What scoliosis can teach you about writing

Reading time: Less than 3 minutes

Today’s column describes how my daughter’s scoliosis reminds me of the additivity of small numbers and how this principle can have a dramatic impact on your writing.

My 15-year-old daughter and I share many traits. We’d both rather eat a really good piece of cheese than a sweet. We share the belief that The Gilmour Girls was one of the funniest, most charming programs ever produced by network TV. And we both have scoliosis.

Scoliosis is an s-shaped curve that twists its way through your back. My case is mild. My daughter’s is much worse. Weirdly, it’s good news that she has three curves because they are said to “balance” each other out. Not quite the same thing as get-out-of-jail free card, but about as good as it gets when it comes to spinal problems.

Still, in addition to being followed by an orthopedic doctor, my daughter needs physio every 10 days or so. And her curves are severe enough that she must do a modified PE program — hence the physio appointment requiring me.

The physio, bless her soul, said she wanted to focus on what she calls “the little things.” Then she said something that shocked me. According to her, our society’s switch from regular typewriters to computers has had a measurable impact on exercise.

Sounds crazy, I know, but have you ever used a regular typewriter? They required hard pounding of keys and the strong thwack of a carriage return at the end of every line. I know that in our new e-world, the incidence of carpal tunnel syndrome has risen dramatically (because people type on computers so much faster and overwork their wrists.)

But I didn’t know the change also had some weighty results. The physio’s shocking statistic? For a regular typist, the decrease in effort expended on typing on a computer will cause an 11-pound weight gain in one year.

I’m not sure I even believe the exact statistic — it may be apocryphal — but I do believe the trend. It ties in with a math principle I’ve always loved called the additivity of small numbers. Basically, this principle holds that if you keep proper track of relatively small things (for example, how much you spend on lattes each week, or how often you drive short distances when you could easily walk), the ultimate number will be large, not small.

But here’s the factor that many writers miss. It applies to writing, too.

I know business people who procrastinate on writing reports. They don’t realize that working on them for a mere 15 minutes here and there would add up quickly to a finished report.

I also know students who freak out at the idea of a 5,000-word paper for school. It sounds enormous! But they should get out their calculators. Anyone writing merely 300 words a day can have that paper finished in just over two weeks!

And exactly the same idea applies to books. Write 300 words a day, working only on weekdays, and by the end of the year you’ll have a book. Think of it! Not a skinny novella. Not a booklet. But a full-length book.

Granted, you’ll still have to come up with the idea. And, at the end, you’ll need to edit it. But who can’t write 300 words a day? You already probably write at least triple that — maybe even more — in emails.

Make my day: Surprise yourself by how quickly your words can add up.

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