November 12, 2015

Balancing Effort & Ease in Writing.

Jared Stahl/Pixoto

One of the more well-known Yoga Sutras states: “sthira sukham asanam.”

Translated it means: the posture is steady and comfortable. Sthira means steady, firm, resolute; sukham means comfortable, easy, gentle. Applying this to our asana practice, we try to strike that balance of exerting enough effort to be steady and strong in the pose, and enough ease to remain comfortable.

We balance our more active, strong yang practice with a softer, more restorative yin practice.

I’ve been noticing that when a teacher gives a cue, I go there 110 percent. Why? I don’t know. I like being a “good” student, so if she says do something I am going to do it. Lately, I’ve been easing up. I stop just when I feel the muscles engage, pausing, checking in to see if I actually need to go deeper for my body, or if my ego just wants to prove how awesome I am at yoga.

I enjoy exploring that balance between effort and ease in each pose, in my practice and in my life off the mat.

My writing practice is rich with the opportunity to practice “sthira  and sukham.” If I push too hard, trying to force a character to do what I think is needed for the plot, I usually end up writing myself into a corner, or not writing anything at all. When I step back and allow the character to go where she needs to, the writing begins to flow again.

Alternately, if I am too soft in my writing practice, only showing up for stream-of-consciousness (brain drain) morning pages, the work suffers. I need to put the effort in to writing my characters, the setting, and writing my way into each scene so that the story emerges.

Here are eight ways I strive to balance effort and ease in my writing practice:

1. Start the day with morning pages. 

This involves keeping my hand moving and filling three pages. There is no pressure since the content and quality are beside the point. It is a great way to ease into the writing for the day.

2. Read a poem.

I love the practice of reading a poem out loud. It allows language to swim in the air around me, getting me primed to plunge into my own pool of words.

3. Reread the last couple of pages of the work-in-progress.

This eases me back into my current project. I find my way back into the story, into the characters, into the style and rhythm of my words.

4. Write from a one-inch picture frame.

This tip comes from Anne Lamott who advises writing only what you can see through a one-inch picture frame. I am not sitting down to write an entire novel. I am writing only what I can see through one square inch. Maybe I describe the character’s clothes or what is in their refrigerator. Maybe it’s a conversation or a memory. Whatever it is, it gets me writing and I am not overwhelmed by all the words I have left to write.

5. Set a timer.

I am a great believer in timers. Set it and write. I’ve discovered that my perfect balance is writing for 45 minutes, then taking a 15-minute break. Any time less than that and I am being too soft, not allowing myself to go deep enough into the writing. But if I go longer, I tend to get distracted and sloppy and end up writing in circles.

6. Make notes at the end of a writing session.

These notes act as entry points when I next sit down to write. It may be a note of what comes next in the scene or chapter. Or it may be a question I can explore if I am not sure what comes next. It acts as a much needed marker I can swim to in a great ocean of words.

7. Set up a reward system.

First set a goal—maybe a daily word count or to finish the project by a certain date. Whatever the goal is, I like to wave a carrot in front of my writer self. (She responds well to these carrots.) I may treat myself to a movie at the end of the week if I’ve showed up to write every day. Or sometimes I’ll buy a book. After I finished my novel and submitted it to a contest, I treated myself to a much needed massage. All that effort deserves the ease of a treat afterward.

8. Have a regular yoga and meditation practice.

Practicing yoga regularly allows my body to find ease as I sit for long periods of time at the computer. Meditation creates ease in my mind and builds up my tolerance for focused concentration.

Writing takes great effort. Writing a novel takes an even greater sustained effort. Finding ways to balance all that effort with ease in both my body and mind makes the whole process more sustainable and, perhaps, at times even enjoyable.


Relephant Favorite:

My Advice to All Writers & Artists in 2014.

The Yoga of Writing (and the Writing of Yoga).


Author: Kim Haas

Editor:  Travis May

Photo: Jared Stahl / Pixoto

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