In September, I started going to yoga. I expected it to help with my back, and it has. The surprise for me was how many of the principals also apply to writing. Chief among these is “Honor Your Body.”
When you think “yoga,” you no doubt picture someone doing one of those contortionist poses. Those are all well and good if you can do them, but even with the simplest poses, our instructor reminds us to honor our bodies. Don’t do x if we have bad knees. Bad shoulders? Then don’t do y. Hip problems? Then skip z. Yoga isn’t one-size-fits-all. You have to adjust it according to who and how you are.
That’s a lot like writing. Whenever we find a new technique or hear a new piece of advice, BIC/butt-in-chair comes to mind, we are tempted to try to make it work exactly as it was presented. When I first heard the advice BIC, it was explained to me that I should treat writing like a full-time job. Simply put -- BIC 8 hours a day. While that might work for some people, I can’t write that long every day. It’s just not how I’m wired and trying to force myself to stay in place for 8 hours just aggravates me.
Likewise, if you are a plotter and you try to follow the advice to just let your writing flow without a strict plan, you may find that you accomplish nothing. You need the sense of direction that an outline provided. A pantser, on the other hand, who tries to methodically plot out her work may find her prose turning wooden when she tries to work from a detailed plot.
Honor yourself. Honor how you work.
That isn’t a free pass to avoid developing better habits or trying something new. Something else I’ve learned in yoga is that each day your body responds a little differently than it did the day before. Pay attention to how things are working today. A pose that was easy to achieve yesterday, may be torture next week. Pay attention. Understand why. Honor your body.
If your writing flowed last week but it isn’t this week, pay attention. Is there a problem with the project? Are you not feeling well? Needing more sleep? Sometimes we need to change how we work or what we are doing in our down time. It isn’t a sign of failure. It simply is. Just because a technique worked yesterday or last week doesn’t mean that it will continue to work without having to adjust it. Honor your work.
Sometimes the solution is simply to relax into it. Yoga requires a great deal of strength but you can’t muscle your way through the poses. Some twists require relaxation and you can’t slip into the full pose until you manage to relax that muscle in your hip. It isn’t something you can lie to yourself about. Be aware. Honor your body.
Some things in writing are achieved only through hard work. You have to write and write some more to learn to write well. But that liveliness that pulls in readers? You can’t force it. You have to learn to let go. Relax into your writing. Have fun. It’s be best way to honor your work and your reader.
Sue is the instructor for our course, Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins on January 11, 2016.