Cabbages and Kings

A diary by the authors of the Louis Kincaid series

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Location: Fort Lauderdale/Elk Rapids, Florida and Michigan, United States

We are the New York Times bestselling authors of the Louis Kincaid series and other stand alone thrillers. We have taught writing at major conferences for ten years.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Downward facing writer

I really hate starting a new book. It is really really hard for me. So much so that I go into a funk every time Kelly and I gear up for the next one.

Part of this comes from the postpartem blues of finishing the previous book. When we are gliding toward the finish line, I am giddy with energy and good vibes. And oh, that moment when we get to type THE END! Rapture.

But as soon as that manuscript flies away on its FedEx wings, I crash. I sit around in a stew of depression, doubt and despair. Is this going to be book where they discover we are frauds? Will I ever come up with another decent idea?

My funk goes on until Kelly finally kicks me in the ass and we start rolling the boulder back up the hill again. But this week, I realized I had to do something drastic, something preferably not involving pharmaceudicals. So I went back to my yoga class.

I used to be a very attentive yogi. It seems to sooth my demons, make me braver at facing the computer. Maybe this has something to do with endorphins? All I know is I always seem to write better after an hour of saluting the sun and standing on my noggin.

The thing I like about yoga is that it is very good for A-type personalities. In a yoga class, there is no way to compete, no way to measure your worth by outside standards. If you get hung up on the fact that the woman next to you can do a better lotus than you? Well, you've missed one of the points of yoga. Which is:

You. Only you. And your own progress. At your own pace.

Which, when you think about it, is great advice for any writer. See, we tend to get all bent out of shape by worrying about things outside our control. Like, how come Author X got a huge advance when he writes crap? Like, why did Author Y get a starred review in PW and I can't get any notice? Like, why does Author Z get a a 10-city tour and I can't get my local Barnes & Noble to let me sit at a cardtable and try to hawk a few books?

God, we all worry so much now about promotion and marketing. We're all afraid we aren't doing enough to push our books. Aren't talking up enough librarians, doing enough drive-by signings, attending enough conventions. We fret about pod-casting, viral marketing, networking, blogging, slogging and dogging. We spend so much creative energy trying to think of ways to separate ourselves from the pack, it's a wonder we have any juice left for writing.

When I was just starting out, I found myself at an MWA luncheon sitting next to Jan Burke. This was not long after she won the Edgar for "Bones." I was an awed newbie, and I said something stupid about how the bad writers seemed to get all the attention. She was kind and said all writers get jealous. And she added something I will never forget:

"You have to keep your head down and just write your books."

Five books later, Jan Burke is still there, making the New York Times list with her newest "Kidnapped." And me? I am trying to live by her words and the lesson of my yoga class -- that the only person I am in competition with is me.

So, if you -- like me -- need an attitude adjustment, I highly recommend some yoga. I'll even give you a few basic exercises to get you started:

YOGA FOR WRITERS

The King Dancer position. This is very good at helping you build balance. To do this pose, fix your gaze on something that doesn’t move so that you don’t lose your balance. Like maybe writing the best book you can?

The Fish Pose: It is good for developing flexibility. Because sometimes, you have to go in directions you didn't consider. Like abandoning a moribund story or trying a new POV. Or maybe adapting a pen name. If you need help with this pose, put a blanket under your head. Or read a book by an author you admire.

The Goddess: This pose helps you open yourself up. If this feels uncomfortable, you can use some folded blankets to prop up the spine. Or, find a good critique group to lend you some support.

The Crow: This is a hard one, but worth learning. Do not let your head drop! This will cause you to tip forward and fall. But don't worry; everyone falls when learning this pose. Just like every writer fears falling flat on their face, even the great ones.

The Headstand: Very good for getting the blood to your head and increasing overall circulation. Practice the pose at the wall. Try to move further from the wall each time, or remove one foot and then the other from the wall to practice balancing. You can't master this one in one try. And you can't become a successful writer overnight. It takes years of hard work and practice.

The Tree: Another good balance pose. If you cannot bring your foot high inside the high, bring it lower. In other words, lowering your expectations isn't always a bad thing. If you don't make the New York Times bestseller list on your first three books -- What? You're gonna quit? No, you keep trying and eventually your leg (or book) will go higher than you ever thought it could.

The Wheel: This is an advanced pose, mastered only after you've achieved strength and balance. Same goes for a writing career. You hang around long enough, you might become a big wheel. Need help with this pose? Have someone stand behind you and hold their ankles instead of putting the hands on the floor. Likewise, if you've got a spouse or family behind you, you can conquer the world.

And lastly...
The Pose of the Child: Rest in Child’s Pose at any time if you get tired or out of breath. Rejoin the class when you are ready. In other words, don't forget to take some time off, kiss your wife or husband, and play with your kids. Writers often forget the value of recharging the old batteries. You can't write about roses if you never take time to smell them.

Namaste, my friends...

9 Comments:

Blogger Allison Brennan said...

KIDNAPPED is a FANTASTIC story. I loved it.

Recharging is important, but too much downtime makes me lazy. The longer I take off from writing, the harder it is for me to get back into my writing schedule. I went to Disneyland last week and we were gone for five days. I've been home since Wednesday night and have done NO writing. I tried to jumpstart today, and what did I do? Spent three hours researching a very small plot point for my book. Just because I was fascinated by the subject. Writing? None.

3:44 PM  
Blogger PJ Parrish said...

Allison,

Ah, research...so seductive! I can while away whole days surfing the web for arcane stuff. Some of it even gets in my books.

4:39 PM  
Blogger Jude Hardin said...

I'm pretty much the opposite, Kris. I CAN'T WAIT to get started on the Shiny New Idea. I have a couple of them.

But I know I have to finish the rewrite in front of me first. With a healthy stretch and some balancing exercises (and a lot of help from my friends) I'll sweat my way through it and then jump into that sparkling new pool. :)

9:48 PM  
Blogger spyscribbler said...

Wow! Just this morning, I started doing yoga again. I did yoga every single morning for over five years, and then I moved across the street. For some bizarre reason, this got me out of the habit, and I've been struggling to get back into it again.

Great, great, great post. I love the analogy!

11:49 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

"God, we all worry so much now about promotion and marketing. We're all afraid we aren't doing enough to push our books. Aren't talking up enough librarians, doing enough drive-by signings, attending enough conventions. We fret about pod-casting, viral marketing, networking, blogging, slogging and dogging. We spend so much creative energy trying to think of ways to separate ourselves from the pack, it's a wonder we have any juice left for writing."

Ain't that the truth. Sometimes all the attention to it on the blogosphere and everywhere else makes me want to scream. (Well, actually, I do scream. What can I say? It does me good.)

And I tend to get a real mood drop just after I send off a manuscript to my agent. I don't know why. I know I'm usually pretty high, high, high with expectations while I'm finishing off the manuscript--this one's gonna be great, it's gonna get (fill in the blank).

Then I walk out of the post office and it's: this sucks, she's going to hate it, nobody will want to publish it, my editor will hate it, my career is over...

Geeze, I could use a dope-slap. Just sent a manuscript for a kids' book off to my agent yesterday and floundered around the rest of the day.

3:06 PM  
Blogger Joe Moore said...

I have the perfect method. I write while my wife does yoga.

Joe

4:04 PM  
Blogger PJ Parrish said...

SMACK!

That's for you, Mark. Now, don't you feel better?

Seriously, I feel your pain. Why do we do this?

4:12 PM  
Blogger Philip Hawley said...

Great post, PJ. It certainly rang my bell.

8:47 PM  
Blogger Philip Hawley said...

Great post, PJ. It certainly rang my bell.

8:48 PM  

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