On my train ride to the Writing Yoga Retreat, I watched an old episode of The Rachel Zoe Project. “Watched” is too generous. I played the episode on my phone as I tended to my worries. What if I miss my stop? What if I get nothing out of this retreat? What if nobody talks to me? What if, what if, what if, while Rachel gushed about bananas and embroidery, while reality went by unobserved.
That train ride was me, pre-retreat, in a nutshell.
A pile of agent rejections made me realize my novel’s first chapter wasn’t working. Every morning I told myself, “You’ve faced worse, you and your unruly little monster. Today, you’ll crack it wide, make it bleed, stitch it up again. And it’ll be awesome.”
Over breakfast, my worries woke. How will I fix it? What if I can’t? What if I’m not good enough?
Those worries bloated my manuscript’s flaws. They consumed me — for about a week, I let them. Instead of poking away at my desk during my favorite time to write, I jellyfished on the couch, half-content to achieve mindlessness with HGTV, half-disappointed I couldn’t attempt productivity or, at the very least, remain upright.
On a humid Wednesday afternoon, Linda Epstein blogged about the Writing Yoga Retreat that she and Stefanie Lipsey were organizing. I’d never been to a retreat, it’d been years since I attended a yoga class, but I got chills when I read about this one. Four days — not a drawn-out week, not a squeeze-it-all-in afternoon — of writing. Four days of considering craft and discussing books with other writers. Four days of practicing mindfulness in a beautiful place. I felt like Linda and Stefanie must’ve known my state of mind, must’ve put the whole thing together for me. I had to go.
Our writing exercises at Workshop helped me to reassess my main character and gave me confidence. My head buzzed full of ideas, and because of the mental presence I was cultivating on the yoga mat, I could pay attention to them. I found inspiration in the talent of my colleagues, in their creativity, in our conversations. I spent my alone-hours writing, observing, plotting my novel’s fresh start. By Sunday morning, when I stretched my arms into Warrior II, I felt calm and strong. No worries. No fear.
During one yoga session, Stefanie read an allegory from the Yoga Sutras. It was about a man who dug all these wells and moved to fresh ground whenever he reached a stone he couldn’t break apart. It ended, “Decide on one place and dig deep. Even if you encounter a rock, use dynamite and keep going down. If you leave that to dig another well, all the first effort is wasted and there is no proof you won’t hit rock again.”
And that’s what writers do. We dig and dig, slashing through obstacles as vast as the moon — distraction, rejection, wordlessness. Sometimes it feels we’re each a team of one with a teaspoon instead of a shovel, but we work all the same because giving up just isn’t an option.
On the ride home, I remembered I hadn’t finished that episode of The Rachel Zoe Project. I turned it on, watched a minute, maybe two. It was dramatic and pretty — Taylor and Brad were arguing about organization in Rachel’s studio full of gorgeous gowns — but it felt frantic, foreign. I turned it off so I could write in peace.
Sara Kraemer writes historical fiction and lives in New York City.