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Last January I was excited to launch a course that would combine two of my great passions: writing and yoga. “The Yoga of Creative Writing” was a five week workshop that was designed to help writers overcome some of the most common writing blocks like procrastination, distraction, fear of the blank page and debilitating impostor syndrome. Utilizing yogic principles like ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truth) and svadhayaya (self-inquiry), I was hoping to teach writers how to be kinder to themselves, align with their highest values and establish a writing practice that really sticks, and more importantly, one that is enjoyable. But due to a new Corona virus variant Montreal was forced into another lockdown and it was yet uncertain whether schools too would remain closed. It seemed that everybody had bigger, and more important worries than writing blocks, including me, who was going through a divorce. To top it all, January 2022 had some of the coldest temperatures and I was cruelly dumped by a Brazilian man I had allowed myself to fall for. All I could do was curl up into a ball, cry myself to sleep, and eventually, call my mother.

My mum was gracious enough to listen to my desperate howling, but she also knew me better than anyone in the world. “I understand that it is hard for you right now,” she said in Hungarian. “You have always been a very responsible mother, but do you think you could take a month or two to look after yourself, and write?” She was right of course. Nothing has the power to make me as happy as writing. But just as the writers I designed my course for, I felt that writing at this difficult moment was a luxury I couldn’t afford when I needed to care for my daughters, pay the bills and put food on the table. My own well-being came third at best, and I was forgetting my own mantra that I was repeating regularly to my yoga students: it is impossible to give to others when your own tank is empty. And in January 2022 my tank was so empty that I was contemplating the darkest thoughts. “Can you afford it?” My mother asked. I didn’t feel that I could, but the alternative was too bleak to contemplate. I had to at least try. And so as soon as I got off the phone with my mum, I cranked up the heat, got myself under the covers and opened a blank page on my computer. Write woman, write, I repeated myself another mantra. Write whatever comes, in whatever form, or language. Just write.

Without the pressure to create a work of art, but with a more modest goal to just make myself feel a little better, the words began to pour out of me like water. It was every writer’s dream: the story was practically writing itself and all I had to do was keep up with the pace and capture the words on the page. Magic. By the afternoon I was a different person. I had completed close to 5,000 words of an experimental story and I was dancing to Rita. The next morning, I couldn’t wait to wake up and write. Again, the words seemed to flood the page and I was typing as fast as I could. On the third day, when the process repeated itself and I was nearing 18,000 words, I made a bold decision. I officially postponed “The Yoga of Creative Writing” course that was intended to teach others how to give their writing a chance, and decided instead to take two months off and give my own writing a chance.

To stay my course, I needed a writing routine. Adopting the principles I was about to teach others, I incorporated exercise, yoga and meditation breaks into my writing routine at regular times when I felt that my concentration was faltering. I started each day with ‘sacred coffee time’: a delicious coffee and an inspiring book, preferably in Italian. This would raise my energy and help me start the day on the right foot. No matter how heavy the subject I was writing about, the writing itself was always an enjoyable experience. I already knew that my concentration levels were at their peak early in the morning, so I would protect this writing time by turning all notifications off and say an unapologetic ‘no’ to social meetings. This simple practice had another unforeseen benefit. I quickly found out who were my true friends, and who were the people who expected me to be available to them at all times. As soon as I decided to honour my writing time and set clear boundaries, those ‘friendships’ died a natural death and I found myself lighter for it. By early March I had a first draft of a book. I set it aside so I could review it more critically, with a bit of a distance. I had written the pain of my disappointment with the Brazilian man out of my system; I had survived the cold, dark months of January and February while keeping my own inner light burning strong; I had danced, I had walked, and I had spent quality time with my daughters and friends. The book was a bonus.

By the end of the year every bone in my body ached to give my writing a real chance. I had a book on motherhood to write, three short stories I wanted to develop into a full-length novel, the humble beginnings of a solo play, and an ambitious idea for a Dante-inspired play I had already sketched out, in Italian. All these projects excited me more than any yoga course I was offering at the time, but writing wasn’t paying the bills.

But – have I really given my writing a chance to become a worthwhile and paid pursuit? I asked myself. The answer was an uncomfortable no. I had applied for a writing grant from the Canada Council for the Arts four times, but hadn’t explored grants from the Quebec Council for the Arts. I hadn’t applied for any writing residencies and I had been slacking on my submissions. Why? For an obvious reason: fear of rejections.

Grant applications took enormous energies to complete, and like most writers, I much prefer to write a story than to promote myself and my writing abilities. I had been rejected by the Canada Council for the Arts four times already and my submission page on Submittable was overwhelmingly dominated by “unsuccessful” attempts, and peppered with a few successes. To give my writing a chance meant that I would have to put myself out there in a way I hadn’t fully dared, continue to take the blows as they come, fall, rise, and try again. But success couldn’t come either, if I didn’t dare. And to dare greatly, is the bravest act any serious artist can take who wishes to live life in the arena, and not just watch it unfold from the comfortable seats where you are spared the humiliation of rejection.

And so I stepped into the arena. But the universe was kind to me and gave me a modest cushion: an unexpected, and generous helping hand from my oldest standing yoga client that enabled me to explore all the writing grants and residencies available to me, and apply to all of them. Relying on the same writing routine, I worked from early morning to late afternoon on writing grant applications and proposals for projects and continued to submit my work to literary magazines. For every rejection, I submitted two additional submissions. I was on fire. By March the results were in: not a single grant, not a single residency and not a single publishing.

Admitting defeat, I licked my wounds and picked up my painting gear and went to paint my friend’s fire escape stairs. Now I really needed the money. But as I was grinding the rust off my friend’s stairs, first in the snow, then in the heat, my Fire-Dragon spirit came alive again. I remembered how everything I had achieved in my artistic career I had done through walking an unconventional path, a harder path I had to carve for myself, because I had refused to give up on my writing, which was more than a ‘dream,’ but the oxygen to my soul. There, on my friend’s fire escape stairs, covered in black dust, I vowed not to wait for anybody’s permission to write, but do it anyway, even if the path would be harder to walk.

To scare myself back into the arena, I created an account with Patreon and committed to uploading material every week on Saturday. When the greeting video was done and I could officially begin to share my new artistic adventure with the world, panic set in: “What if I suck? How dare I ask for sponsorship? Who do I think am I?” And then my phone dinged. It was a message from my friend Ines: “I have just signed up to your Patreon. Now you have no choice but to do it :)” And so I did it. Every week I posted a new chapter of a book in progress and my small Patreon audience began to grow. It was hardly an income, but Patreon kept me on track with my writing, and aligned with my highest purpose: to inspire a positive change through writing.

My mini adventure on Patreon gave me the courage to submit “one last time” (so I thought) an application for a writing grant from the Quebec Council for the Arts, and later, from the Canada Council for the Arts. I had so little faith in their success that I concluded my application with an unusual line: “This project is too important to me and I will write it with, or without your help. With your help, obviously, writing will be a lot easier.” I wasn’t bluffing. I was already doing it. I carved myself time to write early in the mornings and protected this time as if my life depended on it. Early in July I was awarded a writing grant from the Quebec Council for the Arts, and in late August I was notified of another successful writing grant from the Canada Council for the Arts.

I will not lie to you. I cried. I couldn’t believe it.

I packed away my painting gear and canceled my yoga classes. On the night of the 31st of July, I could barely contain my joy, knowing that the next day I was going to rise up early and do what I love to do – and – get paid for it. The next day I sprinted out of bed, opened a blank page on my computer and began typing. Not terrified one bit, but as someone who had consumed twenty cups of coffees. Grateful, lighter, stronger. I was standing firm in the arena, but no longer covered in sweat and blood. As my mother said, “It is your time now, Imola. It is your time to write.”

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Thank you for supporting our community. I look forward to meeting you. Sat-nam, Imola