks for the great lessons.

At 1:08 PM, Blogger Norah Wilson said...

Hey, Linda! Thanks for sharing how you handled that. What I want to know is, how long does it take you to get over your self-consciousness when you talk to the computer? I can see myself looking over my shoulder to make sure there's no one within ear shot while I was working. Of course, I can't write with anyone looking at the monitor, either, so I sure couldn't write with someone listening! Plus the sound of my own voice...I'd really need to try it. After all these years, I think my thoughts are conditioned to come out of my finger tips.

Anyone else have experience of these programs? I know Dragon Naturally Speaking (for PCs) is supposed to be the bomb.

At 1:48 PM, Blogger Mo H said...

I admire your perserverence. Thanks for sharing your story with us. The software sounds pretty cool.

At 2:20 PM, Blogger janegeorge said...

Since two folks here have now recommended this, I am as of this moment moving my mouse to the left hand side to give it a try. I have an old riding injury in my upper back on the right side and it's been sqwuaking lately.

Linda, thanks for sharing the bit about your injury, your deadline, your agent and your editor. This kind of wisdom is priceless.

I would love to try the voice software someday when I can justify the expense. Only I would have to walk around and talk, if that makes any sense.

At 3:56 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Great story, Linda. This makes me appreciate my right hand while I type this comment. It's amazing to me how you managed to find other ways to deal with your problem. And that's very interesting to know that you like the voice software. The one I tried years ago didn't work too well.

Thanks for coming to the WNP today!

At 4:43 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

I've always wondered how I would cope if my right hand were out of commission. I think you did very well!

Norah: I tried Dragon voice recog. software ages ago, and we did not get on at all. It had very little trouble recognizing what Joe said, but maybe my nasal voice (allergies) was more than it could take. It only got about 1 word out of 3 correct for me. After reading about an author duo who write Star Trek books and dictate while on the treadmill, I tried that, as well, but trying to talk a book made me stutter and say "um," a lot. I could probably get over it. Then I decided I could just type while on the keyboard (I'm doing it now), and that solved most of my exercise problem. Now it's just a matter of getting on it. :D

At 6:43 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Esri, you can type while on the treadmill? Now that's amazing!

At 9:44 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Hi, Linda,
I think you were very resourceful!

At 6:22 AM, Blogger Barbara Phinney said...

Linda, thank you so much for those nuggets of wisdom you learned. I want MacSpeech so much now!


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