When I first began practicing yoga, I remember wanting to succeed at doing as many poses as possible, in as advanced a form as possible. In a sense, I was more concerned with quantity of my skill than its depth or the smaller details: since I was starting from the point of knowing nothing, I wanted to learn as much as I could, as quickly as I could.
As I kept practicing, though. I actually found myself doing less, rather than more. Say, bending my back less in cobra pose, or not straining to make my heels touch the floor in downward-facing dog, or not worrying about whether my butt touched my heels in child’s pose. My focus shifted from quantity to process and depth and purpose, to why I was in a given pose, where I was going in it, how I felt in it, where my focus was while I was in it, to all sorts of things I just hadn’t even really known how to think about when I started, or that when I did think about them, had only felt like they were slowing me down, in earlier days.
I’ve gone through something of a similar process as a writer. Early on, I wanted desperately just to learn the basics of craft, and then just a little later, my focus shifted to wanting to be as fast as I could. I signed a work-for-hire project with a tight deadline in part to learn how to write faster, because back then, writing faster meant actually finishing stories, something I was also struggling with. I was a little baffled by more experienced writers who wrote more slowly than me, because they were supposed to be better than me at this, and because wasn’t a professional simply someone who wrote as much as she needed to, when she needed to?
Hah! Like it or not, I simply can’t write as fast now as I did 15 years ago. But while I have my moments when I angst over that, I’m not actually sure it’s a bad thing, because I also believe I’m writing better books than I did 15 years ago.
And regardless, processes shift, and worrying about what those around you are doing–or even what you did, last week or last year–will only make a writer crazy, as I know too well. One other thing I’ve learned in yoga is that it’s not only counterproductive to focus on what those around you are doing, but also untrue to one’s practice and one’s self. In yoga, I’ve learned to work to and then a little bit past my own edge–to honor and respect my own practice–rather than getting tied up in knots over what others are doing, or, really, getting attached to any particular result when I go into a class.
This is, of course, harder than it sounds.
I’m still working on it.