I’ve been reading a book titled FLOW by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (obviously a snappy pen name) about “the psychology of optimal experience.” Huh? So they’re calling it “flow” now? Guess I’ve missed a lot since the days of my randy youth in the Paleozoic era.
No, seriously. I bought the book (for 50 cents at the library discard sale) because when I think of “flow” — henceforth written FLOW in this blog– I think of writing. Or beer kegs. Or maxi-pads. But mostly writing. You know that feeling of knowing exactly what you’re doing without really thinking at all? When all the words you’re looking for click into place a split-second before you write them down? When your story comes to life without a hitch, and all you need to do is get the words on paper as fast as you can?
Me neither. I mean yes, it does happen, but not nearly as often as I want it to. When it does happen, though . . . Ah, paradise. I guess that’s what Mr. 15-syllables means by “optimum experience” (although, flow it, the Paleozoic interpretation of flowing is still pretty appealing). Unfortunately, the author isn’t interested in FLOW as it occurs in writing so much as it does in rock climbing and surfing. Presumably he clurned out his book while hanging ten on the waves at Big Sur.
Even so, being a writer with zero interest in surfing, I began to think about FLOW in terms of my profession and passion, and perhaps yours, in which case you probably have your own name for this phenomenon. Mine is “flying”. I call it that because when it happens, the moment of perfect inspiration when I’m writing feverishly without really thinking at all, when my left brain is shut off and words tumble out of my right hemisphere in a welter of creativity, it feels like absolute freedom. At those times I am the air. I am the sea. I am Writer, hear me roar . . . Well, you get the point. And when the moment passes and I finally take a breath, I find that four hours have gone by.
Yes! Yes! you say. You know what I’m talking about! The orgasm of the mind! The perfect wave, Mihaly! The thing is, however, that this moment, this blissful state in which FLOW overtakes us, is elusive. It comes and it goes. And I, for one, want to have more of it. I want to corral it, confine it, control it, perpetuate it. I want to roll around in it and rub my hands together like a silent movie villain, shouting, “Mine! All mine!”
Is that wrong? I ask guiltily. Isn’t that something like caging a wild creature and fitting it with a choke collar?
Surprisingly, no. At least I don’t think so, because I’ve found that the more I write, the more frequently FLOW occurs. There are damn few benefits of age — believe me, I know –but this is one of them. And because of this equation that I’ve discovered (frequency arrow FLOW equals SCORE!), I really do believe it’s possible to achieve FLOW at will — if not permanently, then at least consistently, and often.
At the risk of sounding like a Paleozoic pedant, I’ve analyzed the times that I’ve experienced FLOW in my work (as I’ve mentioned, this is happening with greater frequency these days, possibly because my brain is hurtling toward senility), and I’ve come up with six conditions that foster it. In a nutshell, here they are: 1)Write every day. 2) Write at the same time every day. 3) Use an outline. 4) At the end of a writing session, create a thumbnail description of the next scene you’re going to write. 5) Write fast. 6) Write badly.
Since no one likes a 200-page blog entry, I’ll spare you the details for the moment, but I will explore the above concepts in some depth in future installments. I know I’ve been spotty about posting, but I’ll try to be diligent about a weekly entry. Who knows? I might catch some FLOW and ride that wave to optimal experience. It can happen.