I've been thinking today that my writing station's monitor screen set-up is much worse than I had previously thought, and can be partly blamed for productivity problems.

I write on a 2004 laptop with a 14.1" LCD monitor. Because its keyboard has poor "touch", I use a separate keyboard, but this causes me to have to put the keyboard in front of the laptop, and therefore the screen is further from my face. The usual working distance has been 2-3 feet (.6-.9 meters) from the monitor, depending if I lean back.

I've now come to think this is way too far and too small of a screen. Even if the screen were closer, a 14.1" screen is probably too small for optimized productivity. Corroborating opinions welcome. (That I've also written 10,000+ lines of computer code on this setup is unfortunate).

Will getting a larger monitor, possibly with a desktop computer, make a significant difference in writing productivity? How large is about right? Are there other things to consider as regards to a good set-up for writing in terms of having the visual aspects optimized?

(Along these lines I have noticed that having a good low-profile keyboard has been very helpful)

UPDATE: I've flipped my (tablet) laptop's screen around such that now the distance from my eyes to the screen is from 18--28 inches, and the external keyboard is placed more comfortably. I'm also increasing vertical screen real estate by losing some toolbars, etc. Overall, this is much more comfortable.

I get the point that a few people have expressed to "just write" or "if you're a writer, you write" but I think that's something of a gloss; every activity's hedonic level is affected by the conditions and we tend to go for pleasure drives in nice cars or play our music most when we have a good stereo. I'm not saying I won't write at all if I don't have optimal conditions, but striving to have a more pleasant working environment is just sensible. Viewing my words from 3 feet away in a small rectangle was just not good enough. This is better, and I'll look into a new monitor when I feel if it is warranted.


I don't have anything scientific on this, but... I doubt it. People have been managing to get books written for centuries, all without the benefit of a large monitor. Barring health issues that require special ergonomics, I think the details of your set-up are more of an excuse than a genuine problem.

I write on a laptop, a netbook, or a desktop computer. I prefer the laptop, but when I'm traveling, I still get work done on the netbook. When I'm not feeling creative, the biggest screen in the world wouldn't help me -- I just need to power through it. When things are flowing, I'll type on whatever's available, and when the power goes out and the batteries die, I'll write by hand.

If you're a writer, you'll write. Don't let the tools distract you.

  • Almost upvote. Unergonomic workplaces can be really a productivity killer. Sep 11 '11 at 19:18
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    Yeah, maybe I should change 'serious disability' to 'health issues' or something -- because for the majority of able-bodied people, many of whom can only find a couple hours a day to write, I don't think ergonomics are vital.
    – Kate S.
    Sep 11 '11 at 20:18
  • Then I would upvote, Kate. Sep 11 '11 at 20:28
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    This is fine, kind of the "in my day we walked uphill to school both ways and we liked it that way" view, and I'll take it, but I'm hoping to get a diversity of opinion. E.g., there is this, "the more screen real estate, the better" approach: blog.litcentral.com/2009/02/03/…
    – Chelonian
    Sep 11 '11 at 22:03
  • If you're making enough money to afford luxury, go for luxury. But writing comes from your brain. From your previous post, it sounds like you're pretty new to writing; don't let yourself get distracted by the shiny toys, when they really aren't what matter.
    – Kate S.
    Sep 11 '11 at 23:15

The size of the monitor doesn't matter as much as the size of the text on the screen.

I write with a MacBook Air, which has about the same size monitor you're using. I use 12 point Times New Roman, and tell my word processor to magnify the text to about 150%. That's plenty big even for my aging eyes, even at a distance. And my writing window takes up about 2/3 the width of the screen, which leaves plenty of room on the screen for notes.

So try this: Use a bigger font while writing, or tell your software to magnify the text so you can see it.


The wrong position of the monitor could be a health issue, and therefore a productivity issue.

If you cramp before your monitor, best thing to happen is that you get fatigue faster. Problems with your back could be much more troublesome. If you have to lean forward to read the text on your monitor, then it has the wrong distance. If the upper edge is above your eyes, then the monitor is adjusted too high.

An ergonomic working place is the key factor for unstressed (more productive) work. Nevertheless, I think Kate is right and you talk mainly about procrastination.


To write "simple" text, a 20" monitor would probably be fine, those should not be too expensive either. There is usually a connector for an external monitor or such on a laptop, so there should not be any problem to hook them together. (But double check first just in case.)

The main advantage is that a new monitor is probably nicer to your eyes and if it a standalone monitor, it would probably be better adjusted to the right height as well, giving less strain on the neck and shoulders.

When it comes to efficiency and large and/or several monitors, there is only a few research papers around (when I researched the subject about two years ago). One was heavily sponsored (or conducted) by NEC (creates monitors among other things) and involved a lot of excel copy-and-paste, and then there is one study made by Microsoft Research, where they created a custom-built 30" monitor with about the same methods and results as the NEC study.

To counter any go-after-new-toys comments, 14.1" is really small for a workstation, it works if you're travelling or such, but if you're going to sit 8-10 hour a day in front of it, you really need something better.


Writing productivity might be affected if you are writing for long periods of time. Of course some might argue that if you are writing for long periods of time you creativity might be affected.

I've been using different computers,monitors,keyboards and software packages for years. I will advise that the minute you tie yourself to one device or piece of software is the day that it will become obsolete. I doubt if you can find a WANG word processor these days or an Applewriter][ software package. I've got an Apple][ that I might part with at the right price should you need one

Just write. Heck, I've called my GoogleVoice and dictated. It transcribes my message and sends it to my email- no screen issues while driving...

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