When I began my yoga practice in 1998, Vinyasa yoga didn’t exist – or at least it wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is now. That meant that instead of whizzing through multiple poses at the speed of my own breath, I was forced to go slowly and spend several breaths in a single pose. This afforded me the opportunity to focus on my foundations – foot placement, arm rotation, weight distribution, alignment, etc. I spent years working on my downward dog before ever dreaming of flowing through a standing series like a member of some modern dance troupe. So when I finally did make it to a Power Yoga class in 2008, I had already built the foundations from which to launch a smooth and flowing Vinyasa practice.
If only I had begun writing my first novel with the same careful and patient approach. But, like a lot of beginners, I leapt right in. Of course, I had been studying the craft of writing for decades. With a degree in journalism and a very expensive MFA from a prestigious film school under my belt, I thought I knew what I was doing. But I hadn’t studied the craft of novel writing until after I started writing one, when I joined a local authors group and critique group.
Though I had a strong voice and witty dialogue, my story wandered wherever my imagination ventured. Even when the path I meandered down had absolutely no purpose. Consequently, I got lost. My story ballooned to over one hundred thousand words and yet I still didn’t really know what it was all about. It took a lot of cutting, re-writing, revising, and re-structuring to get it into shape. And a lot of time that could have been spent working on my next novel. But luckily, all that extra work taught me a valuable lesson. Foundations first.
Now when I approach a new novel, I don’t just dive right in with Chapter One. I spend a good amount of time developing the structure of the story, defining the characters, and plotting out the action. As a creative process, it might seem counterintuitive. After all, creativity just happens, right? Well, that’s sort of like getting in your car and letting it decide where you should go. Sure creativity is a powerful engine that can take you many places, but if you give it some direction and a little guidance, the trip might be a lot more satisfying.
I suggest, whether you’re venturing into your first yoga class or fulfilling a lifelong dream of writing a novel, start with the basics. Develop a strong foundation, and then just have fun seeing where all that hard work can take you.