Writing the Wild Within: Part 5 – Why Fly when You can Soar?

Lean your face towards the sun.  Watch them.  They circle round and around, flying higher and higher.  That’s what they do.  And it’s most natural to them.

Red-tail hawks fly in thermal air currents.  Because it’s easy.  After all, why beat your wings, expending precious energy, when you can soar high in the heated, rising air?

And no animal likes to expend precious energy when there is an easy way to go about things.

There is an easier way to go about the tasks in your life.  And like the hawk, you can soar in the current of your writing  with the greatest of ease.  All it takes is a little practice.

This psychological state is characterized by feeling a state of bliss as you are immersed in the task of writing.  In fact, writing can hardly be called a task when you feel like this!  You lose all sense of time, and everything moves along effortlessly and unobstructed.

No.  You don’t have to take any kind of drug for this.  But I’m sure if chemists could invent a safe drug for this state it would be all the rage.

This blissful state of losing yourself in a task is called a flow, an idea pioneered by the psychologist Mihaly Cskiszentmihalyi.

He states that flow tends to occur when a person faces a clear set of goals (non-ambiguous) that require appropriate responses for their execution.  In essence, you can enter the state of flow by doing any activity: skiing, playing a musical instrument, reading a book, and of course, writing.

According to Csikszentmihalyi:

Flow also happens when a person’s skills are fully involved in overcoming a challenge that is just about manageable, so it acts as a magnet for learning new skills and increasing challenges. If challenges are too low, one gets back to flow by increasing them. If challenges are too great, one can return to the flow state by learning new skills.

Perhaps the state of flow can help keep us younger by keeping our minds more flexible.  It has been said that if you want to keep your neurons happy and healthy as you grow older you should continually learn new things.  Your neurons will grow by continually making new connections to other neurons.

Csikszentmihalyi found that in a survey of typical Americans roughly one in five respondents will say that this happens to them as much as several times a day, whereas around 15 percent will say that this never happens to them.

How can we enter into this state of flow in our writing projects?

First, do not listen to the editor in your psyche until you are done with a project.  The editor acts as a predator and will keep you from saying what you need to say.  The editor should be utilized at the end of a project where it can act first as Bob the Builder:  rearranging and restructuring content as need be, and then as a Pacman:  getting rid of all that verbiage that is not grammatically correct.

Second, thoroughly master the form you are pouring your writing mind into by reading, reading, reading, and more reading of this form.  If you want to write a novel, exhaust your favorite genre.  Likewise, if you want to write memoir, read good memoirs and bad memoirs.  Especially the bad writing.  A bad book is worth the price of a hundred writing workshops.

Personally I don’t believe perusing the Internet while you are writing is conducive to the state of flow.  Flow requires concentration, not jumping around.

Do you ever enter a state of flow?  And if so, how do you prepare yourself to enter into this state of consciousness?

Photocredit: © Ellen Wilson

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Writing the Wild Within: Part 4 – Standing Out From the Crowd

Ungulates do not want to stand out from the crowd.  They seek the protection of a herd.

Equally, certain species of fish do not want to stand out from the crowd.  They seek the protection of a school.

Large groups of animals can alert one another to danger.

But what is the danger when you’re a writer or artist?  The danger is being mediocre.

If your a writer or an artist, you need a niche.  You need to stand out from the crowd.

What is a niche?  Something that provides all the requirements you need to thrive.  A niche in the wild is the way an organism utilizes its habitat.  Endangered creatures usually have a very narrow niche, like the Kirkland’s warbler, a little song bird that only nests in concentrations of jack pine.

Of course you can be a generalist and still have a niche – like crows.  I like crows because they are very intelligent birds who have made their living off of humans – mainly our trash.  Or funky road kill.  But even many song birds eat funky road kill, but I diverge…

But if you are a generalist you will have to study many forms and techniques, as opposed to a specialist who narrows their interest.  So which is best?

I bring all of this to your attention because a recent post by Kelly Erickson of Maximum Customer Experience has got me thinking about all of this.  Read her post about the business that tries to do too much.  Very good post, indeed.  Kelly always has good insight into the nature of things and will often catch you off guard with her witty observations.

I started off my freelance career being a jack-of-all-trades.  Of course I am a photographer and writer, but I dabbled in blogging for others and thought of writing grants and press releases because I had written these at a previous job.

I wondered how I was going to integrate my photography into all of this.

I have since decided to specialize in article writing for online and print magazines, with photo packages, or not.  I am also building up my photo repertoire for stock photo agencies.  I feel this is the best utilization of my talents.

This is how I will stand out from the crowd.

But what about you?  Melissa Donovan, of Writing Forward, recently discussed her freelance success.  She has found her niche, and is reveling in her freelance freedom.

What is your niche?  Have you found success as a specialist or a generalist?  Or are you still investigating?

Next post will be about pouring yourself into specified forms.  And why you want to.


Photocredit: © Ellen Wilson

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Writing the Wild Within: Part 3 – Squirrel Away Your Energy

Columbian Ground Squirrel, copyright Ellen Wilson

If you will watch an animal in the wild you will notice it doesn’t waste any energy.  All of the available energy an animal has goes into finding food, finding shelter, mating, and feeding its young.  An animal really doesn’t want to waste any energy, because the less energy it has the less chance it has for survival.

We human animals rarely think of our life in these terms because we live in civilization, and we feel protected and safe.  But it pays to think about how we spend our energy because sooner or later that great equalizer, that great stalker – Death, will cut us down.  Of course we spend a lot of time deluding ourselves that Death won’t cut us down, but that is another story.

It pays (literally, because that is the currency that gives all the goods we need for survival) to think about how you spend your precious energy.  Pay attention to your energy cycle, or when you feel more concentrated or have the best energy.

I squirrel away my best energy in the morning.   This is when I work on my novel.  I like this slightly dreamy state for working with fresh material imbued with my imagination.   At this time of day it is just me and the characters of my work dancing in my head.

And then the dream ends.

In the world of freelancing it is usually feast or famine.  You rarely can pace yourself with just the right amount of work for yourself.  It isn’t like the Three Little Bears, and it is never just right.  Usually you have to much, or too little, and if it is just right, get ready for it to change to either or.

Then there is the added layer of social media and social networking – this takes energy too.

Recently Michael Martine, author of Remarkablogger described how bloggers should run in packs, like wolves, to get the most effectiveness out of working together as a group for common and individual goals.  I have always thought this makes sense because humans are social animals and we usually don’t operate in isolation.

To demonstrate how this operates, Chris Garrett picked up on Michael’s blog idea and suggested on Twitter that everyone come together and communicate under the Authority Blogger forum.

This is why we have civilization in the first place.  So we can come together and accomplish mutual and individual goals.  It takes far less energy doing things this way than operating alone.

Photo Credit:  © Ellen Wilson

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