Yoga in a Tornado: How to Ignore the Chaos & Thrive as a Writer
My mom visited our house a while back, and she walked into a tornado. Not a mild summer breeze that barely uproots a tree. Nope, we’re talking about a full-blown storm powerful enough to swirl cows and refrigerators overhead and lift houses from their foundations.
Dogs were barking, laugh reels were screeching on the TV, kids were icing pizza rolls with leftover Christmas cookie icing, and the oven timer was going off—not because I was cooking something (who has time for that?!), but because I needed to remember to not forget to iron George Washington’s pants for the next day’s living museum presentation.
She’d stopped by in a holiday mood to drop off cookie-shaped doses of sugar for the kids, but before she left, she needed a Xanax and a stiff drink. She was there for 10 minutes, you guys. TEN minutes. In fact, she never left the doorway because the shock of the chaos paralyzed her. Our inbred dog intermittently barked at her and humped the sofa leg while I attempted to put the finishing touches on a paragraph I’d been belaboring for far too long.
Waving her arms in the general direction of my household-in-a-blender, she said, “I don’t know how you get anything done like this.” I detected a slight twitch in her eye as she turned to go.
“Oh, you know, you just learn to tune it out.”
A Secret Potion from Wood Trolls
Very few people have access to the information I’m about to give you. So keep it on the downlow. In a dense forest, in a faraway enchanted land, there is a tiny but powerful group of woodland trolls who hold all the secrets to peaceful parenting. They alone can make a potion so strong that parents are able to do yoga in tornadoes, bake while sewing Halloween costumes, and write epic tales of adventure while packing last-minute lunches.
And if you believe that, I have an island in Arizona to sell you.
It is, however, a well-known fact that writers and other creatives have a knack for tuning things out. I’ve perfected this skill to the point that I could plop down criss-cross-applesauce in the middle of a protest and write my next chapter.
Why? How? What the What?
It’s a necessary skill. If we didn’t tune things out, we’d never get anything done. Have you ever read the same sentence in a book three or four times, only to get frustrated because distractions keep dead-ending the story?
Imagine how our work would sound if we let everyday craziness infiltrate our stories:
“It was a dark and stormy night…Holy shit, what is on fire? Honey? Are the kids in the bathtub? They need to get all the suds out. No, I said no cookies for dinner…when the killer crept around the building and peered into the window…No, we had pizza for dinner last night. And yes, you still have to do your homework. She sat blissfully unaware as he peered into her window…YES, I’ll read Tickle Monster one more time, but you have to eat some vegetables. Suddenly, the storm slammed into their house, electricity blinking out…Moooommm! Something happened in the bathroom!”
That’s an encapsulated view of any given 5-minute period in a writing parent’s life, especially now that we’re all working from home.
I’ve worked long and hard to come up with a list of ways you can tap into your talent for ignoring shit. (We all have it. It just needs to be awakened and trained…sort of like a dragon.)
5 Easy Tips to Ignore Any Shitstorm That’s Happening & Just Get Your Work Done
- Channel your inner teenager. You know how kids and teenagers have the ability to step over a steaming pile of dog poop, even if it’s in the middle of the living room, and then innocently claim they didn’t see it? Oh, they totally saw it, but they had better things to do. Channel this youthful slug-a-bed mentality and put off the things that aren’t emergencies if you’ve scheduled yourself to write.
- Play Kiss, Marry, Kill. Well, not that version (and not the original version either). But play a modified version of the game. Whenever you’re working and an “emergency” comes up, instantly decide if it’s a situation for Later, Now, or They’ll Get Over It. Use whatever categories you want…you get the idea. Get good at quickly categorizing the non-emergencies that are thrown at you daily. Spilled soda? Later. Fighting over the plastic dinosaur again? They’ll get over it. You get the picture. Train yourself to ignore the ignorable.
- Move. No, you can’t abandon your family, but I’ll be the first to confess I’ve been found typing in our walk-in closet. As long as everyone is safe and sound, cared for and comfy, it’s ok to let the circus run rampant without a ringleader for small periods of time. Is this ideal? Nah. Do I work like this all the time? I try not to, but life, ya know? It’s all about balance, and if the worst thing that happens is a double feature of SpongeBob while you’re creating literary genius, the world will go on.
- Embrace the Chaos. They say not to fight an undertow, that you have a much better chance of surviving if you go with the flow and let it roll you back up to the surface. Sure, you’ll look a little rougher for the wear, and you might have sand in some unfortunate locations, but you’ll survive. Some of my most frustrating days as a writer have happened because I tried to fight the chaos. Sometimes you just get tossed through the day until your bedraggled self gets quality time at the keyboard. The good news is you probably added a few new stories to your repertoire.
- Change your plan. Not forever. Just for the day. Not getting anything done? No worries. So you were gonna write that chapter. Set it aside and instead outline the next section of your book or your project. Do a little research on your protagonist’s career choice. Or even more fun, give yourself a writer playday. Do some freewriting, brainstorming, mind-mapping, whatever you like to do. Just because you didn’t get to do THE creative thing you planned doesn’t mean you lose all the opportunities.
Life is going to happen—hopefully every damn day! We can either get pulled under and lose perspective on our creative goals. Or we can go with the flow, get a little tossed around, but persevere with even bigger and better stories to show for it. Distractions are all around us. But we are creatives. We are the ultimate “no worries” crowd, so if anyone can figure out how to get it done in the middle of chaos, it’s us.
Now, stop looking for magical trolls and get back to writing.