Sunday, October 2, 2011

Writing, Fear, and Yoga


Though it may look like the writer isn't doing much, sitting for hours in front of a laptop, the brain is heavily engaged.  The work is often emotionally demanding, taking us places that we're afraid of but need to go, and forcing us to look into the black heart of our deepest fears to uncover truth in our characters and situation.

  It takes great courage to walk the difficult path of the artist, and often the effort is physically exhausting.  Fear is always tracking you, and the closer you are to reaching your writing goals, the more intense and insidious that fear can become.  Fear is a great shapeshifter, looking like block, like the need to research, like being too busy to write.  It can stop your story in its tracks just when you're about to make a breakthrough.  My latest work in progress is particularly challenging, taking me to dark recesses of the past, exploring notions just beyond my intellectual capabilities, and forcing me to rethink what I know about fiction.  Every writing session is hard.  That's how I know I'm on the right path - because it it were easy, I wouldn't be pushing myself, growing, or moving my skills to a higher bar.  So how does one cope with this fear in all of its incarnations?  How do you push through it towards completion? 

My biggest ally against fear is to move my body.  Exercise of all kind helps, but for me, there's nothing quite like either swimming, or doing yoga - two forms of exercise that have a mental impact on me.  Both swimming and yoga are what I call breath practices, because they rely on regular and focused breathing. It's often too cold for me to swim.  I don't much like heated indoor pools (the chlorine doesn't agree with me), so I tend to do a lot of yoga.  Yoga is amazing for writers.  Here are three reasons why yoga is a natural ally for the writer:
  • It helps teach us to see writing as a practice, rather than an end point.  We keep moving along the writing path, growing, changing, and pushing towards wisdom and expression.  It's not possible to fail, no matter how hard it is, when you have this perception.  Showing up for practice is all that's needed.
  • It teaches you to breathe.  Ah, breath.  How simple and yet how powerful. Breathing is the perfect antedote to fear.  I first found out how powerful it was when I was in labour with my first child, screaming in pain.  An angel of a midwife came to me and taught me to breath slowly, deeply, with my full body and I calmed down and got to work.  I've turned to breath again and again in times of stress, strife, and fear, and it never fails to remind me of the transience of each moment and the need to work, calmly, through panic. 
  •  It teaches patience.  Sometimes the right words take time to come.  You have to keep showing up, doing the exercises, stretching, breathing and working towards the vision.
Yoga teaches me to see my writing as work that has to be done - a responsibility and positive impetus rather than a vanity (another manifestation of fear).  So next time you're struggling with the dragons of fear -- call it what you will: block, self-doubt, other priorities, "no-time" -- try taking a 30 minute yoga break and see if that doesn't help.  Breath through it.  Even when it hurts.  Then back to work.  The world is waiting for you to change it. 


  1. Writing as a practice, rather than an end point - Excellent point and overall post.

  2. I agree. Workouts help me clear my head, and yoga is the one I go to most when the ol' brain just isn't functioning like I need it to. Thanks for sharing this.