Last week I sprained my ankle, and I couldn’t help feeling torn down. Frustrated. Defeated.
Over the past decade I’ve had a history of bad ankle injuries. I’ve done so much damage that these days I’m rather accurate at predicting precipitation. I can still feel the scar tissue crunching around inside. And yup, I’ve already got some arthritis.
It was my Ashtanga yoga practice that slowly, over these 3+ years, helped me to build up some astonishing strength and balance. So to roll my ankle badly again in one careless step was pretty crushing. It was the first time I’d really injured it since I began practicing Ashtanga. I’d sort of come to believe I was never going to hurt this ankle again — how naive of me.
It happened because I was rushing, and distracted, and worrying about too many things. I was furious at myself. Not even because of the pain. Just because of the setback.
My husband used to have to remind me: injuries teach us patience. And so I’ve spent the last week and a half trying to relearn patience. I wrapped my ankle and went in to practice yoga the very next morning and had to modify almost every pose. I grit my teeth and breathed, tried to exhale away the anger. My teacher told me to cut out some of my favorite asanas, and my frustration doubled. But I listened to him. I cut and I modified. I carried on, doing as much as I could. I changed my practice to suit what I needed.
At the end of that first post-injury yoga, I felt calmer. I realized: there’s a lot I can still do. Later that day I even participated in a yoga teacher adjustments workshop. And I remembered that — duh — I could still do arm balances. And I could still teach, just without adjusting and demonstrating.
Then I realized this injury was something of a metaphor for my current writing practice.
As I mentioned, I’ve been doing Camp NaNoWriMo for the month of April. It was going pretty well — still tough, but I was averaging 2k words a day, and interesting things were happening on the page. I was excited to push through as much of the draft as possible.
But once I passed 30,000 words, something changed. I hit a wall, and every day I had to scale this huge barrier to try to move forward just a tiny bit. I don’t even believe in writer’s block, but I was stuck and I couldn’t articulate why. I could see all the problems I’d left in the words behind me, and they became these big, looming shadows that took up my entire field of vision.
The point of any NaNoWriMo event is to push on, to ignore the problems, to get to the end. I so very badly wanted to do exactly that. I wanted to marathon straight through, vomit out that shitty draft and worry about fixing it later, just so I could remember that I was even capable of it. Because it doesn’t matter how many finished novels I’ve got tucked away in drawers — there’s always, always the fear that I won’t get to write THE END.
But I was making useless words. I was writing just for the sake of the exercise, which violates one of the rules I wrote for myself in my last blog post: don’t write aimlessly. I tweeted that the story-making part of my brain was broken — I was only 2% joking.
When I injured my ankle, I realized that yet again, my two practices are functioning as mirrors to each other. I was rushing hard to pound through this novel draft for Camp NaNoWriMo. I was also letting myself be distracted. I was worrying about how this voice compared to the voice of my last project. I was worrying what readers would think. I was impatiently trying to figure out what the novel was really about, and how the strands would braid themselves together…even though I know that neither of those are things I ever truly figure out until like Draft 3 or 4.
I tried switching to another novel project (again breaking another rule of mine) and had a great, productive day that I think was mostly from the excitement of working on something shiny and new. And then in the days that followed, I found myself back in that stuck feeling. Because I couldn’t get my head out of the original Camp NaNoWriMo novel. (This is why I don’t let myself switch projects. My brain is not good at compartmentalizing when it comes to writing fiction.) And because I was still rushing. There was the pressure to catch up on my word count. With each slow day that went by I was farther and farther away from making my 60,000 word goal. It’s rare that I don’t meet these small goals I set for myself — that enraged me, too.
But I’ve decided to treat this like my ankle. Have patience. Slow down. Change the practice to suit what I need.
My ankle is healing faster than it ever has before, and I know I have my yoga to thank for that. Soon I’ll be back to normal. I know, too, that the same is true for my writing. I just have to have faith, and keep trying to do however much I can. It’s time to push away the doubts and the fears and that urge to find more speed. Time to forgive myself, too. For re-injuring this ankle. For being stuck in my writing. So what if I don’t hit 60,000 words this month? I’ve still been pretty damn productive.
I’m trying to find some more patience. There’s no need to rush.