Friday, May 9, 2014

I Got the Writing Monkey on my Back

Writing can be a difficult undertaking. You spend a lot of time alone, in your head going over things that don’t exist except there in that brain of yours until you commit it to paper or computer screen. You have to accept and deal with rejection, a saturated market, and very low pay for long hours. Why am I doing this to myself!?  - I am doing this because I am an addict and what I am addicted to are those incredible jags of blissful joy I experience when I fall into that groove and the world disappears as I completely go there - to that place in my mind, where my story lives. I am in my brain in this place it’s created and my fingers are furiously tapping out words, flowing onto my screen, filling it unhindered with sentences and then paragraphs. I am alive with my characters, feeling the rain or the sun on my face, smelling the scent of a birch forest, newly mown hay or a battlefield.
My characters on occasion will do things not in any draft that I’d come up with. For a moment I will go, “Where did that come from?” and then go okay and keep going because often it works with the story or makes it better. I had one character outlined to be with Fellow C, but when I got into the groove and was progressing with the story, she showed me whom she wanted and it wasn’t Fellow C at all, but a charming side character I’d created for credible historical background and it was beautiful and meaningful, more so than it would have been with Fellow C.
I don’t want to leave this state and am trying to get back to it as often as I can. Sometimes there are days when I can’t into that grove and I feel like that last kid in the Pied Piper of Hamlin, who wasn’t fast enough and he’s knocking at the door, begging to be let in. When those doors open and I enter that state of creativity it is one of my greatest joys and it keeps me coming back to write more.
It so happens that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a professor of psychology has defined this state of being and he calls it “The Flow”.  Athletes experience this as well, Japanese martial artists refer to this state as “mushin no mushin”- mind without mind, Chinese Taoist call it “Wu Wei” – without effort.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his colleague Jeanne Nakamura came up with a list of things that happen when one is in the flow. 1) You experience focused and intense concentration. 2) Action and awareness merge. 3) A loss of reflective self-consciousness. 4) A sense of personal control or agency over the situation of activity. 5) A distortion of temporal experience, one’s subjective experience of time is altered.  6) Experience of the activity is intrinsically rewarding also referred to at the autotelic experience.
According to Csikszentmihalyi three things need to happen to create the flow. 1) One must be involved in an activity with a clear set of goals and progress. This adds direction and structure to the task. 2) The task at hand must have clear and immediate feedback. This helps the person negotiate any changing demands and allows them to adjust their performance to maintain the flow. 3) One must have balance between the perceived challenges of the task at hand and your own skills. You must be confident in your ability to complete the task at hand. There is also a cycle: Apathy, worry, anxiety, arousal, Flow, Control, Relaxation, Boredom.
I will share some links and videos on my Facebook page if you’d like to further investigate the wonderful work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. I leave you with a quote from a Titan of a writer.
People spend a lifetime thinking about how they would really like to live. I asked my friends and no one seems to know very clearly. To me it's very clear now. I wish my life could have been like the years when I was writing 'Love in the Time of Cholera.'   Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The Wrath of Aphrodite: Book One by C.G. Williams


Tiffinie Helmer said...

Loved this! To me, there is no greater high that hitting that "flow". Great information.

DeNise Woodbury said...

Thanks Carmen, Zen-the scientific explanation.

Love me some films, staff said...

Thanks ladies!

Lynn Lovegreen said...

Very cool explanation of flow! It's the reason most of us write, I suspect. :-)

Jae Awkins said...

Awesome - thanks, Carmen!

Love me some films, staff said...

Thank you all! I get by with a lotta help from my writing buddies.

Karen McCullough said...

Yes, that! Good explanation of what makes us writers - when there's no other rational reason to do so. We certainly don't do it for the fame, the glory, or the wealth!