Yoga teacher Carola Lovering shares how her practice was instrumental in the writing and selling of her debut novel, Tell Me Lies, coming June 2018.
As I thumb through the pages of my novel, at this stage a thick, bound manuscript, I keep my eyes peeled for any final errors and wonder how and when I ever wrote these 341 pages. It all seems to have unfolded the same way as an especially magical yoga class—the kind of class that ends with you lying in Savasana, suspended in a cloud of bliss bombs, vaguely aware that the past hour occurred.
That’s how writing my book felt—very natural, almost like a biological process where my mind surrendered to instinct. I wish I could say that I was in a fancy yoga pose stimulating the second chakra when the idea for what would become my debut novel sparked deep within, but it didn’t happen like that. But, once the seed of inspiration had been planted, yoga became a facilitator for creativity, my mat the drawing board.
How Yoga Facilitated My Creative Process
I have always gone to yoga for answers—that’s what brought me to my practice in the first place. In the beginning, yoga was pure self-exposure. Yoga taught me how to understand my inner world, how to deal with the unhelpful parts of myself and, then, how to harness my strengths.
I still believe that the root of yoga, its starting point, lies in awareness, and this is how, through the yogic practice, I started to really hone my creative spirit. About a year into the writing process, I realized that the thing I had been writing—the thing that was being expelled from me—was possibly more than a journal of free-flowing jibberish.
“You should turn this into a book of short stories,” a friend said.
Or maybe a novel, I thought, because that made more sense to me. It was an alarming thought, but it suddenly made more sense to me than anything. Once I consciously started working on my book, I needed answers more than ever. I needed a timeline and a plan, I needed to understand my characters, I needed to fill in plot gaps and, mostly, I needed to get really clear on my mission.
Just as I had so many times before, I returned to my yoga mat to look for answers. It was within these four corners that I could be still, listen, and become as aware and as receptive as I could in order to let the solutions flood in.
Elizabeth Gilbert gives a remarkable TED Talk during which she discusses the “elusive creative genius.” For writers, painters, dancers—anyone in a creative field—this “genius” is a sense of divine inspiration that is out of our control, a mysterious force that rushes in only at unknowable, opportune moments. This idea dates back to ancient Greece and Rome, when people did not believe that creativity came from human beings. Socrates, for example, believed that he had a spirit who spoke his wisdom to him from the abyss.
In my experience as a writer, I understand how these moments of intense inspiration could be interpreted as divine. But in my longer experience as a yoga teacher and student, I know that by turning inward, quieting the mind, and practicing awareness, I am facilitating a space in which pure magic can happen. So yoga, I believe, may just be a short cut—or at least an enabler—for this so-called creative genius. As Ram Dass said, “the quieter you become, the more you can hear.”
Ultimately yoga is about seeking space—physical space in the body, emotional space in the heart, and space in the mind for new possibilities, for extraordinary transformation. And yoga is also about trusting the balance that holds this space; for me, the pursuit of writing a novel stemmed from feeling daunted in the same place that I felt passionate, and accepting both sensations as two sides of the same river.
How Yoga Helped Me Land My First Book Deal
There was—there is—a lot to feel daunted by. If you’re a first-time author and you’re not a celebrity and you don’t have a platform, the odds of selling your book to a major publisher are stacked against you. My agent at Janklow & Nesbit receives approximately 1,300 submissions annually, and can only sign around four new clients per year. My editor at Simon & Schuster (who usually only looks at manuscripts from agented authors) gets hundreds of manuscripts every year and took on only two new authors in 2017. To say the least, book publishing is a wildly subjective industry, one that requires a thick skin.
Like my yoga practice, the process of landing an agent was one of trial and error, and it was far from perfect. When I first pitched my book I faced dozens of rejection emails from agents, only to be told later that I had been pitching my novel as the wrong genre. Once I took a step back and honed my query letter to more accurately reflect the manuscript I had written, I got back out there. In addition to pitching more agents, on a whim I also queried an editor at Simon & Schuster who I’d been in contact with several years earlier, when I’d first graduated from college and had thought about a career in book publishing. In response to my query the editor asked for the first 50 pages—soon after the whole manuscript. She loved it, gave me some notes, and helped me find my now-agent. After working with my agent on a huge revision, we sent the final product back to the editor, who bought the book in the fall of 2016. It wasn’t a quick or easy route to that book deal, and it was yoga that carried me there, I think. Through yoga I found the tools to practice patience and persistence and to remember the purpose of the process and the work itself.
It’s a process that continues to feel daunting, even when it’s rewarding. For every moment of ecstatic excitement I’ve felt over the upcoming launch of my book this spring, I have also experienced a twinge of fear over what’s at stake. And the impending, anxiety-inducing question is ever looming: will I be able to do this again? Will I be able to sit down in front of a blinking cursor and find a way to write a second book? The less fearful part of me knows that I will. I don’t know how, but I know when I go looking for the answers, I’ll start on my yoga mat.
About Our Expert
Carola Lovering is an author and yoga teacher based in Brooklyn. She attended Colorado College, and her work has appeared in W Magazine, National Geographic, Outside, Runner’s World, and Yoga Journal, among other publications. Her first novel,Tell Me Lies, will be published by Simon & Schuster in June 2018.