Sunday, November 10, 2013

Writing, Fear and Yoga

Though it may look like the writer isn't doing much, sitting for hours in front of a laptop, the brain is heavily engaged. The work is often emotionally demanding in the extreme, taking us places that we're afraid of but need to go, and forcing us to look deep into the black hearts of our deepest fears to uncover reality in our characters and situation.  It takes great courage to walk the difficult path of the artist, and often the effort is physically exhausting.  Fear is always tracking you, and the closer you are to reaching your writing goals, the more intense and insidious that fear can become.  Fear is a great shapeshifter, looking like block, like the need to research, like being too busy to write.  It can stop your story in its tracks just at its most critical point.

My latest work in progress (WIP) is particularly challenging, taking me to dark recesses of the past, exploring notions just beyond my intellectual capabilities, and forcing me to rethink what I know about fiction.  Every writing session is hard.  That's how I know I'm on the right path - because it it were easy, I wouldn't be pushing myself, growing, or moving my skills to a higher bar.  So how does one cope with this fear in all of its incarnations?  How do you push through it towards completion?

My biggest ally against fear is to move my body.  Exercise of all kind helps, but for me, there's nothing quite like either swimming, or doing yoga - two forms of exercise that have a mental impact on me - helping to clear my vision, work out intellectual problems with my stories, and teach me to cope with fear.  Both swimming and yoga are what I call breath practices.  They involve engaging your breath and using the breath to propel and lengthen the muscles.  Being quite small boned, I tend to get cold easily and it's often too cold to swim.  I don't much like heated indoor pools (the chlorine doesn't agree with me), so I tend to do quite a lot of yoga.  Yoga is amazing for writers.  Here are three reasons why yoga is a natural ally for the writer:
  • It helps teach us to see writing as a practice, rather than an end point.  We keep moving along the writing path, growing, changing, and pushing towards wisdom and expression.  It's not possible to fail, no matter how hard it is, when you have this perception. 
  • It teaches you to breathe. Ah, breath.  How simple and yet how powerful. Breathing is the perfect antedote to fear.  I first found out how powerful it was when I was in labour with my first child, screaming in pain.  An angel of a midwife came to me and taught me to breath slowly, deeply, with my full body and I calmed down and got to work. I've turned to breath again and again in times of stress, strive, and fear, and it never fails to remind me of the transience of each moment and the need to work, calmly, through the panic. 
  • It teaches patience.  Sometimes the right words take time to come.  You have to keep showing up, doing the exercises, stretching, breathing and working towards the vision. 
About my writing work, yoga teaches me to see my writing as work that has to be done - a responsibility and positive impetus rather than a vanity (another manifestation of fear). So next time you're struggling with the dragons of fear - call it what you will: block, self-doubt, other priorities, "no-time", try taking a 30 minute yoga break and see if that doesn't help. Breath through it. Even when it hurts. Then back to work. The world is waiting for you to change it.



11 comments:

  1. I agree Maggie. I think the combination of movement, breath and the quieting of the mind makes yoga a perfect tool to break through writers' block.

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    1. Glad you agree, Mary Jo. I find it helps me in so many ways - not just with my writing of course but with everything else too.

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  2. I really need to get back to yoga--for all the reasons you've just given, plus my body hurts! Thanks for the reminder!

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    1. You can always start with a few simple YouTube sessions - there are lots of good ones for beginners (all lengths) and they're free too. I'm a big fan of Sadie Nardini, Tara Stiles, and Ali Kamenova, but there are tons.

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  3. What a marvelous call to action that last line is, Maggie. A very interesting take on fear and I shall be taping that first bullet point beside the laptop. You'd have been in my quotable quotes if I hadn't just sent them off. :-)

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    1. Thanks Annie, even though I've written it I need to remind myself regularly about the fear part (so easy to just say "I'm too busy today". It's always true.) The more potential powerful what we're writing is, the more scared it makes us, so fear is actually an indication of something potentially transformative.

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  4. OMG, Magdalena. All the years we've worked together, done poetry together, I didn't know you did yoga, too. It's my favorite form of exercise. Many don't realize that as you get more advanced, it's a real muscle strengther (as well as relaxer) too.

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    1. This is so cool - one fine day we'll have to do a session together - and then sit down and write a whole collaborative book!

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  5. So very true. I, too, need to remember to take the time out to get it together. Thanks!

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  6. Oh, Maggie..so beautifully written!

    "It helps teach us to see writing as a practice, rather than an end point" - love this.

    I began yoga a year ago and I enjoy it immensely. Thank-you for guiding my thoughts deeper.

    Kathy

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  7. Maggie, adding exercise to your daily routine is so important, especially for us writers, who can sit for hours thinking, writing, thinking, writing . . . I never tried Yoga, but I do do meditation. Great insights.

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