The Flow

I’m in that writing flow, a preternatural existence where the writing process works exceptionally well for me. Permitting it to suck me in, I sit and read, edit, revise, and type. When I’m off the computer, I write in my head, making notes to myself. Sometimes I slip over to the computer, open the doc, make a few quick changes, and save it and close. I see the book as a completed whole. I feel its heft. Its shape fills my hands. I’m just refining the digital presence to match what I see and feel, what I know to be real.

Slipping back into the real world reminds me of being high. Colors are sharper and more vibrant. I feel more aware and in-tune, balanced and at peace. I think, I’m on a writing high, stoned on creativity. I’m sure there are some bio-chemical components released when I feel like this that reinforce the sensations, driving me to seek this experience again, itself developing into and generating a wheel of expectation.

Of course, it’s daunting and dismaying when that damn wheel tumbles over or freezes. If we’re good with coping with it, we develop approaches to fix it, oil the wheel and get it all turning again. Reading an two-year-old article posted to HuffPost, “Eighteen Things Highly Creative People Do Differently,” I’m surprised that I have all but three of these habits structured into my existence.

One area where I divert from those eighteen things is that I do like habits. I use habits to protect the creativity. Setting myself up to write at about the same time, with the same drink, at the same place, creates intentions and expectations for me, and frees me from others’ expectations for what’s going to happen during that time; they know I’ll be off writing. Then again, as the article suggests, I’m structuring my day to take advantage of my most creative and productive periods.

The second is that I’m not a risk-taker. I’ve taken risks, and I’ve broken bones, and gotten hurt and lost in all manner of ways. That, and my wife’s predisposition toward being cautious, has muted my risk-taking. Being honest with myself, though, I still have a huge self-confidence gap and remain insecure, another reason why I avoid risk-taking.

The other trait that I don’t do is surround myself with beauty, unless you can count my cats, wife and friends, and the natural beauty of southern Oregon that surrounds us.

In that HuffPost article, the author, Carolyn Gregoire, writes about the flow state that I wrote about, quoting Scott Barry Kaufman, who co-wrote a book about creativity. I didn’t know the flow state was actually a thing. I’d always known it existed, and that I can access it via deep thinking and concentration, not just in creative matters, but in other areas, too. It stands to reason that I’m not the first to experience it, but I’m embarrassed that I never sought more information about it.

Carolyn Gregoire and Scott Kaufman do a better job of describing the flow state than I did:

Creative types may find that when they’re writing, dancing, painting or expressing themselves in another way, they get “in the zone,” or what’s known as a flow state, which can help them to create at their highest level. Flow is a mental state when an individual transcends conscious thought to reach a heightened state of effortless concentration and calmness. When someone is in this state, they’re practically immune to any internal or external pressures and distractions that could hinder their performance.

You get into the flow state when you’re performing an activity you enjoy that you’re good at, but that also challenges you — as any good creative project does.

“[Creative people] have found the thing they love, but they’ve also built up the skill in it to be able to get into the flow state,” says Kaufman. “The flow state requires a match between your skill set and the task or activity you’re engaging in.”

The embedded link in Gregoire’s article will open an interesting TED Talk by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi about the flow state.

How about you, writers? Do you know this other-world experience in creating and being? Do you do these eighteen things like creatives do?

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