For downward facing writers:Exercises to keep you focused

By P.J. Parrish

Starting a new book always puts me in a funk. Part of this comes from the post-partum blues of finishing the previous book and I sit around in a stew of depression and doubt until I get traction on a new book. I was doing okay with the WIP until recently when I hit a stall. I realized I had to do something drastic, something preferably not involving pharmaceuticals. So last week, I went back to my yoga class.

I used to be a very attentive yogi. It seems to sooth my demons, make me braver at facing the computer. The best thing about yoga is that there is no way to compete, no way to measure your worth by outside standards. If you get hung up on the fact that the woman next to you can do a better lotus than you? Well, you’ve missed one of the points of yoga. Which is:
You. And your own progress. At your own pace.
Which, when you think about it, is great advice for any writer.We tend to get all bent out of shape by worrying about things outside our control. Like, how come Author X got a huge advance when he writes crap? Like, why did Author Y get a starred review in PW and I can’t get any notice? Like, why does Author Z get a a tour and I can’t get a card table outside my local Books-a-Thousand?
Because of the big changes in publishing, we’ve become obsessed with the non-writing parts of the business. We spend so much creative energy trying to manage expectations and trying to separate ourselves from the pack, it’s a wonder we have any juice left for writing.
I’ve told this story here before but it bears repeating: When I was just starting out back in the late 1990s, I found myself at an MWA luncheon sitting next to Jan Burke. This was not long after she won the Edgar for Bones. I was an awed newbie, and I said something stupid about how the bad writers seemed to get all the attention. She was kind and said all writers get jealous. And she added something I will never forget:
“You have to keep your head down and just write your books.”
Which is a good lesson if you find yourself slipping into a downward facing writer pose. Remember that the only person you are in competition with is you. So, with that in mind, today I offer you…

This is the King Dancer position. This is very good at helping you build balance. To do this pose, fix your gaze on something that doesnโ€™t move so that you can stay focused. Like maybe writing the best book you can?

The Fish Pose: It is good for developing flexibility. Because sometimes, you have to go in directions you didn’t consider. Like abandoning a moribund story or trying a new POV or publishing an original e-novella. Or maybe adapting a pen name. If you need help with this pose, put a towel under your head. Or read a book by an author you admire.

The Goddess: This pose helps you open yourself up. If this feels uncomfortable, use a wall for stability. Or find a good critique group to give you feedback and support.

The Crow: This is a hard one, but worth learning. Do not let your head drop! This will cause you to tip forward and fall. But remember: Everyone falls, even the great writers. You just have to keep trying.

The Headstand: Very good for getting the blood to your head and increasing overall circulation. Practice the pose at the wall. Try to move a little further from the wall each time. You can’t master this one in one try. And you can’t become a successful writer overnight. It takes years of hard work, patience and practice.

The Tree: Another good balance pose. If you cannot bring your foot high inside the thigh like this dude, put it lower. Lowering your expectations isn’t always a bad thing. You don’t have to write a long multiple POV saga. You don’t have to hit a home run on your first at bat. Just tell a compelling linear story. And if you don’t make the New York Times or Kindle bestseller list on your first three books — What? You’re gonna quit? No, you keep trying and eventually your leg (or book) will go higher than you ever thought it could.

The Wheel: This is an advanced pose, mastered only after you’ve achieved strength and balance. Same goes for a writing career. You hang around long enough and work hard enough, you might become a big wheel. Or a little wheel. Need help with this pose? Have someone stand by you so you can hold their ankles instead of putting your hands on the floor. Likewise, if you’ve got a spouse or family behind you, you can conquer the world.

And lastly…
The Pose of the Child: Take a rest in this pose any time you get tired and feel like you’re tied in knots. In other words, don’t forget to take some time off, kiss your wife, play with your kids, practice the piano or whatever it is that refloats your boat. Writers often forget the value of recharging the old batteries. You can’t write about roses if you never take time to smell them.

Namaste, my friends…

16 thoughts on “For downward facing writers:Exercises to keep you focused

  1. Love that advice from Jan Burke. It’s so true. The way I look at it, our writing is the only thing we can truly control. What happens from our business efforts or through our publishers or readers are out of our hands and therefore become potential stressers.


  2. Great advice, especially “keep your head down and keep writing.” Of course, if I tried some of the yoga poses, someone would be calling 911 to help me. But the sentiments along with the pictures are extremely applicable and helpful.

  3. Fantastic post. One of my yoga instructors used to say, “it’s yoga practice, not yoga perfect,” which I endeavor to apply to my writing. I, too, go to yoga to center and energize myself for my writing. Yoga also can stretch you, like writing, but it also gives flexibility and balance, something we writers can really benefit from.

    • You know, Dale, that’s a good takeaway — it’s “practice” not “perfect.” One of my biggest writing obstacles is the self-inflicted wound of striving for perfection.

  4. Ha! I love it! I also do yoga. Something I’ve been working on that applies to yoga and writing is focus. I often find myself letting my “monkey mind” run wild. When that happens in yoga, I lose my place or my balance. In writing, I stop a half-done project or get so caught up in backstory that I never write the story. In yoga I’ve learned not to be critical but to notice what has happened and bring my mind back to the present. And so it goes with writing.

    • Monkey mind? I love that. I had a bad case of monkey mind yesterday, Eric. I am really dumb with modern technology and I don’t have an IPad. But my character does. And I needed to know some basics of how it worked and, believe it or not, what it is MADE out of. I burned up a full hour on internet “research” (monkey mind) when I should have just typed INSERT RESEARCH HERE and moved on with the real writing.

    • Monkey mind comes from reading I’ve done about meditation. The “researching” monkey mind is something I’m sure all writers have had to deal with. He almost looks like he’s working!

  5. I love the line: Writers often forget the value of recharging the old batteries. I’ve never done yoga but used to be quite good at pilates until I had knee surgery…time to get back into it. But now I’m going to take 30 minutes off to recharge my batteries. ๐Ÿ™‚ Great post.

  6. Outstanding blog, Kris. Especially the last paragraph. The only way I can write two books a year is to take two four-day vacations in the year, where Don and I kick back and unplug from phones and computers.
    Head down. Back to writing.

    • I’m going over to Sanibel for a couple days next month just to unkink, Elaine. I think I would go insane without the prospect of vacations on the horizon.

  7. We do get bent out of shape–literally–from hunching over the keyboard all day. Now I have a new set of exercises to do, courtesy of my orthopedic doctor. You’re right in that we need to take more breaks, for the sake of our bodies as well as our souls.

  8. I hear you, Nancy. My doc recently ordered me to get up from the computer and walk around every hour to get my back loosened up. It works…duh.

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