This past weekend, I got to do one of my favorite things, which is visiting my daughter. One of the things we do when we visit is attend classes at the excellent yoga studio near her apartment. While attending a class Saturday morning, the yoga teacher gave us one of his many definitions of yoga, which is joy plus hard work. Because he told us this more than an hour into a very intense practice in an 85° F room, at a point where our muscles felt like spaghetti and some of us were questioning the wisdom of the way we’d chosen to spend our Saturday morning, it was easy to understand the part about hard work. The joy, that wasn’t quite so obvious at the time. And that’s the way it sometimes is with something else that can be defined as joy plus hard work: writing.
Writing is hard work, and some days are harder than others. On those days, we might see the joy after the writing is done, just as it can be easier to see the joy of having survived yoga class hour after class is over. One of the goals in yoga is to find the joy within the hard work itself, but on the days that doesn’t happen, that’s okay. Yoga is practice. It’s a process. It’s a journey, not a destination unto itself.
When it comes to writing, we often don’t cut ourselves the same slack. We tend to focus on the end product – the finished draft, the publishing contract, the book we can hold in our hands. It’s important to have those goals, and having a tough day (or week, or month) of writing feels like it stands in the way of those goals. But sometimes in writing, like in yoga, when the going gets tough, it can be helpful to take our eyes off the horizon and focus on what is right in front of us. Write one good scene, one decent page, a really excellent paragraph. Some days that’s the most we can do, and at the end of the day, we need to find the joy in these small accomplishments.
I’ve had many, many days when the writing is a hard slog, and sometimes I’ve even questioned the wisdom of how I’ve chosen to spend my time, just like a did for at least a few minutes (okay, the whole final half hour) of that Saturday morning yoga class. One thing I’ve learned over the years of writing, though, is that there will be days when I’ll write multiple scenes and pages upon pages, when the words will just flow from my fingertips and I’ll feel joy in the very act of writing. I had one of those days last week. I wrote three new scenes, including one that is a lynchpin I’ve needed for the first act. It was wonderful to feel joy in the hard work as I did it.
Some days we experience joy in the hard work of writing itself. Other days, we have to find the joy in having written, and that really can be enough if we just cut ourselves some slack and remember that it’s not just the end product that matters. The process, the practice, is a goal unto itself, and as long as we keep coming back to write down more words, it’s a goal we will accomplish.
Where have you found your writing joy lately?