Three Yoga Poses That Could Save Your Novel (Or Your Life)

Photo by Reuben Whitehouse

Today’s guest is Samantha Wilde. Samantha is the author of I’ll Take What She Has and This Little Mommy Stayed Home (both from Bantam Books). She is an ordained minister and a yoga teacher, a graduate of Smith College, Yale Divinity School, The New Seminary and the Kripalu School of Yoga. Before she became a full-time, at-home mother to her three children she taught thousands of yoga classes. She still teaches once a week to a group of students who have studied with her for close to a decade. She is the daughter of novelist Nancy Thayer.

Samantha’s words of wisdom: “I constantly rely on the lessons I’ve learned in my yoga practice to survive the challenges and trials of modern publishing! In my work as a yoga teacher, I hope to anchor others with the support of the practice; writers can use these skills to, and using them can renew our vision as writers. If I can survive what my second book went through, I know others can–with encouragement.”

Samantha can be found on her website, on Facebook, and on her blog. You can also follow her on Twitter: @whatshehas.

Three Yoga Poses That Could Save Your Novel (Or Your Life)

Now I know it’s not as bad as labor pain to have five different editors and revise a novel eight different times for four different people who have completely antithetical opinions on fictional characters and plot-lines so that by the time the book has reached completion and someone asks, “What’s it about?” you find yourself absolutely dumbfounded, uncertain of even the main character’s name, but on the off chance that you also might experience such a test of your editing endurance (or good humor), I want to give you a little of what helped me: three yoga poses for revision survival.

You don’t need to actually do any of these poses; understanding them will suffice. If you already practice yoga, you might be moved to jump up from the computer and take a pose or you might engage these ideas during a class. If you don’t already practice, you can still use them metaphorically. The basic principles behind these postures will support your ability to write with equanimity, or non-reactiveness, in the face of revision. What do we need more in the face of criticism than to cultivate the skill of maintaining our center?

The Warrior

Image1Often beginners practice The Warrior, or Virabhadrasana II, by leaning forward, as if advancing in fencing, when the pose actually calls for perfect equilibrium between the two sides of the body. If you look at the pose and imagine a line coming down the middle of the head and straight through the pelvic floor to the ground, you will find center. The Warrior is as able to lunge forward as to retreat, the front leg as strong as the back.

When I got a sixteen page revision letter from my third editor for my second novel, I’ll Take What She Has, after having revised the book multiple times for two other women who left as soon as I handed in the revisions, I had to engage the energy of the Warrior. I had to sit in a place of center, prepared to move forward and revise, and prepared to retreat and let the project go. When I could really look at both possibilities equally and without judgment (what would it be like to lose the contract? To give up the work I’d done over several years?), I found the clarity I needed to make a decision not from emotional reactivity (“How can this be happening! Why won’t my editor stay? Why do people keep changing their minds about my characters? This book will never get published!), but from my center.

Camel

Like all back bends, Camel or ustrasana, is a heart-opening posture. (I’m opening my belly in this one too because I had it taken when I was eight months Image 2pregnant!). We each have the opportunity, in every challenging situation, to close our hearts or keep them open. When I lost my first editor to another publishing house and my second editor to the world of designer ornaments, and my third editor (whose 16 page editorial letter rocked my novel into life) and got a fourth editor, I didn’t have a lot of energy inside me to open my heart to yet another person’s judgments of my work. Having an open heart makes us more vulnerable, but it also makes us more malleable. You simply cannot go with the flow if your heart is closed.

The practice of opening my heart through multiple revisions meant repeatedly reminding myself that each editor had the best intentions for the book. I reoriented myself to the idea that multiple editors improves the work—rather than complicating it. As a human being, I needed to be open-minded and available to hear the edits. You truly can’t be open-minded if your heart is closed. An open-mind doesn’t feel like people are out to get it; the open-mind springing from the open heart believes in the inherent goodness of the process.

Students often tell me that Camel pose makes them want to throw up! I say, “Good! That means you’re doing it right.” Opening your mind and heart can feel distinctly unfamiliar, but the rewards are immeasurable.

Headstand

image 3I don’t teach headstand to beginning students. It takes a long time to build up the core strength to take on this posture (arm strength is actually secondary). But once you do start practicing, fear rises up sharply. Fear of falling, fear of being upside down, fear of failing. Nothing can improve a situation, however, quite like turning yourself upside down. First, you get that blood back that’s been in your feet all day while you type on the computer! You also get the chance to conquer your fears with your whole body.

What is a writer afraid of? Failure? Lack of publication? Bad reviews? Small contracts? Writer’s block? Are we afraid of what edits say about us or our work? Do we expect ourselves to write so flawlessly that we don’t need edits?

Headstand, or sirshana, is itself a revision, a re-vision, a way to see with new eyes. Often, when faced with a seemingly impossible challenge, say the ability to write a novel collaboratively with five other editorial minds each with opposing opinions (for example!), we must embolden ourselves with radically creative ideas. Sometimes, you have to see the book upside down to find how it will look right side up.i'll take what she has cover

One of my favorite spiritual teachers, Bo Lozoff, says, “Don’t take your life so personally.” In some ways, this sums up the whole yogic teaching of non-attachment. Take it deeply, take it bravely, but don’t take it personally. Next time it feels personal, strike a pose and notice what happens.

How do you deal with multiple revisions? With your greatest writerly fears? What helps you stay centered in the face of criticism?

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Comments

  1. says

    “Take it deeply, take it bravely, but don’t take it personally.”

    Thanks for the words of wisdom, Samantha. I haven’t tried yoga, but several of my friends swear by it. I do find that exercise helps to relieve stress and unblock my creative impasses. Thanks for your post.

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  2. says

    What great analogies, and the perfect philosophical position from which to approach one’s writing!

    Thank you for the clarity and perspective.

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  3. says

    Hey Samantha, this was very inspiring. I sometimes use music to center myself (drums and bells that stimulate the chakras). I like your visualizations. Thanks!

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  4. says

    I can’t wait to see how I react to editorial revisions. I’m an intermediate beginner so I still have a ways to go before I experience such wonderful things, maybe say, in about 1-3 years.
    I don’t know about having greatest writerly fears. I just have fears. My practice is to feel the fear and do it anyway. It’s a simple philosophy, but not an easy one.

    Whether I’m centered or eccentric I take the criticisms as they come. I welcome most criticisms, even from people with serious open-butt syndrome. I have a pretty good understanding of where I am as a writer, so I expect truck louds criticism. Most have been helpful. On the other side of beautiful, there are people who should keep their pie-holes shut, sometimes that includes me. Opinions can hurt. Embrace that pain and the naked self; think about Sarah’s bunions, vent, and then move on. Sometimes people forget the purpose of criticism and they lash out at the person, whose WORK they are critiquing, because some craft faux pas was exercised or maybe the critic is tired of seeing certain errors. Sift through the irritation and pocket the meaningful message.

    I’m a Tai Chi person myself, plus I’m scared of Downward Dog. Thanks for the reminder of healthy ways to deal with negative stress. Breathe (WooooSaaaaaa).

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  5. says

    I’m in the middle of revisions for my editor. Her suggestions make me see my story in a new light. Yoga looks wonderful and a little painful.

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  6. says

    Good advice. I think writers are a little prone to taking it personally because we put so much into our writing, but it’s good to divorce yourself a bit and try to look at it as a betterment process.

    Yoga has been on my to do list for years. You’ve given me a good reason to actually get up and do it.

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  7. says

    Samantha, this post was exactly what I needed to read today – one clue of that is that the thought of letting go as suggested made me distinctly aware of ways I am tensed in determination. For me, it’s not my writing — which is going well — but life situations going on around me while I’m trying to focus on getting this work done. I’m open enough to realizing the world is trying to hand me an outcome that may be better than what I have, but as single mom to 2 kids, I can’t help clinging in a way that feels responsible for making the right things happen for them. The idea of surrendering to growth can be 10 times more scary when we think we’re trying to protect the safety of our kids or our work, right? Thanks for the article.

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  8. says

    Yoga saved my life when I was facing spinal surgery for the second time, and decided to walk away from it and learn to lose the pain.

    Your three poses are all ones I’ve learned to do over the last two+ years – can it be they will save my writing life, too?

    For some reason, camel is easy. I’ll remember to use it on breaks when I have trouble opening up to let the painful bits get on the page.

    I haven’t tried the headstand at home – maybe it’s time to do that outside of class (need to find a clear area of wall without paintings on it!).

    Thanks for a great and useful pairing of writing and yoga – I had never connected them in my mind.

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  9. says

    You’re definitely a model of artistic resilience! Kudos.

    I laughed at the Camel-pose line, but this bit will linger for me. ‘“Don’t take your life so personally.” In some ways, this sums up the whole yogic teaching of non-attachment. Take it deeply, take it bravely, but don’t take it personally.’

    Good stuff.

    I’m also a relative newbie to writing, but I’ve found recreational dancing helpful. If nothing else, it requires me to turn off my brain and notice the physical world–in and of itself, restoring balance.

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  10. says

    “You don’t need to actually do any of these poses; understanding them will suffice.” –

    so totally true! which of course we know doesn’t mean doing actual yoga isn’t also good, if one can etc

    my cervical issues say not to chance headstands, but there are almost always alternative that, like my yoga teacher told me, can provide nearly as much benefit (ie, simple inversions, even sitting)

    and with all the new info about how virtual experiencing affects our brains and emotions and bodies, “understanding” would definitely suffice, and maybe spur a springboard into more exploration of our own personal mind-body connections

    really enjoyed the article samantha, thanks so much :-)

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  11. says

    I love this post, Samantha! Yoga has helped me so much with writing and life in general. The warrior pose is my favorite, making me silently think, “I AM a warrior,” each time I do it. If we don’t become our best self-advocate, we’ll get lost. Yoga helps me feel connected and working in a solitary profession, that has made a world of difference. I admire your courage working through all those revisions and editors! Proud to know you. xo

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  12. says

    Thank you for these wonderful comments! I love hearing about what others are using, like dancing, to engage in the physical in the same way. It’s inspiring to read your responses! I don’t think yoga is by any means the only way, or the right way, but it’s exciting when we find something that works for us and frees us up to think better.
    Thanks for reading!

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  13. says

    Samantha, your post blew me away what with my novel in the edit stage…so much backstory; where do I fit it in? First person to third…a blueprint for anxiety. Had been thinking of Yoga; now I’m ready to Camel. Thank you for this post. When I read your post title, “Three Yoga Poses That Could Save Your Novel (Or Your Life)” I couldn’t believe the timing. THANK YOU SAMANTHA. Love your book titles too.

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  14. says

    Thank you, Samantha! Such wise, and obviously tested and practiced, advice.
    Yoga kept me breathing through some very difficult years when I had lost my way as a writer. Eventually, it was part of the path that helped me find my way to writing again, better than before, and to living with much more freedom and grace.
    As to my greatest writerly fear–which was, “I’ll never publish again” I faced it. I discovered that it did not matter if I ever published again.
    I decided to continue to write because that is my path to knowing myself and making sense of life, and death, and the universe.
    Some fears occasionally return and when they do, I put my hand on my heart and feel it beating. I open to compassion toward myself and all of us who feel fear and I remind myself that fear is part of being alive, just as joy, love and everything else. And gosh, I remember. Yes! I rather be alive than not.

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  15. says

    Wow–this was very timely. I’ve just started a yoga practice, after studiously avoiding yoga my entire life. I never thought I was flexible enough for it–which is part of why one practices, no? :)

    I’ve found that the classes really help my mental balance as much as, if not more than my physical. I agree–practicing non-attachment is essential in this crazy-making world of publishing.

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  16. says

    it is nice and intresting blog, thanks for sharing this blog . Yoga is a commonly known generic term for the physical , mental and spiritual practices. All three yoga poses i.e. The Warrior , Camel and Headstand is intresting and very useful for human beings .

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  17. Gippy says

    Hi Samantha,

    Thanks so much for all of your knowledge! This was a great read. I took yoga and tai chi shortly after finishing cancer treatment years ago. It was wonderful and I felt healthier than ever. Been walking one to two miles a day lately, plus an exercise video at home. But you have now encouraged me to get back to yoga as well. I’d like to write well into my hundreds–well maybe 80s or so.

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  18. says

    Samantha,
    I learned something new from each of your three poses today. Yoga also reminds me to be teachable and open to correction or suggestion, whether its in class, through a gentle adjustment from my teacher or while writing, through helpful criticisms from agents, first readers, classmates, friends. I can become so much stronger if I’m willing to shift to give my warrior pose that extra gravity or my character that additional depth.

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