I Look Everywhere for Writing Wisdom
By Annette Rey
I am reading a book on brain study (Too Fast to Think by Chris Lewis) and found great insight for writers or for anyone involved in a creative activity. If you can break down the elements that were present the last time you flawlessly wrote something then you can know what to look for to recreate successful writing sessions.
What this book has to say on the subject is spot on and worth your look-see.
Cesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer, calls it being in the zone. A dog is in the zone when he is focused and moving forward, not distracted by side issues. A dog can also be in a red zone. Then he is focusing, too, but usually on a target for his aggression. Hopefully, we writers aren’t dangerous when we are writing.
On page 104 in a section titled Flow and pulse: the way to sustainable creativity the author says that in positive psychology, Flow is the mental state when a person is immersed in a complete energized focus. In Flow the emotions are not just contained and channelled but positive, energized, and aligned. It is a state of being focused on the activity only, not even on oneself or one’s emotions.
The psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, gives six conditions that seem to be present when a person is in Flow. As I read this section I could directly relate it to the times I have been writing a virtually flawless piece. I was INSIDE my work. When I finished, it was like my being came back into my body, or like waking up from a deep sleep and just realizing the world exists. When I reread my work, I could say out loud, “Damn. This is really good!” When I am fortunate enough to be in this state, the writing comes as if automatically, easily, painlessly.
Therefore, when I read this section, I could totally agree that the six conditions needed to be present for a successful creative task leads to the deep focus and vice versa. See if you agree. Study and compare each item with your past writing experiences. Were each of these things present when you were deeply engaged in a writing session? And did the deep focus create the six conditions?
- Intense focus. You get a sense of clarity: you know exactly what you want to do from one moment to the other (the sentences flow) and from this you get automatic feedback (this feels right).
- You know that what you need to do is possible.
- The sense of time disappears (for me it’s like an hour later than I realized had passed).
- You forget yourself (I’m not even aware I’m typing. I have no sense of self, thirst, discomfort).
- You feel part of something larger (I suppose I’d call this an other-worldly feeling because I’m certainly immersed in the world I’m writing about).
- And once these conditions are present, what you are doing is worth doing for its own sake. (this last is very important. When I am finished writing a piece that has flowed in this fashion, the piece becomes a lasting, almost living, entity. It felt so right as I was creating it and it doesn’t lose that when I’m finished. So its worth stands by itself and my efforts are tied up in it).
He calls being in the Flow state a step into an alternate reality and I agree. In the state of Flow you are in habit mode and your existence is temporarily suspended.
To me, I imagine this to be like an artificially induced drug state. Isn’t it wonderful? Writers don’t have to take drugs to escape life’s troubles. All we have to do is concentrate and write.
I suggest you make a checklist of these seven conditions and review them before a writing session. Ask yourself if you believe each of the last six items.
- Do you know that what you are about to engage in is possible? I think this is critical because it discards any negativity. You must believe you are a CAN DO writer.
- Will time disappear when you are in a deep session? If you’ve been there before, believe you can repeat this.
- Do you forget yourself when you are writing? So, has the phone rung before when you are writing and you jump and have to ask, “What the hell is that?” Then you had forgotten yourself and your world.
- Do you feel part of something larger when you write? If so, then you believe your writing projects are important.
- Have you loved a finished piece like it is an old friend? Does it have worth in and of itself? Then you should take heart that you can repeat a creation like it again.
- Now to number one, the state of Flow – start writing and relinquish yourself. It’s just you and that piece of paper or that keyboard. Get into that focus, the Flow, the zone and all the next six things will occur.
And when you wake up out of that state you will reread your piece and say, “Wow! I did it!”
Happy, happy writing!