What helps you to write well? Strong coffee? A concise outline? The perfect background music?
One often overlooked component to good writing is safety. In order to write well, you need to feel safe. You need to feel free to express yourself. Otherwise, your mind clenches, and your so-called rational mind takes control. You worry about what people will think of your writing, of you. You worry still: Is this any good? Am I wasting my time?
Nothing will shut you up faster than that.
What you want for your writing is unfettered authenticity. You want your unique, uninhibited self to shine through. In order to do that, you need to feel safe. But how do you feel safe? How do you overcome your fears, of failure or rejection or whatever it is that keeps you from writing what you really want to write?
This is an elusive practice, and there are no clear-cut answers. But I’ve found one technique in an unexpected place: yoga. What started out for me as a purely physical exercise has become a mainstay of my writing practice. It is grounding. It is playful. It is about discovery and deep self-acceptance. It is about embracing mystery. It’s about quieting all those nagging voices that tell you you are wasting your time, to give up, to go to law school and make sure your life actually amounts to something.
Yoga, at its philosophical core, is about uniting who you think you are with who you actually are. Starting a yoga session is a lot like sitting down to the blank page. You are wrestling with your mind, with its endless possibilities both good and bad, with your potential. You discover what you are capable of. Ultimately, it teaches you to trust yourself. And this trust is where safety lies.
It’s November 4th. It’s been an exceptionally busy week (Halloween + my birthday + my daughter’s birthday), but I’m happy to say that I’m not even *that* behind on my writing.
I’m at 5,000 words!
But I have been getting a little discouraged in my story. As I write, it’s painfully apparent that I have no idea where to story is going (not shocking since I spent hardly any time planning). Even though I knew this would likely be the case when I went into the month, it is a little daunting, sitting down and free writing, no editing, just whatever pops up. I keep thinking, “you’re going to waste your whole month with this?” “This is going nowhere.”
It takes a lot of effort to keep telling myself that this is to be expected, that it’s part of the fun, and that it’s maybe even necessary to get at the soft underbelly of what I want to say–the real story. If I spent all November writing meaningless, disorganized drivel, but came away with a solid kernel on which to base a “real” story … that would be worth it. Or, even if that doesn’t happen, if there are no breakthroughs and no kernels, I still wrote something, and maybe it was something that needed to be written, that will pave the way for ideas later down the line. Maybe it’s just something I need to get out before I can move on to something better.
I do, honestly and from the bottom of my heart, feel that it is really important to trust the writing process. You might not get what you want out of it, but you get what you need. Regardless, it is challenging, to come back to the keyboard day after day with some vague hopes and a whole host of self-doubts. There are so many other things I could be doing, things where success is much easier to gauge, things that are instantly gratifying. So many things that don’t seem as likely to make you look like a complete and utter failure.
Anyway, I just wanted to be honest about how quick and easy it is to fall into this mindset. Hopefully, I’m the only one in the world who feels this way, but I doubt it.