Today I’m delighted to welcome debut historical romance author Leigh LaValle to the JQs! In addition to being a writer, Leigh is also a yoga instructor, and today she’s sharing how she incorporates some of her yoga practices into writing (and which can also be applied to other areas of our lives).
The Yoga Way for Writers
Ahimsa ~ Nonviolence
The first yogic principle is non-harming to self and others. This rule is simple and easy to understand, yet quite hard to live. We are so good, exceptional, really, at beating ourselves up. “I am a terrible writer. This is the worst piece of drivel I have ever written. I should just give up.”
Or, if the mood is so inclined, we are very adept at turning that judgmental voice toward others. “How did she get that contract? Her book isn’t even that good. Obviously the editors are blind to real talent.”
Don’t worry, the yogic texts don’t tell us we must stop having these thoughts. I am sure the Dali Lama has his share of judgmental reactions everyday. The practice is to notice our thoughts and not act on them. These judgments are fleeting, temporary, and not even based on truth. If we can feel into what is underneath the criticism- the fear, jealousy, anxiety- then we can offer ourselves compassion for being human, heartfelt and vulnerable. And we can get back to what is really important- writing.
Satya ~ Truthfulness
We can be truthful in what we say to others- our colleagues and our business partners- as well as truthful to ourselves. Honoring our life’s path, no matter the discomfort it brings, is a way yogis practice honesty. (Is it really the best choice to write this story now? Am I holding myself back, or holding others back, because of fear?)
In terms of editing, we can be experts at not allowing ourselves to see the true strengths and weaknesses in our manuscripts. Writing partners and editors are really helpful as they don’t have the same needs we do regarding our work. They have a clearer lens. (Do I really need this scene? Does the character arc work, or am I trying to impose something? Am I being truthful with my writing partners, or simply trying to spare their feelings?)
Asteya ~ Nonstealing
We honor the work and ideas of others. We give credit where credit is due. Period.
Brahmacharya ~ Nonexcess
This rule classically applies to the practice of celibacy. In a wider context it relates to self-restraint, or walking the middle path. It encourages us neither to be slothful nor restless with our life energy. Rather, it teaches us to be calm, diligent, and focused.
As we are writing, do we surf the internet incessantly? Consume six cans of soda? Turn into a lump of brain mush? Become a wild bundle of nerves?
Again, we don’t need to stop doing these things. The practice is to notice what we are doing and to bring our attention back with as much calm and focus as we can moment to moment. Otherwise, our bad habits just drag us around on a leash.
Aparigraha ~ Nonpossessiveness
I love this rule, which states there is enough abundance and success for all of us to share. We do not need to grasp or horde from others. Rather than looking at our lives or our careers in terms of what we lack, we look at what we do have, the successes and friends and creativity we are free to enjoy.
Also- this practice instructs us to let go of our stories, to open our hands and give our creations freely into the world without concern for how they are received. Everything passes! The next waves arises and falls away, then the next. Like breath.
Saucha ~ Purity
Yogis try to be clean in their actions and their deeds. We can bring this principle to our writing environments (unless you really do find creative inspiration in a mess) and our bodies. Clear thoughts and a healthy, restful body will go a long way toward inspiring the creative mind.
This is a beautiful principle to apply to writing as well. How can we pare down our words? How can we use the previous five rules to hone our skills, our honesty, our judgment, so that our writing is clean and crisp. How can we erase the excesses, the unnecessary elements, and rest in the simple beauty of our words and our story?
Santosha ~ Contentment
This teaching instructs us to let go of our narrow ideas of happiness- ratings, reviews, sales numbers- and open ourselves to all experiences. The truth is, ratings, reviews and sales numbers are fleeting and not even guaranteed to bring happiness. What is guaranteed to bring happiness? Simply resting in this moment without desire. Happiness is already the case. Suffering is what we are adding by assuming our lives need to look different.
The same goes for working on our manuscript. The more we focus on what is wrong- word count, or imperfect drafts- the less we are able to experience the creative flow that is arising moment to moment. The more we are attuned to the words before us, the deeper we can access our stories and our characters.
Tapas ~ Self-discipline
Another rather self-explanatory rule. Writers have excellent self-discipline. Even if it still feels hard, we are sitting down and writing. So pat yourself on the back next time you get work done on your manuscript.
Svadhyaya ~ Self-study
To improve our craft, we have to understand our talents and our weaknesses. We need to always be curious, open to seeing the truth about ourselves, and willing to learn new things.
Ishvara Pranidhana ~ Surrender
Ah, the final lesson. We can only write the best manuscript we can. After that, there is nothing to do but let go. It is ultimately all out of our hands.
As my teacher says, “Don’t worry. Nothing is under control!”
These rules aren’t only for writers; they can also be applied to other aspects of our lives. Which principle do you struggle with most? For me, it is brahmacharya, or non-excess.
Honestly, it sounds so boring. I do understand the usefulness of it, but I am too addicted to drama. One commenter, chosen at random, will win a digital copy of THE RUNAWAY COUNTESS (to be announced Sunday).
Once the darling of high society, Mazie Chetwyn knows firsthand how quickly the rich and powerful turn their backs on the less fortunate. Orphaned, penniless and determined to defy their ruthless whims, she joins forces with a local highwayman who steals from the rich to give to the poor.
Then the pawn broker snitches, and Mazie is captured by the Lord Lieutenant of Nottinghamshire. A man who is far too handsome, far too observant…and surely as corrupt as his father once was.
Sensible, rule-driven Trent Carthwick, twelfth Earl of Radford, is certain the threat of the gallows will prompt the villagers’ beloved Angel of Kindness to reveal the highwayman’s identity. But his bewitching captive volunteers nothing—except a sultry, bewildering kiss.
And so the games begin. Trent feints, Mazie parries. He threatens, she pretends nonchalance. He cajoles, she rebuffs. Thwarted at every turn, Trent probes deep into her one vulnerability—her past. There he finds the leverage he needs and a searing truth that challenges all he believes about right and wrong.
Leigh LaValle was born in a time when ladies shopped at the modiste and rogues sent heated looks across a crowded ballroom. Time slipped forward a few hundred years, and she currently lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family. When she is not writing about said ladies and rogues, mommying, or reading, she is rarely seen cleaning. More often, she is found hiking or, when she is really lucky, in the white powder of the ski slopes. She is also a devoted yoga practitioner and instructor.