On Saturday I'm holding a book launch. This will not be a glitzy, glamorous affair. It's in an art gallery in a shopping centre. I'm going to teach a family yoga class. A nice-sized group of nice people have confirmed they're coming.
Last night, I dreamt that they started cancelling. I was dragging all my equipment to the art gallery and then the messages started arriving. Floella Benjamin walked by and asked what was going on, and how much money I would make if I sold all the books I was dragging with me, and I felt more disheartened as I knew I would not sell them all and I would not make much money. Floella's reality and mine were very different. (Why dream of Floella? Because she is classy and kind and I loved her hair when I was 4).
I am a little-known, self-published author, and people assume that means that your books are not very good. But I know that they are good and they help people and they work. I have also learnt a lot about the publishing industry, and I know that there are some amazing, little-known writers out there, and some not-so-good but heavily promoted books out there that make much more money. Huge sales figures aren't always an indication of quality.
As a side note, I'm also a little-known, self-employed yoga teacher but I NEVER put myself under the same pressure to be 'successful'. I take pleasure knowing I make a difference to the people who take time out of their lives to attend my classes, week after week.
So with all this negative thinking, I thought, should I cancel Saturday's event? I'm taking time out from my family, and we could go for a walk together or play badminton instead. Or get some jobs done so I don't feel frazzled. Rather that than feel like a flop with my small-scale, non-glamorous event.
But... this morning, a yoga teacher called Agathe at Yoga Soleil Levant posted a quote by Katherine Hepburn: "If you always do what interests you, at least one person is pleased." It got me thinking. I love teaching family yoga. I love being at the Dacorum Creatives Art Hub. I want to do this because it will be fun and joyful and I will be pleased, not because I'll make lots of money or get lots of publicity. Agathe's post reminded me to think more like a yogi. It also reminded me that as a self-employed yoga teacher, I made a decision to do things that made me feel excited - being self-employed means not having to get decisions signed off by a director or a committee, or being told not to do things that I feel are the right thing to do.
So in the spirit of thinking more like a yogi, here are the Yamas and Niyamas of being a writer! My understanding may not be perfect, and there may be other interpretations, but if this gets you thinking, then I have achieved what I set out to do.
The Yamas are restraints, things we should avoid doing in order to live a good life.
Ahimsa - non-violence towards others and yourself. Be kind to yourself! People who self-publish are amazing. We have followed a project through to completion and put ourselves out for the world to judge us.
Sathya - truthfulness. I am being honest and laying my heart bare in writing this blog. Many marketing posts are trying to sell you an image of success, of huge numbers of books sold, to make you want to buy this thing too. My success is in the small numbers of people I reach, but in a profound way. The children with anxiety who I help get to sleep, the children with ADHD who need help slowing their thoughts down, the children who ask to read one of my stories just because they like them, the kids who do yoga every day thanks to my yoga book.
Asteya - non-stealing. Obviously all ideas are our own and not stolen intentionally from elsewhere! (But please, don't steal from writers. Expecting discounts, pirating eBooks, not paying invoices... I see examples of other writers suffering from this and it makes them feel unvalued. We can't always afford to give you discounts or freebies because it costs us money and the 'exposure' or 'publicity' promised isn't always forthcoming.)
Bramacharya - this is supposed to be about abstaining from sexual activity so that you focus your attentions on the divine... but perhaps we can talk about channeling creative energy instead!
Aparigraha - non-greediness. Of course writers should be allowed to make money out of their work. Of course we want to get our work out into the hands of as many people as possible, and it is fair that these people should pay us for it. That is not being greedy. But I find that I can be dissatisfied with what I am earning, how many copies I've sold, and grasp after more. When I reflect on my achievements and am grateful for what I have instead, I'm a happier person.
The Niyamas are to do with our thinking about ourselves.
Saucha - purity, cleanliness. This can relate to clearing out unhelpful thoughts, thoughts that block the flow of energy and make things difficult for ourselves. Sometimes it can involve clearing out unhelpful habits or even relationships. If I compare myself to authors with a bigger profile on social media, or ask why I haven't sold as many books as them, this doesn't serve me.
Santosha - contentment. Being content doesn't mean blithely accepting the world as it is, with all its injustice and unhappiness. But we can find the good in every day and if our actions come from a place of contentment and gratitude, this comes across in all our dealings with others.
Tapas - discipline. When you really want something and work hard to get it! Writers and other creatives need to be disciplined. Working hard at your craft, not taking short cuts. Self-published writers have no external deadlines imposed on them, if they don't complete their books there will be no repercussions. So it takes huge amounts of self-discipline and willpower to complete a project and bring a book out into the world!
Svadhyaya - self-study. I know a lot of writers who question why they do what they do. It's hard work; even if you're traditionally published you have to promote yourself, there is no easy way to keep selling yourself when your work is out in the world. It's exhausting. I find social media exhausting, too, and often thankless, posting posting posting for little response. But if I go back to why I started out in the first place, I capture the joy and can use that feeling to help me make decisions about where I put my energies.
Ishvara Pranidhara - giving our identity to God. This can be a tricky one to unpick. It can mean surrendering to a higher power, or to your true self, rather than a deity. I think of this as having faith in the Universe, in energy, in finding your flow. In Desiderata by Max Ehrmann, the phrase 'no doubt the Universe is unfolding as it should' always stands out for me. Trusting in the Universe and thinking positively may just help you find the positivity you need. And maybe that positivity isn't thousands of book sales, but something else?
I hope this gets you thinking! If you are a writer, perhaps it will help you feel less frustrated and allow you to feel proud of what you've achieved so far.
And if you want to come to my book launch on Saturday 19th November at 2pm, please book here, it will be lovely to see you!
And if you can't come but want to buy some beautiful, heart-centered, happy books for children, take a look at my shop.
Finally, the Guardian has published an article saying that Mindfulness books for children are a runaway publishing trend driven by young people - children want these types of books! Have a read here.
Illustrations by me, or by Ben and Steph Grandis.