Yoga as process and plot

My VP20 bud Jill and I were discussing writing yesterday, as you do, specifically plotting and process. Figuring out one’s writing process is hard; Jill compared it to making “tester pancakes,” the first couple of pancakes in a batch before you get into the rhythm of pouring and flipping and getting them off the heat when they’re finished. The frustrating thing is how each time you start to make pancakes, you still end up with those few wrong-sized, over- or under-cooked griddle messes before they start to look right. This probably happens even if you’re a pro pancake maker and you’ve been doing it for years; certainly plenty of pro writers have said as much. About writing, not pancakes, though I’m sure lots of writers make pancakes, too. They’re good breakfast foods, Brent.

Jill wished she could come up with a comparison to something in her life, something she has a lot of experience with, so she could get a better grasp of her process. She mentioned yoga, and since I’ve done yoga as well, that immediately made sense to me. I’m not a yoga guru, so someone with more knowledge about the subject may want to step in and correct me, but here’s a distillation of the conversation Jill and I had.

Depending on what kind of yoga you do, the experience is all about flow. Movement and breath, focus and presence. Finding balance in one pose and transferring both stillness and energy to the next pose. Recognizing the individual steps you take to reposition yourself while not losing sight of the whole effect you’re trying to achieve in the finished pose. Paying attention. You also need to be aware of your own personal limitations; not everyone can do every pose, but sometimes fear holds you back more than actual skill or ability, and sometimes you have to try and fail a few times before you can ultimately succeed.

Replace “yoga” with “writing” and it still makes a lot of sense. As a process, writing involves being focused and present with what you’re working on, which can be challenging when you have outside distractions in your environment or personal life. You have to figure out how to balance writing with whatever else you have to do, and find ways to calm your mind while also bringing an essential energy to your work so it doesn’t feel lifeless. You need to look at what you’re doing in both a granular and holistic way, breaking the process down into tasks you can accomplish more easily while making sure those tasks work toward a clear overall goal. It’s also tempting to avoid trying new things because you think you can’t do them–and maybe right now you can’t, but you’ll never know unless you try, and you learn by doing. No writing is ever wasted.

Plotting a story or novel can work in a similar fashion. You can think of each scene or chapter as a pose, and the overall story or book as a session. You have an opening and a closing, and between that you have moments of destabilization and balance, with an overall pulse and rhythm. Think of each pose and how you start by picturing what it will be like, then you ease into it and hold it, then picture the next pose and ease out of the existing one and into the next. Intention, motion, presence, new intention, transition; the process repeats as many times as necessary to reach the climax. And then, at the end, the blessed cooldown.

As Jill pointed out, some sessions use a focus pose, which influences the other poses selected and how they flow from one to the next. You can use something similar in your work, whether as a theme to tie everything together, or as a recurring motif or image, or even as the climactic event you’re working toward. And if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like having a full roadmap as you go, that’s fine; the cool thing about yoga is that one pose can flow into multiple possible poses, and sometimes it’s more satisfying to be completely present in the moment and let the next pose surprise you instead of having a clear idea of all the poses you intend to attempt in a session.

If you’re trying to figure out your own process, it’s worth thinking of something you do routinely, like yoga, that you can use as a comparison or model. Consider how that thing works, what procedures or motions it involves, and whether there’s any way you can apply the same principles to a writing method that feels familiar and satisfying. Always keep in mind that any process can be changed if it’s not working, and that a process that works for one story or novel may not work for the next. That’s okay! Life is its own process, and we all make it up as we go.

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