The Practice of Tapas.


“Life without tapas is like a heart without love.” ~ BKS Iyengar

One of the stories I’ve told myself over the years is that I am lazy. I’ve lugged that word around throughout high school, college all the way up to the present. Nothing I did was enough (according to me).

Then I discovered tapas. Not the delicious appetizers but the third niyama that calls on me to stoke my inner fire. Literally it comes from the root sanskrit word “tap” which means “to burn.” I take it to mean to burn away everything that holds me back from achieving what I want and being who I want to be. That means burning away the story that I am lazy.

As a writer, I’ve struggled with procrastination on an almost daily basis. My shelves are lined with books promising the secret to being a productive writer. I’ve tried many different tips from waking up early to writing late at night, from focusing on word counts to time spent writing, writing at home to writing in coffee shops.They all worked, for a while. Then I’d drift back into this wishy-washy limbo of wanting to write but never quite committing to it.

Last year I embarked on a year-long writing challenge based on Jerry Seinfeld’s “Don’t Break The Chain” advice. The theory is that you set up a system of marking an x for each day you  show up to write, the goal being to not break the chain. I sat up a dry erase board with 365 boxes for each day of the year. Dutifully, I showed up each day to write something, anything, no word count, no minimum time required and once I did that I could make my x. I did it. Every single day .

This year I decided to require a little more from myself. I still must write every single day but Monday -Friday I need to write at least 500 words on my current WIP. Saturday and Sunday can be for the WIP or Morning Pages or blog posts. I am using the same dry erase board as last year only I am coloring in the top triangle blue for the days I write at least 500 words, red for the weekends.

It’s working. I am up to almost 50,00 words on my novel. I wrote on days when I was crazy busy, when I wasn’t feeling well, even when we had a 72-hour power outage.The story is finding its way, the characters are finding their way and I am finding mine.

What I’m discovering is that practicing tapas in one area of my life is spilling into other areas. I’ve meditated every day since November 9. Some days it’s just been two minutes. Others it’s been thirty. I find myself with more confidence as I continually meet these goals I set for myself that nobody but me cares if I meet. If I can do this, what else can I do?

With this fire ignited, anything is possible.


Reaping the Rewards of Freedom


Who knew that freedom could be bought for only $10?

I did, actually. I just resisted it.

I’m talking about Mac Freedom, a program I downloaded that blocks the internet and increases my writing productivity.

I think I resisted it because I saw it as a crutch. As a sign of weakness. I thought I should (always a dangerous word) be able to ignore the lure of Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest and the millions of other distractions that are literally at my fingertips all on my own. Then I would feel such guilt that I wasn’t able to do so.

So I tried a free trial of Mac Freedom and was stunned at how well it worked for me. I think “life-changing” is what I tweeted the first day.

Freedom tweet

Here’s how it works: I pick an amount of time (up to 480 minutes) that the internet will be disabled for. Once it’s set, I sit there at my computer and write until I hit my quota for the day. To start with, it’s been at least 500 words. That usually takes me about 45 minutes.

What I love about it is that it makes me focus. I found that as soon as I hit a part of my story where I was stuck or didn’t know what came next, I’d immediately click on my Firefox window. Not for any purpose like research—just for distraction from the uncomfortable feeling of not knowing what came next in my story.

I’m aware that I could easily pick up my iPhone and do the same thing, but I don’t. There’s a certain sacred bubble around my allotted writing time now that I honor. I stay in the room, as Ron Carlson says.

Since I’ve started using Freedom, I have written 7493 words on my current WIP.

The best ten bucks I have spent.

Seriously. The best.

How about you? Do you use an internet blocking program? How do you stay productive and focused. Feel free to share your tips in the comments.