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.”
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?
Often 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.
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 pregnant!). 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.
I 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.
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?