A couple of weeks ago I wrote about ‘hammering the nails’ of my writing, a lesson I learned from William Zinsser in his book ‘On Writing Well‘. I’ve been thinking more about Zinsser’s fundamental rule for writing, which is:
Of course that is infinitely more difficult than it first appears. I’ve been thinking about what it really means. What does it even mean to ‘be myself’ when I’m writing non-fiction?
According to Zinsser it means two things:
Relax and be confident.
A relaxed and confident writer will produce two of what Zinsser argues are the most important qualities in great non-fiction writing:
Warmth and humanity.
Which sounds great. Obviously. We all want our writing to have warmth and humanity. But what could be more difficult, as a writer, than to relax and to have confidence?
I love this quote from Zinsser:
All [writers] are vulnerable and all of them are tense. They are driven by a compulsion to put some part of themselves on paper, and yet they don’t just write what comes naturally. They sit down to commit to an act of literature, and the self who emerges on paper is much stiffer than the person who sat down to write. The problem is to find the real man [or woman] behind the tension.
All writers are vulnerable (that’s how we know we are writing courageously) and all of us are tense. And the challenge is to find the real woman behind the tension. Got it. Makes sense. And this is, as you may have guessed, where yoga comes in. Because yoga is, perhaps above all else, a practice in releasing tension. Which is one of the reasons we resist it.
Because our tension is known.
In some cases, our tension has been with us for as long as we can remember. It feels safer to stay with it.
About five years ago I went for a massage, and the wonderful practitioner told me she was going to work to release some of the tension around my hips. When she was done, and I stood up off the massage table, I got a fright. My hips were so relaxed that I felt sure my leg was going to fall out of my hip socket. That’s how familiar my tension had become to me. It felt unsafe for me to be relaxed.
But as long as we remain tense, we are missing out on the chance to get to the real woman behind the tension, and – if we are writers, or artists or creators of any kind – our writing, our art, our work will be missing something.
So we take a risk. We let go of the tension.
Maybe only a little bit at a time. But breath by breath, little by little – with humility and courage – we relax on our yoga mat. And as we relax on our yoga mats, little by little, we learn to relax off our mats.
As we relax, we learn that we can be vulnerable in new and powerful ways. And we find new levels of confidence. Some days, at least.
Are bodies are part of our creative work. This much I know. We all have different bodies, and different practices work for different people. For me, yoga frees the tension in my body, and walking lifts the clouds from my spirit.
I’ve said it before (mostly to myself, I must add) and I’ll say it again (and again, and again). If you want to do your best work in the world, you have to take care of your body.
So it’s time.
It’s time to get off your f@*king computer and go for a f@$king walk! Or, you know, do some f$@king yoga.
If you have never done any yoga and don’t know where to start, I have two free yoga practices that are 100% suitable for total beginners, and specifically designed for people who spend a lot of time on a computer. Also, apparently, very good for people using crutches!