This year will be my twelfth time participating in NaNoWriMo, an annual event where writers bang out a 50,000 word novel. I love it because I’ve learned over the years that when I have permission to write badly, I actually write, instead of listening to the Jerkbrain tell me how much my writing sucks.
And the final product? Not perfect — first drafts rarely are — but it turns out that when I get out of my own way, and stop letting the Jerkbrain rule the show, I can write a decent novel. (Then why haven’t I published any, for fame and fortune? That’s a whole ‘nother issue. Take it up with the Jerkbrain.)
See, Jerkbrain? I can write!
That’s nice, says the Jerkbrain. But you can only write with this absurd scaffolding. You have to trick yourself into writing with word wars and other foolishness.
On the one hand, so? Writers throughout history have done more ridiculous things than NaNoWriMo to get their novels written; who cares how it happens? Suck on it, Jerkbrain! I see what you’re doing.
On the other hand, the Jerkbrain is not entirely wrong. Jerkbrains usually do have a tiny kernel of truth in them. The trick is to find that kernel without getting caught up in the rest of the message. In this case, I think the Jerkbrain is pointing out that NaNo is hard. It’s true that I can type my 1667 words in 30 or 40 minutes — but it takes a hell of a lot of effort to psych myself up for the effort. It’s exhausting — much harder than the actual writing. It takes so much work to get that point of gleeful freedom.
I want to drop the story that I can only write when I whip myself into a frenzy.
I want to drop the story that I can only write after four hours of screwing around on the internet.
I want to drop the story that I can only write in a rush, with a manic glint in my eye.
I want to drop the story that I need drama and pressure to force the words out.
I want to find flow.
I want to find steadiness.
I want to just show up and write the damn story, instead of being caught up in the stories in my head about why I can’t.
My best tool to make this happen? The Dance of Shiva. This year, I’m going to consciously and deliberately use the Dance of Shiva to help me write my novel. It will help me ease into flow more quickly, help me find solutions to problems of plot or character, and turn the Jerkbrain down to a whisper.
I’m going to practice right before each writing session, and see what spirals out onto the page. I’ve used the Dance of Shiva for remarkable progress in other areas of my life; now it’s time to use it to fill my November with ease and delight.
I’m also teaching a set of Dance of Shiva classes this November — every Saturday from 2-4 mountain time. We’ll dance for an hour, and once our brains are fired up and our jerkbrains are quieted down, we’ll write for another hour. If that sounds awesome to you, check out all the details.
Is it crazy to teach a 4-part class in the middle of November, when I should be writing my novel? Maybe. But I know how incredibly useful the Dance of Shiva is, so I’m positive that teaching this class will only help me.
Will it help you, too?
In September, I had the opportunity to attend the first week of Andrey Lappa’s teacher training, in Leesburg, Virginia. Andrey’s the guy who systematized the Dance of Shiva, a moving meditation practice that is one of my very favorite things in the whole world, so I was eager for the opportunity to study with him. I had no interest in being a yoga teacher, but I do enjoy yoga a lot, so I figured it would all be good.
It was intense. This wasn’t just any old yoga teacher training, because to Andrey, “yoga” is not simply a physical practice, as is most often taught in the United States, but one part of a complete science of enlightenment. And enlightenment? SRS BSNS. Andrey is not screwing around.
Each of the six days had a very challenging 3-hour asana practice. I’m used to much more comfortable practices — but spiritual advancement is rarely comfortable.
I began the practices with a host of limitations. I’ve been slowly recovering from a serious illness last May, and though most of my overt symptoms have disappeared, I still tire easily, and I’m not nearly as strong as I used to be. My yoga practice has been haphazard, and I’m usually too tired to practice when I get home from work. I’m not nearly as flexible as I used to be. I hurt my shoulder once and don’t want to reinjure it.
The first one did, and the second one left me in tears. Then the third practice was a little easier, and the next day was impossibly vigorous but somehow I hung in there.
Andrey asks us to practice with our eyes closed, so we can pay better attention to our own sensations, without the distractions of the other students. He constantly exhorts us to be present and aware. It’s hard to pay attention when you’re two hours into a hard practice and even your shins are sweaty — but it’s also hard not to pay at least a tiny bit of attention when you are constantly being instructed to do so by a stern Ukranian.
Slowly, I started to notice: hey, this isn’t so bad. I started to pay more attention to what my body was doing than the old stories my brain kept retelling. I started to pay attention to what was really going on right now, instead of what I was lazily assuming was going on.
I started to notice: wait, I’m ahell of a lot stronger and more capable and more energetic than I’ve been telling myself. I’ve been playing this stagnant story over and over again, and it’s just. not. true.
So yeah. In some ways, this week-long training changed nothing: I still want to teach Dance of Shiva, I still don’t want to be a yoga teacher. But it changed everything, because I learned, in a really visceral way, that most of the stories I tell myself are total bullshit.
The story that I’m too weak to do intense yoga? Bullshit. The story that I’ll never really recover from when I got sick last year? Bullshit.
The story that I don’t know enough about marketing to teach Dance of Shiva? Bullshit.
The story that everyone else writes better fiction than me, so why bother? Bullshit.
The story that I don’t know how to write blog posts? Bullshit.
All the other stories I tell myself about why I can’t do things? Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit.
Oh, I still have a lot of unexamined stories, and I still catch myself telling the same old stories again and again. But now I know what it feels like to really drop a story, however short the time is before I pick it back up again.
It feels like the easiest, truest thing in the world.