“Be ruthless about protecting writing days, i.e., do not cave in to endless requests to have “essential” and “long overdue” meetings on those days. […] Some people do not seem to grasp that I still have to sit down in peace and write the books, apparently believing that they pop up like mushrooms without my connivance.”
― J.K. Rowling

Why Writing is like Yoga

We know how to become better writers. As with anything in life, the way to get better at writing is to practice.

why writing is practice like yoga

That said, there’s two kinds of practice. There’s the competitively oriented kind where you run drills to improve, like soccer.

And then there’s the process-oriented kind, where you mindfully return to it over and over, for the sake of the experience itself, like yoga.

If you want to be a better writer, you have to practice like you practice yoga.

Write as You Are

No one day of yoga is to be compared to another day of yoga. Maybe yesterday you could reach your toes in your forward fold, but today you’re feeling tight and can’t make it.

There’s no point in trying to force yourself to be where you were yesterday—be the best you can be today.

In the same spirit, perhaps you crushed 3,000 words yesterday and loved every one, but today you can’t string three decent ones together. That’s okay. It’s all part of the process.

Practice the Moment

In yoga, you must be fully present in your body and focus on each move as you come to it. You don’t think about your to-do list, you don’t get competitive with the person next to you, you don’t worry about the next move.

If you do, it’s easy to lose balance, or your pose altogether.

Likewise, when you write, don’t worry about what you’ll come up with for the next chapter, or if you’re as good a writer as someone else. Just write for the sole sake of writing.

Put your energy into making whatever you’re writing the best it can be. The next step will flow from it.

Focus on Writing, Not Results

Sure, you may have started yoga because you want to be able to do a backbend. But you can’t come to class, focus only on your backbend, and expect to be there next month.

It’s a process. Stop worrying about the backbend. Just keep showing up and work to improve your flexibility.

The same goes for completing a novel. It’s going to take time, and fretting over getting to “the end” isn’t what’s going to get you there.

What’s going to complete that novel is continuing to show up. Keep working to add more words, and make it the best story you can. It will take time, but you’ll get there.

Do you practice writing? Are you able to stay present in the moment, or do you frequently find yourself getting distracted by the results or competitiveness? Let us know in the comments section.

PRACTICE

Rather than a drill, consider today’s practice an exercise in mindfulness. Write for fifteen minutes or so, and pay attention to the flow of your words and how you feel. When you’re done, share what you observe about yourself in the comments!

About Emily Wenstrom

By day, Emily Wenstrom, is the editor of short story website wordhaus, author social media coach, and freelance content marketing specialist. By early-early morning, she is E. J. Wenstrom, a sci-fi and fantasy author whose first novel Mud will release in March 2016.

  • Gary G Little

    My first thought here was; what, you want this 255 pound 68 year old male with a titanium knee to fold into the lotus position? Oh yeah, perfect and then like a tessract just fold on into myself and … Oh stop it that is a painful a horrible vision.

    But I kept on reading I see your motive, and find I agree. Too many times do not get started TODAY because I had such a great yesterday. Laste week was great, wow! Out popped the opening chapter to the Edinburgh, but this week I’ve hit a dry well. Dry well, thats oil rig talk for there tain’t no erl in this here hole and erl is wet Texas for oil.

    Dont compare then. Don’t worry about last week. Dang it don’t hit that stupid backspace key just keep typing r … arrrggghhhh … backspace backspace my kindgdom for a keyboard without backspace≥

    Anyeay, sorry for the misdirection … to stay the eveil voice of the anti-muse by focusing on today and do what I can do today. Last weeks story was good, someting I felt good about, but those dry holdes happen. there will be erl at the bottom of the next hole, just keep drilling keep on typing. Gee, I wonder if 5000 monkeys with keyboards would make anymore sense that this is right now and I STILL have twelve minutes to go!!!

    More words more words drill sergeatn came the plea of the clerk typist to his drill instructor!!!

    9 minutes … ok nine minutes, damn you people are goig slam the mouse clearing the disp-lay of this trash but I am going to write for fifteen mintutes … damn I hit the backspace again but not agin I shall not smite the backspace k…. arrrggghhh again that bloody backspace key.

    five minutes till I can edit this claptrap … hhhmmm do you wish I had hit a dry hole? I think this is worse. Gas, billowiing and spewing and erupting from some where in the recesses of this convulted graey matter I call a brain.

    4 four minutes, … what war I talking about? Oh yeah … Yoga, and a 68 year old male overeweight male trying to gracefully fold into the lotus is like watching an albatross take off in the south pacific, which is why the humans witnessing such a phenomoana galled them goony birds. T’was an articulation of collapse, a syumphony feathers wings webbed feet and beak collapising int a ball and rolling across the tarmac. Arrrggghhh ONE minute.
    A pox pn you backspace key!!!!!

    • Thanks for sharing Gary–haha, ‘the evil voice of the anti-muse’ … I know it so well.

    • LilianGardner

      A fantastic post which I thoroughly enjoyed. I couldn’t keep from laughing when you describe the ’68 year old male’… to… ‘tarmac’.
      Your humour is outstanding and ‘real’.
      Thanks for sharing.

  • Charlene Oldham

    Some of this reminds me of the book Practice Perfect. It advises drilling certain skills so they become automated to free up your creativity for all the other things you need to do.

    • I like that–Thanks Charlene, I’ll have to check out that book.

  • I don’t do yoga, but from what I know about it, I can understand your point. We write our best stuff when we feel free. I for one have the hardest time staying focused without getting distracted. I barely make it 15 minutes every day for a WP!
    I’d also like to thank you, Emily. After reading this article, I started writing for 15 minutes, and it turned into a blog post! I just started my blog, and I have had the hardest time writing my first post. Thanks you for the wonderful inspiration!
    “Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not unto men”

    • Way to go, Reagan! I can hardly take credit for your fantastic writing 🙂

  • Emily, your post is the most logical and cogent one I have seen here! Congratulate yourself on a focused article with practical implications for all of us writers!

  • I LOVVVVVVE this, Emily. I’ve practiced yoga for years, but am embarrassed to admit how I hadn’t really connected yoga to writing. Not in the lovely way that you did. Practice the moment is what I needed to hear for my novel because I’ve stalled out. Thank you!

    • Thank you, Marcy, I’m so glad it resonated for you. Keep working at it, and I’m sure you’ll get past the rough patch with your novel … we’ve all been there.

      • Thanks, Emily. I’m going to yoga day after tomorrow and cannot WAIT to ponder yoga as I do sun salutations! 🙂

  • Sheila B

    Thinking of my writing like a yogic practice
    is a fantastic approach that had never crossed my mind before. Maybe because it’s been a long time since I practiced hatha yoga, even though I sit in contemplation for the purpose of “union” every day.

    I can say that I surrender to my writing when I start something new, but when
    it comes to the re-write, I become thick with self-criticism and an attitude of
    competition. Most of it comes in the form of “you aren’t as good as the book you are reading now,” or “you aren’t as good as the other person who posted in the Practice section,” or “this isn’t that good, why do you bother, when there is so much more good writing that you could be reading instead of thisfutile attempt to be a writer.”

    I also second guess myself. As happy as I was writing the rough draft, I think that things need to be moved around and I get lost and tense in my own cut & paste frenzies.

    I realize from Emily Wenstrom’s suggestion that I can approach the rewrite
    and edit time with the same joie de vivre as I do my original writing. I can apply my contemplative practice the reworking of a piece, instead of making it an exercise in perfecting and competing with all other writers. Knowing that I have that opiton is very freeing

    I have a strong spiritual path that teaches me to bring The Beloved into all that I do, but until today, I have not done that with my writing. I’ve done it with many other of my activities. Too often I’ve written as if I am doing so on borrowed time, like I am a thief of time and must steal moments from my life to write. So today’s post is a
    real awakening for me.

    Emily Wenstrom, you’ve been a channel for and to my Highest Self. Thank you so very much

  • Emily,
    I am having a hard time with my writing. Wondering about the person writing next to me. The words are sort of stuck in my brain.
    I really must focus on what I am writing this minute, and not on the wet laundry that needs to go in the dryer, or the dishwasher that needs to be unloaded.
    I am often distracted by life with two dogs, four cats and seven litter boxes.
    xo
    Pamela

    • Hi Pamela –
      I know exactly what you are talking about! I am always distracted by the tidying and little tasks around the house, and they keep me from writing. I’m trying to do better about setting aside a specific time to do household tasks, and not letting them interrupt my writing time. I like to set a timer on myself when I’m writing, and only do other tasks when my time is up. I find it really helps!

      • Hello Lauren,
        I will try the timer. I shouldn’t have painted my daughters bedroom today. I have a midnight writing deadline.

    • Pam, Commit every day. Some days you have to fight to write and some days it just happens. The days I have to fight, I do my best work. Commit to the fight each day. Don’t make blanket statements like, “I’m going to get up at 5 am and write for an hour every single day.” Get up in the morning and commit to writing for 10 minutes that day. If you write for 10 minutes win. If you write for more win-win. Thinking about it in the morning even if you don’t get that 10 minutes, puts you a head of where you would be otherwise. Still a win.

      • Cynthia,
        Thank you for the suggestion. I have time to write, but I often get distracted with the house.
        I must set “office hours,” and “Do The Work.”
        All my best,
        Pamela

  • I really appreciate this comparison. I practice yoga often, and they really emphasize your own practice, whatever that may be that day. Consequently I never feel bad if I can’t do the pose that I did the day before. I love to write, but over the years I’ve let it fall by the wayside because I never felt like it was really good enough, or I didn’t know how to finish it, or even where it was going. Even now that I’ve fully committed to writing, I still feel guilty if I don’t have the time to write, or I only type a couple of paragraphs. Even now I’m writing these comments because I can’t think of where to take my story next. I’ll try to keep the yoga mantra in mind from now on, and just find what my writing practice is right now, today.

  • Thank you! Love this!
    My debut novel “Secrets & Lies in El Salvador” is a/b an American girl in war-torn El Salvador: http://tinyurl.com/klxbt4y
    My husband made a video for my novel. He wrote the song too:

  • Joe, we are so similar in our basic philosophies it is scary! Yet our approaches are so different. The tagline for my FranklyWrite blog is Practice Writing, yet our blogs are so different.

    Great post. I went to the Actors Studio Drama School and like to call myself a “Method Writer.” You just describe The Method perfectly.

  • aysha malik

    Hello Emily,
    thanks for this article because i can seriously relate to it. writing is like yoga because it’s this painful process of trying to reach your goal like being able to do a full split but sometimes when you slow it down, you realise you’re getting better altogether.
    i tend to switch between the

    • That’s great, Aysha–hold on to that contentedness as you keep pushing to improve!

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  • svford

    I worry “is it good enough”. Good enough for me? For the reader? For the critic? If it’s not, how crushed will I be? The fear is sometimes crippling. I push on, sometimes in tears, but it’s cathartic. Sometimes pure trash, but it’s out. Then I worry my “trash” is best. Argh!