While teaching a writing workshop recently, I realized that many of the participants were struggling with the same problem I see in my yoga students. It’s the same problem I struggle with myself, more often than not—grabbiness.
Yes, I did just make up that word, but it wanted to exist within the context of this essay. I practiced an extended version of the yoga discipline aparigraha, or non-grasping, by allowing the word to place itself instead of hauling out a thesaurus and forcing a word into the sentence.
When I’m teaching an asana (physical posture) class, I frequently encourage my students to relax and enjoy the pose. I ask them to notice how it feels, what their bodies are experiencing, and whether or not they are comfortable. A great many of them, however, are so focused on getting the pose exactly right (an impossibility, by the way) that they miss the beauty of it altogether.
The same thing happens with writers. We turn the fun of creation into a struggle with language, grasping for the perfect word, the exact syntax, the ideal formula.
There’s a classic example of this grasping behavior called The Monkey Trap. A monkey comes upon a cage with a bunch of bananas inside. Monkey reaches in through the bars and grabs the bananas. Monkey now has a clenched fist full of delicious food that won’t fit through the bars; he is trapped, easy prey, so long as he maintains his grip. A smart monkey would relax his fist and leave the bananas (or at least take only one at a time), but we monkeys aren’t usually wise enough to recognize our foolishness.
Need another example? Think about what happens when you tighten up on your breath. Go ahead; grab your breath and don’t let it go. How’s that working for you?
Now relax. Let the breath go where it wants and follow its own course. Trust that the next breath will be there. (Spoiler: it will.)
The same practice works for writing. Grasping for perfection or sophistication or style will squeeze the life out of your work every time. Worse, it will cause your creative juices to seize up. Grabbiness really is the source of writers’ block.
The next time you’re stuck in your writing, just let go of your plan for the story. Allow the story to come to you in any way it wants. Let go of the outcome. Joyfully accept what life and the Muse provide. Let it be enough.