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 doesn’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…

To be Audacious

By Clare Langley-Hawthorne

I literally just flew back from Mayhem in the Midlands and, after delays due to tornado warnings and foul weather, my apologies for being a bit woolly headed now that my body is telling me it’s close to midnight (even if that’s not quite the case back on the West Coast yet). The conference was fabulous, small but intimate, the way Mayhem is supposed to be. After hearing Jan Burke’s great interview of Dana Stabenow and Kent Krueger’s hilarious interview of Zoe Sharp I have come away with a new goal:

To be Audacious

Jan Burke said she thought all writers had to be audacious to be successful. Just committing something to the page and believing it was worthy of another person reading it was audacious in and of itself but, after hearing some background for both Dana Stabenow and Zoe Sharp, I soon realized I am way, way behind on the audacity stakes.

Though I don’t consider myself to be a totally boring wuss in real life, I do have to at least pretend to be the stable, serious mum to my boys (husband included) and this limits my capacity for recklessness in real life. In my writing life, however, I have the freedom to be whatever I want…and I definitely think I need to add more audacity…which got me thinking…

How does one become an audacious writer? How can I constantly challenge myself and the craft of writing? What is the most audacious thing I hope to achieve in my writing? Hmmm…the most erotic sex scene ever? craziest murder victim ever? Perhaps the most unexpected death of main character ever…(hmmm…am I getting anyone worried at this point???) No, I know I need to aim higher – but how?

So help me out here – what do you think is the most audacious thing a writer can do?