Monday, April 22, 2013

Writing in the Sauna and Editing During Downward Facing Dog


You read that title correctly.

Would it surprise you that my best writing is not done at a traditional desk on a keyboard?

Case in point, Saturday.

Every Saturday at 11 a.m., I have a Yoga class at my gym, and I move Heaven and Earth to always be there. I work out during other times of the week, but this Yoga instructor has this amazing class at a specific time that kicks my heart into overdrive while leaving me so relaxed that I feel like I've been sitting on a beach for five hours.

The problem was that this Saturday, I was in the middle of a writing marathon. I'd just finished two stories the night before and needed to polish off two others by a Monday morning deadline. I was brain-dead, but I didn't see how I could justify going to Yoga.

And then I decided that my body was more important than sitting at a computer for nine hours straight, machinating over minutia. So I hopped in my car to hit the gym sauna before the class and then spend the following hour stretching my limbs into rubber bands.

As I opened the sauna door, the aroma of cedar wafted over me, and heat bathed me. I sat on the wooden planks and closed my eyes.

And then I started writing.

No, I didn't bring my laptop in with me. But I'd spent enough time with my interview notes that I could envision the words on the screen, and then I pinpointed in my mind which anecdote would be best for the story lead.

Now I need to tell you ... this was no easy story to write. This happened to be on the same weekend that lots of movie-worthy action was taking place north of me in Boston. Other journalists on national news desks were churning copy as fast as SWAT teams could exchange bullets with the bomber of the Boston marathon. What I found during my work for AP was that those types of stories just write themselves. Your adrenaline is SO HIGH, that you just naturally pound out prose.

But these other types of stories .... well, this is where you are tested as a writer.

My two assignments were for a trade magazine, targeting owners of pizza restaurants in the United States and Canada. And the topics?

Dealing with food allergies.

And maintaining a comfortable restaurant climate during the summer months.

In essence, I had the story subject equivalents of watching paint dry. Just thinking about these stories was putting me to sleep in that sauna. But I pressed on.

I had my lead anecdote on the food allergy story from about 15 minutes in the sauna, and as I exited into cooler air and grabbed my Yoga mat, my mind started working on the best ways to frame it.

 So during my first 20 minutes of Yoga, I edited.

I worked the sentences around in my mind, each word a piece of a tapestry or elaborate stained glass window.

And it was during my third Downward Facing Dog pose of the morning that I came up with my approach.

Now this will surprise you -- I didn't race back to my house after Yoga and grab the laptop and start writing. I had one more magazine interview to complete for the second story on climate control. I found my subject, interviewed her .... and then I was sleepy.

So I took a two-hour nap.

Around 4 p.m., with most of the day gone, you'd think I would never be able to pull off the writing of two stories. But by this time, my mind was so rested, clear and focused, that I wrote the climate control story in two hours.

And THEN I pulled up a fresh screen. The words I had crafted during my Downward Facing Dog seven hours earlier came back to me as if I'd just left them on a shelf for a couple of minutes.

Here's the story lead:

"Tucked in the technology enclave of San Jose, CA, Willow Street Wood-Fired Pizza draws a hip, sophisticated and highly-educated clientele. And with all of that education comes a high demand for not only healthy food – but customer knowledge about food allergies and sensitivities." 

I'm no Hemingway, obviously, but it did the trick ... and that story was completed in an hour-and-a-half.

The next time you feel overwhelmed by deadlines and don't feel that you have enough time to make time for yourself .... make time for yourself. Take care of your mind and your body first. The words will wait, and when you finally have given yourself the gift of self-love, the words will come.


  1. lol And for those of us with food allergies, that story would be a gripping one!! Glad to hear it fell into place. :D I do my best creative work while driving, so I have a dictation app on my phone. Sometimes I'll pull over and sketch.

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