Five Things Yoga Has Taught Me About Writing

This is a series I wrote about a year ago when I was blogging exclusively on a different platform. I’m migrating it over here, as I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how exercise and meditation can help one’s creativity and thought it could be helpful. Since I first wrote this, I’ve made a lot more progress on publications and novel writing, yet I’ve somehow gone backward with my yoga practice. This is a reminder for myself as much as for any readers out there that a balance between the intellectual and the physical is incredibly important if you want to grow, change, and deepen as a complete person. Yoga is not the only path toward this integration of body, mind, and spirit, however, and in the coming weeks I’ll be writing more here about other ways to reduce stress and enhance creativity through exercise.

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I’ve been a practicing yogini since the mid-1990s, even before I knew I wanted to be a professional fiction writer. Back then, I mostly worked with videos (and yes, I mean actual VHS tapes!), but I did take the occasional short-term class in a variety of styles. My favorite styles usually focused almost entirely on flexibility and didn’t deal much with either the other physical benefits (aerobic and strength) or the philosophical, spiritual, or psychological advantages of a regular yoga practice. It’s only been in the last few years—as both my yoga and my writing has become more serious—that I’ve begun to see the ways in which each supplement and help the other…and about life in general.

The current state of both my yoga practice and my writing could be described as semi-professional. I’m now at a stage with yoga where I’m deeply immersed in working with several teachers of different styles (all of whom I love), and I’m researching teacher training options so that I can eventually teach yoga part-time. With my writing, I’m also feeling very semi-professional. I have lots of short pieces published but nothing full-length, though I have several novels almost completed. I see my yoga teacher training possibly coming through at the same time I sell my first novel, as these two creative outlets in my life seem to keep flowing together so beautifully.

1. Be willing to hurt. Yoga poses are strenuous. Sometimes the asanas are uncomfortable when we’re not familiar with them. But they end, even the hard ones. When you’re struggling with getting something published, you feel desperate, anxious, and alone. When doing a tough pose or waiting for an answer on a story I’ve sent off to a market, I always remind myself that the tough part will be over soon, and I will be stronger for it. The difficult asana taught me something about my body’s mechanics. When a story is having a tough time selling, I revise with each rejection and make a better story in the end. In both cases, I have learned through the pain.

2. Be mindful of your breath. Breathing is the ultimate relaxation tool. When writing, taking a breath (physical/literal or metaphorical) can refresh you. There is a reason pranayama works: it forces you to bring your mind back to the present moment and set aside other concerns. Sometimes it’s just a lack of focus that is causing writers block.

3. Be flexible. An editor tells you to cut something, you cut it. Your yoga teacher tells you to try upward-facing dog, that he thinks you’re ready for it, you try it.

4. Be here now, wherever that is. The current piece is the most important one. The current pose is the only one that matters. When you write in one genre and feel you’ve mastered its conventions, it doesn’t mean you’ve mastered the conventions of all genres. Doing a beautiful Warrior I pose with perfect alignment does not mean you’re a master of the full lotus. Your abilities and talents are individual based on what you’re doing. This teaches you to have goals, and also to exhibit humility. We do not learn all of the yoga; we continue to practice it as students, even if we teach it. So, too, a writer is always practicing her craft, never fully perfecting it, and even when teaching it is simply working on it with students. In both cases, sometimes the student teaches the teacher, which beautifully illustrates some of the tenets of karma yoga.

5. Be the strong creature you already are. As in tree pose, you must bend and sway without falling, but even falling involves simply readjusting yourself. Writers must weather the winds of rejections and reviews and dry spells and writers block, but it in no way diminishes you as an artist or yoga student.

Ultimately, the most important thing about both yoga and writing is to do each every day to keep the body and mind limber. Namaste.

From the blog archives: “I just killed a character”

I originally wrote this mini-essay in January of ‘10, and reposted it on my tumblr in August of ’11. I think the philosophy behind it still holds true.

I just killed a character. A major character. This person, I spent months designing him, figuring out his backstory, his life, his appearance, his family, his educational and work history. I agonized over his name, mannerisms, and personality. I gave him touching moments with multiple coworkers and loved ones. I made him smart and heroic and awesome. And then I had him get killed in a fairly gruesome and upsetting way just a few sections short of the ending of my book.

This was not part of my outline or plan. It just sort of happened. And certainly I’m not on the final draft of my novel, nor do those reading it as a work-in-progress know I’ve done this. They will react, and whether this death stands may have something to do with their reaction.

But why did I feel the need to do this in the first place? I hate when writers I like do this. Albus Dumbledore. Ianto Jones. Anya Jenkins. All such needless deaths and each one was  Not Cool. I sobbed like a freaking baby at every one, and I arguably care just as much about my character dude as Rowling, Davies, and Whedon cared about their characters, and they had to know that stuff wouldn’t go down smoothly with their entire audience either.

Why do something that, as a reader or viewer, bugs me? Because when you’re writing fiction, even if you’re not writing straightforwardly realistic literary fiction, you know that in order to resonate, there has to be something about the struggle your characters are facing that makes the stakes real. We can’t be invested if we suspect that someone’s going to swoop in and save the say ten seconds to closing credits. We have to believe this is life and death.

I’m writing an urban fantasy novel about grand struggles between forces of good and evil. For the forces of evil to never threaten the forces of good in a way that puts their lives in jeopardy is not realistic. I’m not writing for children. And while I’m writing characters who themselves are somewhat and sometimes comedic, this is not a comedy. It’s not a tragedy, either. It just is, and the people in danger have to feel like real people in danger. If danger is limited to getting a paper cut, or relegated to background people (“guest stars,” basically), then it will not touch the reader the same way as if a major supporting character bites it.

I’m shocked this happened, as sometimes when I’m writing I do deviate from outline and find the plot going somewhere surprising, even as it’s my fingers on the keyboard. But perhaps I’m a merciless god, because unless my little group of readers objects too vociferously, his death will stand.