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A Strange Contagion: SF Writers and Standing Desks


Madrid Metropolis Building at night Feb 2011bMary Kowal at her standing desk. Photo by Marcia Glover (c) 2011.

There’s a strange contagion spreading throughout the SF writing community. What is this pernicious pestilence that has infected inkpunks? Is it perhaps knocking at your door in a brown uniform bearing giant, back-straining Amazon packages? Remy, you say, we read the fucking post title. Get on with the standing desks already, you say. Very well, I shall get on.

cy photo (17)Christie’s colorful and small footprint standing desk arrangement

Christie’s home office set up includes a standing desk and a seated desk, and she spends roughly half time at each. This particular standing desk doesn’t have much room for mouse movement, so she uses the following seated arrangement when she works with graphics.

 cy photo (18)Christie’s seated desk

When Christie started using her standing desk she felt a lot of pain in her hips, but she is now able to stand for six hours per day without discomfort. She definitely recommends easing into a standing routine, either by gradually building up or alternating hourly between seated and standing.

If you’re interested in the details of Christie’s set up, she’s using this desk, with this anti-fatigue mat, and she recommends a good pair of shoes, like these.


standingRemy’s combined seated and standing set up

I’ve been using my standing desk for several months now. The details of my standing set up: my keyboard is supported by two reams of paper and a bunch of database/programming books (which are thick and expensive and go obsolete quickly, so it’s great to find a second life for them outside of recycling), my monitor by an old desktop PC, and my mouse pad is an old netbook packing box. And like Christie, I find that shoes make a huge difference in how long I can stand. I swapped out my cons for a pair of old running shoes.

I like my set up because it’s cheap and easy to adjust (add or remove another two books, swap the shoe box for a netbook box, etc.), and it’s easy for me to switch to a seated arrangement by moving the keyboard and the mouse box and switching primary monitor. The biggest drawback to this arrangement is that it limits the effectiveness of having two monitors. And maybe that it’s not very earthquake-friendly…

stand_desk_wendyNot pictured: the three unnamed fantasy books supporting the monitor

Wendy wins the lowest price DiY standing desk award: $1 for a folding bed tray, purchased at Goodwill, repurposed as a keyboard stand! She’s on her feet for most of the day, taking a break in the afternoons.

Like many folks who make the switch, Wendy credits her standing with health benefits: she no longer feels the considerable shoulder and neck pain she experienced prior to using her standing desk. Christie feels less fatigued. Others that I spoke with also attribute similar effects to their switch: less back pain, more energy, and better emotional health.

The main benefit that I can observe: I can stand longer. This is a big deal for me, since standing for as little as ten minutes on a hard surface was a painful experience before I started (my daily stand up meetings at work used to be an ordeal, and I leaned on things a lot). Now I’m able to stand for hours at a time, with only some minor back fatigue or soreness–a huge improvement from the past.

 eh deskErika’s standing desk

Erika is trying out the standing desk now, improvising with a box of paper and a short bookcase. She said that she keeps a chair handy so that she can stand “Captain Morgan style” on occasion. I had to look this up:

Inkpunks does not endorse Captain Morgan Spiced Rum. Though some members privately endorse Kraken. And drinking responsibly.

So I think this means that Erika wears a pirate hat, a cape and a sword to her standing desk. I’ll allow her to clarify.

photo-27Sandra’s dilemma, solved

Sandra claims that standing desks can eliminate concerns about chair theft by cats. But she may not have read this “goosed by cats” post by Mary Kowal. Cats once again show their ability to adapt to new circumstance more quickly than their human charges.

I’ll close this post with a few standing desk arrangements from friends:


andrew standing desk

Andrew Williams also improvised his standing desk arrangement. He switches between standing and seated, noting that “different configurations actually seem suited for different tasks and different headspaces.”


standing desk 5

Maggie Croft says that “working at a sitting desk was bothering my back. A standing desk [is] much better for my back, my general physicality and I feel better emotionally.”

liz standing skates

Just to show that there are as many approaches to standing desks as there are writers, Liz Argall decided to work her calves and thighs by standing at her desk in roller skates. I dare any of you to top that!

Finally, Elizabeth Mock has an excellent review (including video of her installation) of the Ninja Standing Desk on her blog.

If you’ve got a standing desk, please let us know how it’s been for you. Better yet, share pictures of your set up!

Also, I’d love to hear from those of you who’ve tried and chosen not to continue with it. What did you find problematic about the stand up desk experience?



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  1. Mary Robinette Kowal
    18/09/2013 at 8:42 am Permalink

    I also am using a bed tray to raise my keyboard up. For the monitor, I purchased a hutch, so I also get more shelf space on the desk.

  2. Remy Nakamura
    18/09/2013 at 8:52 am Permalink

    I especially love the personal history of your desk.

  3. Paul Weimer
    18/09/2013 at 9:01 am Permalink

    Thanks, Remy. My dayjob hasn’t moved in this direction, but perhaps should. There does seem to be a good argument for people trying this. The transition seems to be the key, though–having a standing desk you can revert in the early going when you can’t handle it for long.

  4. Jonathan Danz
    18/09/2013 at 9:23 am Permalink

    I love the inventiveness of the various standup setups. I built a stand up/sit down desk with a keyboard tray that pivots up and down. It works pretty well, but the mistake I made was not having the monitor on an arm that can move up and down. After awhile I realized I was looking down when standing and it was aggravating my neck. I haven’t been standing as much since so I’ll need to get a more versatile monitor setup. I love having the option. I figure anything that keeps the blood flowing and helps with posture is always good.

  5. Liz Argall
    18/09/2013 at 9:38 am Permalink

    And for those who like to geek out about roller skates. I write in Radar hybrid 82s, I feel like my rink wheels would be too slippery for writing!

    I also like using the standing desk as an opportunity to squeeze in more prehab (the work you do to prevent injuries) – instead of skates I grab a squishy surface and work on one foot balancing, calf and quad stretches.

    Putting balancing exercises into my standing desk routine also helps me remember to have good posture – I love leaning and slumping on the desk so much it can throw my shoulder out!

  6. lunalindsey
    18/09/2013 at 10:56 am Permalink

    While I do not use a standing desk, I do have a little pro-tip in general for making makeshift pieces of furniture look snazzy for almost no cost. Fabric. Just get some scrap fabric from the clearance area of a fabric or craft store, and drape it over the boxes, books, things made of cardboard, plastic tables, or cinderblocks. My own (sitting) desk is a plastic table which I have covered with purple tie-dye. I have a stack of plastic storage bins which looks and acts like a table because it’s covered in green tie-dye. My practical rolling wireframe bin full of office supplies looks great because it’s covered with black lace. Fabric can be cut to cover smaller objects, like monitor stands made of books, and it’s fun to choose what colors go where. (Scrap fabric can also decorate walls and make curtain-like room dividers.)

    Since I last decorated, I’ve covered all the coverings with clutter, so at this point, it’s tempting to cover the clutter. It’s like tiramisu!

  7. Andrew S. Williams
    18/09/2013 at 10:58 am Permalink

    Like Christie, I switch to sitting for image-related work and photo editing. I do have mouse space at my standing desk, as can be seen above, but I find I have more fine motor control when the mouse is directly on the desk surface and I’m sitting down.


  1. remymura 18/09/2013 at 8:30 am

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  2. wnwagner 18/09/2013 at 8:31 am

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  3. inkgorilla 18/09/2013 at 8:33 am

    RT @remymura: The latest from @inkpunks: A Strange Contagion: SF Writers and Standing Desks. Share your love or hate or…

  4. remymura 18/09/2013 at 8:34 am

    And many thanks to the inkpunks crew & to @MaryRobinette @lizargall @albionidaho @thewrittenpath @LisMock! http://t.co/X0usnYap00

  5. christieyant 18/09/2013 at 8:35 am

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  6. daleivan 18/09/2013 at 8:36 am

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  7. AdamIsrael 18/09/2013 at 8:36 am

    Mr. @remymura has a fab #inkpunks post about SF writers and standing desks. http://t.co/AJfzTBLSX2

  8. remymura 18/09/2013 at 8:42 am

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  14. lizargall 18/09/2013 at 9:41 am

    A great article about standing desks by Remy, different styles for as little as a dollar!... http://t.co/T1v0I8tvkL

  15. galendara 18/09/2013 at 10:08 am

    Standing Desks!! A primer, an intro, a DIY CHEAP AND WHY YOU SHOULD! a great new post by @remymura http://t.co/Z2ZK606PXW…

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