In 2015, I completed my Diploma in Yoga Education, which qualified me to teach Yoga. What has this got to do with books? A lot, as far as I am concerned. The dissertation I had submitted was on ‘Yoga and Creativity with Special Emphasis on Writing’. It follows then that the employment of yogic techniques that I had learnt would ensure a steady flow of creativity, and a pile of published books. Nothing that epic happened. While I did complete writing the first draft of my proposed novel, and the tools did facilitate writing some poems and short stories, during the pandemic, the ink dried up.
There was so much happening! Writing should have been my refuge. My notebook did travel with me from room to room, and the scariest what-if scenarios populated my mind. There was so much fodder to mine, but I faced a drought. When things eased, I expected an automatic outpouring of ideas, a kind of release. To my horror, I discovered that the juice had dried up, the connect with my novel had been severed and I just could not generate the intense love and passion with which I had written it over a span of seven years while holding a demanding day job. This was my worst nightmare.
The confinement, the endless chores, the bread-and-butter online work and elder care had left me exhausted. What was I to do? I went through my daily schedule to look for time leaks. I assessed the time I engaged in social media. It was hardly anything. To make matters worse, I read author posts berating those who only ‘think’ about writing when they should actually just be putting pen to paper. One author declared that if you really want to write, you will find the time and space for it. It made me furious. Try doing that with the challenges I’m facing now, I hissed, punching the air. Just when I was wallowing in self-pity, an empathic author friend suggested snatching tiny chunks of time to jot down thoughts, and ‘inch’ towards my goals. This was pure gold. I also happened to watch author Urvashi Bahuguna’s interview in which she mentioned how Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic had helped her at a time when she was struggling with her craft. Magic! That was what I needed at that point.
I bought and read Gilbert’s practical, honest book from cover to cover. Full of potent insights, it recharged my batteries as I put to use her terrific advice, especially on facing fear and on committing to one’s art as one commits to a lover, sneaking to have a date with it. What also worked for me is how not to awfulize the outcome of a piece of writing. No one dies, or is harmed from our shoddy work of art, if indeed it turns out shitty. No one has the time to chew on or think about our success or failure; they have enough on their own plate to worry about. Gilbert helped me pick up courage to write again. I am re-reading the book, slowly now, savouring the sage advice.
This experience led to me to look for other books in my library that had nourished my craft. I found Natalie Golberg’s Witing Down the Bones and Wild Mind, in which she reflects on the relationship between Zen sitting practice and writing, the importance of place, and the power of memory, as also exercises to get your pen moving. During the pandemic, I had enrolled for a creative writing workshop with Natalie that had led to some surprising outcomes on the page in spite of staying up till post-midnight to attend it. I also remembered the other timeless classic that I had read decades ago: The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I also chanced upon Gilbert’s comment about committing to doing Cameron’s programme three times in the last decade and discovering something new.
Rediscovering My Passion
These three books are nurturing my creative spirit now. I haven’t produced a masterpiece, but I am no longer afraid. I am setting goals, opening my old notebooks, looking at abandoned drafts, half-written stories, notes in my palm diary, poems that need revision. I still do not have the luxury of large chunks of time and space to reflect on my work at leisure, but I am determined to carve some at least once or twice a week, and not feel guilty about this me-time. The pen is moving. For now, the focus is on onward movement, on completion.
As Gilbert says, ‘Done is better than good.’
Archana Pai Kulkarni is the Books Editor at SheThePeople. The views expressed are the author’s own.