Yes, I have a lot of papers to read before I’m officially done with the semester. But I’ve been writing instead. I’m still attempting to sell my zombie-ish book, Apocalypse Nation, but I’m already neck deep in the new novel. Last week, I semi-plotted (which is more plotting than I normally do) the story and ever since then, I’ve been able to imagine the entire thing in a different way. I even have the final image of the book–something to work toward.
Being charged up about a writing project is not a normal sensation for me. Last week, for instance, I had one superb writing day in which the words seemed to flow in messy abandon (messy, because it’s a draft and because I draft longhand) and I woke up the next day ready to write and when I sat down to the notebook, I felt defeated before I even started. I let my day-to-day life get in the way and suddenly the task was too daunting, too far off, too pointless, too…blah. I don’t consider it writer’s block, because I don’t really know what writer’s block is, but all I wanted to do that day was quit writing forever because I knew no one would ever read my work again ever in the history of the world.
But that’s nonsense.
I’ve been doing Bikram yoga for about a year and half now and it’s a demanding, sweaty, and intense 90 minutes of yoga. It’s always a challenge. Some days, I go in thinking I can’t do any of the postures correctly, that I’m too weak or too unfocused, but I try anyway. Some days, halfway through the class, my brain starts telling me that I’m too tired or zonked or distracted to do the next posture, but I attempt the posture despite what my brain says (or at least I try to set up the posture). Sometimes, I’m actually too zonked and need a little rest, so I take off part of a posture and try again on the next one. The teachers often say two things that I’m trying to incorporate into my life: “Just do your yoga” and “Relax, it’s just yoga.” At first, hearing “Just do your yoga” felt a little slogan-y for me, like something Nike would say if they were into yoga instead of ruling the world of footwear. But now, it completely makes sense. At first, hearing “Relax, it’s just yoga” seemed a little strange in such an intense class, but now I’m starting to see (or feel) what they mean. It’s not “perfect,” it’s “practice.” I have to practice each day in order to get the benefits. The yoga advice is the same advice I give to my writing students each class–“Just write” and “Relax, write.” Don’t worry about perfecting your writing, just write. Don’t bear the weight of the world on your pen, breathe and write. Simple advice, remarkably difficult to follow. It reminds me of the wonderful last paragraph of John Gardner’s completely essential book, On Becoming a Novelist. If you want to write, it’s the warmest, most down to earth explanation of what it means to practice writing. You simply must read it. Here is its wonderful and resonant final paragraph:
“Finally, the true novelist is the one who doesn’t quit. Novel-writing is not so much a profession as a yoga, or a “way,” an alternative to ordinary life-in-the-world. Its benefits are quasi-religious – a changed quality of mind and heart, satisfactions no non-novelist can understand – and its rigors generally bring no profit except to the spirit. For those who are authentically called to the profession, spiritual profits are enough.”
To sum up: Do your yoga. Put your butt in the chair and write. Breathe.