The Standing Desk: What’s Old is New Again

When I started using a standing desk at the day job, I thought I was onto something new.

Turns out I was wrong.

In fact, standing desks have been used for much of human history. The elevated surfaces were built so that people could stand and write on a slanted surface. Tall stools were often nearby for when people needed to sit for a bit.

Members of the Doctors Commons, a society of lawyers, stand while working. (circa 1857)

Members of the Doctors Commons, a society of lawyers, stand while working. (circa 1857)

Thomas Jefferson was among the first on record to adopt the standing desk; he designed his own in the 1700s.

The nation’s third president came up with an adjustable desk that allowed him to stand (maybe while writing the Declaration of Independence?) or to bring it down to a level where he could sit  on a stool.

The six-legged desk also had an adjustable work surface that slanted upward.

The standing desk designed by Thomas Jefferson.

The standing desk designed by Thomas Jefferson.

Winston Churchill, Virginia Woolf, Lewis Carroll and Charles Dickens were also known to use standing desks.

Woolf’s nephew, Quentin Bell, wrote that she “had a desk standing about three feet six inches high with a sloping top; it was so high that she had to stand at her work.”

I’m not sure why they all worked on their feet, but I was motivated by health concerns and the impact of sitting for too many hours each day–first at the day job and then at home while writing my novels.

Multiple studies suggest people who sit for extended periods of time run an increased risk for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, leg disorders, soft bones…not to mention a sore backside.

Way back in 1883, Popular Science magazine also cited health reasons when encouraging readers to use standing desks.

“At the first symptoms of indigestion, book-keepers, entry-clerks, authors, and editors should get a telescope-desk. Literary occupations need not necessarily involve sedentary habits, though, as the alternative of a standing-desk, I should prefer a Turkish writing-tablet and a square yard of carpet-cloth to squat upon.”

Illustration for an adjustable standing desk from an 1899 book, "School Hygiene," by Dr. Ludwig Wilhelm Johannes Kotelmann, John A. Bergström and Edward Conradi.

Illustration for an adjustable standing desk from an 1899 book, “School Hygiene,” by Dr. Ludwig Wilhelm Johannes Kotelmann, John A. Bergström and Edward Conradi.

A man stands while he works in this painting from 1829.

A man stands while he works in this painting from 1829.

Ernest Hemingway always stood while he worked, according to a 1958 Paris Review article:

“A working habit he has had from the beginning, Hemingway stands when he writes. 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.

Ernest Hemingway types at his standing desk.

Ernest Hemingway types at his standing desk.

In the book, Papa Hemingway: A Personal Memoir, AE Hotchner describes Hemingway’s set-up at his home in Havana:

“He never worked at the desk. Instead, he used a stand up work place he had fashioned out of a bookcase near his bed. His portable typewriter was snugged in there and papers were spread along the top of the bookcase on either side of it. He used a reading board for longhand writing.”

In Engaging the Earl, war hero Edward Stanhope returns home on the evening the woman he left behind becomes engaged to another man.

In Engaging the Earl, war hero Edward Stanhope returns home on the evening the woman he left behind becomes engaged to another man.

People have asked me if the creative juices flow while I’m standing up.

I was on my feet for much of the time while completing my latest book, Engaging the Earl, which is out today. (Shameless Plug Alert: $.99 for a limited time!)

I’ll admit writing was a challenge at first, but now I don’t even think about it. In fact, I’m more comfortable standing for four or five hours each day.

All in all, I feel much better, my body isn’t as stiff, my bottom doesn’t get sore, and I rarely get those aches across the back of my shoulders that I feel after sitting for long periods of time.

I’m such a fan that I am ready to get rid of my makeshift standing desk at home to splurge on the real thing.

After all, Hemingway, Woolf, Carroll and the rest of them must have been onto something!

And before I leave you…

5 Interesting Reasons to Read ENGAGING THE EARL

1. The hero returns from years at war on the evening the woman he left behind becomes engaged to another man.

2. Edward suffers from nostalgia…which is known today as Post Traumatic Stress (The U.S. military has stopped referring to this condition as a disorder–dropping the D from PTSD–to remove the stigma associated with it.)

3. The heroine’s dog helps Edward cope with his attacks. I decided to bring a dog into the story after being moved by an article about an Iraq war veteran whose trained service dog helps him manage his PTS.

4. Edward is loosely inspired by Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, who wasn’t allowed to marry an earl’s daughter because he was a second son with no prospects. Ten years later, after gaining a dukedom for his war service, Wellington returned to marry the woman he left behind.

5. Engaging the Earl is only $.99 for a limited time. And who doesn’t love a good bargain?

Amazon ~ B&N ~ iBooks ~ Kobo ~ GoogleBooks

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