Yogi Writer

Two of my passions in life are writing and yoga. I never considered a connection between the two until I attended a workshop with literary agent Donald Maass at the DFW writers’ conference last May. Mr. Maass began the four-hour workshop with…


The conference room held a hundred of us writers, all of whom hoped to gain some knowledge from this giant of the agency world. But then we were asked to put our pens down, close our eyes, and breathe. Slightly stunned, we all obliged him, trusting in his expertise. Trusting in his methods. He kept the room silent for a minute or so (which seemed like a lifetime) and then said in a gentle voice: “Nothing happens without breath. In yoga, it’s called Prana.”

If I weren’t a huge fan of Donald Maass before, I certainly became one then.

I believe I can speak for all of us in the room when I say we were more receptive and relaxed when Mr. Maass began the actual workshop, which was based on his highly-acclaimed book Writing the Breakout Novel. I got busy with my pen and took pages of notes for the remaining hours, but held on to that Zen feeling for the rest of the weekend.

And it got me thinking: there must be a connection between these two passions of mine.

In The Lego Movie, there is a scene in which we gain access into the mind of Emmett, who has stumbled into a hero’s role called the Special. But what they all find in his mind—nothing—casts some doubt. How can he save the Lego world if there is nothing in his mind?

Ah, but then we hear the final word from Morgan Freeman’s authoritative voice (as Vitruvius) and we are all convinced Emmett is in fact special if not the Special. It went something like this: “Most of us have to work hard to clear our minds. Some of us never are able to. But Emmett, you have something so rare—a complete blank slate. A totally empty mind.”

Vitruvius goes on to tell Emmett that he just needs to try; it’s his belief in himself that makes him the Special.

It’s true that sometimes I’m unable to carry on a simple conversation because my mind is playing out the next scene in my latest work-in-progress. There are times in the day when I feel like if I fit in another data-byte, my internal hard drive will crash.

It’s also true that I’m not able to write unless I have some of Emmett-brain. Sometimes I’m most productive when insomnia hits and my mind is cloudy from lack of sleep. Somehow, my characters come to life and my story unfolds as if it’s a movie playing in my mind.

Sometimes, my most productive writing sessions happen after a good hour of yoga practice.

But it hasn’t always been that way.

When I first started practicing yoga, in my twenties, I never appreciated meditative benefit. Since becoming certified—and turning 40—I’m embracing the Zen of yoga. At first, it was hard for me. I’d never been a good student of meditation. I used to shrug off the final Shavasana, skeptical of its benefit. I inherited my parents’ productivity gene and feel whole when I’m busy and getting things done. But now that I’m an instructor and will face a diverse class from varying student-journey pitstops, I know I will need to provide an environment that allows for spiritual healing as well as strengthening and physical healing.

One of my all-time favorite yoga classes was in Hawaii, in a small, mirror-less room facing a wall of palm trees through a floor-to-ceiling window. The pot-bellied, dread-locked instructor sat behind us in bright white tube socks, doling out instructions — in a voice like melted butter — on how to manipulate our bodies as if he were explaining to kindergarteners how to tie a shoe.


Yoga on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, ON

20141001_120513 20141001_121826

I don’t do yoga in front of a mirror anymore.

There are some poses I still cannot “do.” There are some poses I will never be able to “do.”

I focus on relaxing the muscles in my face as much as my breathing.

I begin class with the hope of finding or achieving something; but I end class by recalling a specific blessing in my life.

I now understand why the final Shavasana is the most important pose of the class.

It’s one of the only ways I can achieve an Emmett-brain. And then I can get some serious writing done.



At one of my fave writing spots, Coffee Planet in downtown Glens Falls

From Participant to Presenter

Yesterday, I returned from the DFW Writers’ Conference (DFWcon). It was my second DFWcon, and like last year, I was overflowing with inspiration while at the same time so overwhelmed with such valuable writing tips I wasn’t sure what to use first with my writing.

But unlike last year, I felt a new confidence as a writer—with my debut novel out in print rather than waiting to be signed with an agent and into the elusive and coveted “big-publishing-house route.” There was another significant difference this year. Not only was I a taker at the conference, soaking up all the strategies from the experts, I was also a giver. I was somewhat of an expert myself.

About a month ago, I’d emailed the conference director (the awesome Kirk Von Der Heydt) offering to present on the topic of self-publishing. I had acquired quite an education in the process of publishing my novel, and thought my story could help other writers. But, unsurprisingly, the schedule was full.

But then…

Before the conference officially started, word got around that there were cancellations. Two agents were unable to attend last minute. And at least two educational workshops were canceled.

My good friend and former Texas neighbor Veena Kashyap is to blame for what followed.

As roomies, Veena and I shared more than a bathroom as the conference weekend got underway. She also knew in good time that I had a presentation written and ready for an upcoming event in my hometown.

What happened next happened in pajamas early Saturday morning.

“You need to email Kirk,” Veena said. “Text Kirk. Call Kirk. They need presenters. They need to fill the slots. They’ll put you on the schedule.”

“You’re right,” I replied. “I should do that.” *yawn*

“You should do it right now.”

“I think I should find him and ask him in person.”

“Time is of the essence. You need to get to him as soon as possible.”

“You’re right.” *rubbing eyes*…*stretch*…*yawn*

*palm-slap mattress* “Get up, girl! I don’t know what you’re still doing in bed. What are you waiting for? Get up right now and email him.”

So I did.

By the time we got to the conference an hour later, Kirk still hadn’t responded to my email. And, frankly, I was perfectly willing to let it go.

But Veena wasn’t.

“Go talk to Jason,” she said. “He’s right in the lobby.”

“Okay,” I said, perusing my schedule, mentally organizing my day of passive observation.

“Go now!”

Pushy bitch, I responded silently and with affection as I went off in search of Jason (Kirk’s right hand man & founder of DFWcon). Jason directed me to Michelle, the “master scheduler.”

Opening remarks were beginning in just minutes. You can imagine what kind of pressure a “master scheduler” was feeling right then. And there I was, grinning with my book in my hands, offering to fill an empty slot.

“We already have a workshop on self-publishing,” she said. (I’m sure she had no interest in dealing with me or anything unexpected at that particular moment.)

But I wouldn’t give up. (In truth, I was a little terrified to report to Veena I’d failed.)

“Actually, that one is about formatting e-books. This is different. This deals with the process of self-publishing.”

Michelle gave me an exasperated look. Then a half-smile. “I usually vet presenters. I can’t let just anyone present…”

“I totally understand. Here is my card. Here’s my book. I’d emailed Kirk a month ago about my topic…”

Just then, Kirk swaggered up to Michelle in his bold black cowboy hat—looking more like Butch Cassidy than a fiction writer—wanting last-minute changes for his opening remarks. Michelle waved a hand at me, perhaps hoping Kirk could take the issue off her plate. I pitched my idea to Kirk in three seconds flat. He nodded and turned to Michelle.

“Okay, get me an index card with the information and I’ll make the announcement,” Kirk said, and turned on his cowboy-boot heel and left us.

*expectant smile at Michelle*

She gave a weary sigh and said, “Okay, I’ll give you that slot. Tomorrow morning at 9am.”

Veena was pleased with my report. (Whew!)

Opening remarks at a conference are usually unremarkable unless the information makes your heart gallop out of your chest.

Kirk’s voice boomed through the ballroom where over 350 listened: “There are a couple changes to the schedule…We’ve had some cancellations…We have a couple additions…Tomorrow at 9am in room E/F there is a new class on self-publishing by Johannah Spero.”



Veena beamed at me across the table like a proud mother. Gave me a thumbs up.

It’s hard to imagine I was able to enjoy the rest of the day, but somehow I managed. I tried not to think about what I had to do the next morning or how exactly I was going to do it while also trying to take full advantage of conference offerings. For the rest of the day, I was one of the crowd. Bouncing from workshop to workshop, connecting with my buddies in the hallway, eating a taco lunch during Jonathan Maberry’s awesome keynote, even pitching to an agent.

But I did leave early to work on my Powerpoint, using my blog post “A Year in the Life of a Book to Be” as a reference, so I could go to the networking mixer that night. At dinner before the mixer, I shared tidbits of my presentation with Veena and the rest of our group (shout out to Zetta Stevenson and Michele Shriver).

patio dfwcon

Patio dining at Italianni’s (left to right: Michele Shriver, Veena, me, Zetta)

“I’m going to open by saying that I’m by no means an expert on self-publishing,” I said.

“Don’t you dare say that,” Veena scolded.

“But, Veena, I’m not an expert. I had no idea what I was doing. I fumbled along, making a million mistakes as I went.”

“And that’s exactly why you need to share your story.”


“Nothing negative,” Veena said. “Use only positive language.”

The next morning at 9am in room E/F, I heard myself open with: “There are many ways to self-publish. If you talk to someone else who’s been through the process, they would have a completely different story. But this is my story. And I think it might help you…”

From there, I explained exactly what I did, who I hired (with costs), and the mistakes I learned from—taking them through my journey.




Photos courtesy of Veena Kashyap

There were about 350 attendees at DFWcon this year, and workshops overlapped and filled the six or so conference rooms at the Hurst Conference Center with coinciding time-slots. At any given time, there might be seven different talks going on, so attendees had plenty of options from which to choose throughout the day. Perhaps if it had been on the schedule or if it had been announced again, I would’ve had more of a crowd. But as it was, I presented to about ten people. In a conference room that could’ve held close to 100.

Which was fine by me.

After my talk, one woman told me, “You made me feel comfortable with self-publishing. And I hadn’t felt that way before.”

Later, I received Tweets:

“Thanks for a great class on self-publishing! So helpful!”

“Thanks for sharing your journey. So cool!”

I wanted to share my story not to add “DFWcon Presenter” to my resume, but to pay it forward and help other writers who are thinking of self-publishing. If I only helped one writer, it would’ve been worth it.

But it seems I helped at least three, if not ten.

All the better.

(And, yes, I’m hiring Veena as my publicist.)