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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16 thoughts on “Writing the Wild Within: Part 5 – Why Fly when You can Soar?”

  1. Ellen, gives a whole new perspective to going with the flow. 🙂 I can honestly say that I have found this to be personally true. Last week I was on fire. I had lots on my agenda, and every day a clear set of goals. I kicked out the Critic, and the Editor (I mean literally talked out loud to them, threw them out and locked the door) and got to work. While some may find this crazy, it worked. I flowed all week.

  2. @Vered – Yes, you are a very prolific writer, I can see how you can easily soar.

    I think people can get into the flow have a much easier time of writing. Maybe we should teach this in school. There are as many students that hate writing that hate math. But think of it, we all talk. And if we all talk we can all write.

    @Karen – Hey, that’s great! I have a real hard time with the editor. Especially when I get depressed. Then it really knows it has me. Damn thing.

    That is a cool way to deal with unconscious processes. Maybe I will give your method a try.

  3. You know I like this post.

    Flow is a friend. I love the quote you used about challenges. I heartily agree.
    I have so many ways to get into flow. Lots of tricks, unplug, dance myself into it a bit, and many others. But it is true: Setting up a challenge and then going after it is a great way to become intimately involved with flow. Its ups, and its downs. 🙂

    Janice Cartier’s last blog post..Small Steps and Beginnings

  4. I was raised in a very artistic household. I was constantly creating stories, drawings, models, crafts. Or I could be found singing, playing the piano or the guitar. Flow just happens. It is simply part of who I am. What has happened on very rare ocassions is a complete out surreal experience where I am no longer concious of my physical body. I am ‘one’ with the painting or song or story. It doesn’t last for long, because as soon as I put thought to the experience, poof, it’s gone.

    Urban Panther’s last blog post..Whatever you do, don’t go there

  5. @Janice – What a great idea, the tricks you mentioned. I will have to give some of them a try. I find flow hard to get into when there are a bunch of people around. I wonder if anyone else has that problem. I wonder if it’s a private thing.

    @Urban Panther – It sound like you learned this at a real young age, and is really embedded in who you are. Putting thought to the experience disrupts the experience. Wow. That is very interesting. It defies logic and you can’t analyze it.

    @Barbara – Yes, it makes “work” not seem like work. I like this experience too. I am always searching for it. But I guess when you search for it you lose it, like Urban Panther says concerning thinking about it.

    Thanks for all the great comments everyone. I learn so much from my readers.

  6. Ellen,

    For me the flow is a very focused thing, so as long as I am by myself I can sink into it very easily and then once I am there the house can burn around me and I wouldn’t know. But I can’t get into to it very easily if there are a lot of distractions around me. I need the focus around me to get there in the first place.

  7. You have such an interesting way of seeing life. This is beautiful and insightful. I really like that excerpt about flow and challenge — very true. This is perfectly timed for me; thanks so much.

    When I feel the flow, it makes me so happy, like I am finally doing something write. (Mental finger slip there; I meant ‘right’ of course.) My problem is, all too often, I go back later and hate what I wrote, and thousands of pages have been shelved as a result of that. I am a terribly harsh critic. I think one day, or I pray at least, that I am just going to have a flood of material wash out onto the world once someone says, “Wow, I really love this, what else do you have?”

    Jaden @ Screenwriting for Hollywood’s last blog post..Write a Screenplay in One Month: Week Zero

  8. I also call this the zone or zen. Nothing beats getting into that state of mind while working on a project. Time just evaporates and you totally lose yourself. Wish I could turn it on and off at will!

    Melissa Donovan’s last blog post..A is for Apple

  9. I haven’t experienced that feeling in my writing yet. But I do get it when I’m painting.

    I can make the pigment and water dance on the paper, wherever I want. I’m in the zone, I just go haywire. I’m wreckless, I just splash the paint on, but it dosen’t worry me, because I know I can do no wrong..

    After I’m done (several hours later), I’m mentally exhausted. I feel like I’ve just written and advanced calculus exam in university.

    That feeling doesn’t happen often, and it doesn’t last forever. But when I got it…I really REALLY GOT IT.

    (Mabye this is what drugs feel like to addicts!) 🙂

    Friar’s last blog post..My Dog Basil is So Special

  10. @Wendi – I know exactly how you feel. I am the same. I cannot function with the TV on, or anything else. It’s really hard for me anyone disrupts me, and then I have to get back into it. Of course I only have so much energy during the day, and if I get disrupted it gets harder and harder to get into it. Now that summer is here and my daughter is out of school…you know how it is.

    @Jaden – No, don’t be too harsh on yourself! I’m sure much of what you write is brilliant. Your website is wonderful and insightful. You know how I love Sunday Screen Writing Day. Good stuff. I think writers are their worse critics. And thanks for saying that about me, that makes me feel good.

    @Melissa – Yes, flow is quite ancient and is what Zen is all about. Being in the now and that stuff people talk about. Chikszentmihalyi just applied it to psychology. I think if we understand ourselves better we can get into more easily. Also if you can’t, you can still write. I never wait for inspiration, I just do it. Getting something down is more important than making something up.

    @Friar – “I make the pigment and water dance on the paper.” Very poetic. I like that. This is the second time you started writing poetry on my blog! Most excellent. Whatever you are in love with is usually where the flow goes. It pours into it. Like your painting dancing on the paper. I could use one of your winter scenes right about now. It is hotter than hell here and soon to be hotter. Yuck.

  11. @Ellen

    You and Kelly both…accusing me of Poetry.

    (Don’t tell anyone else, I could lose my “opinionated guy” status! 🙂

    As for weather, you can have ours. We’re barely getting to the mid 70’s, on some days. And it’s been damp and wet…rain every 2nd day.

    Funny, how different our weather is (even though we’re not that far from Michigan, as the crow flies).

    Friar’s last blog post..My Dog Basil is So Special

  12. Friar,

    Wow. We only live around ten hours apart. I think. Ten hours is pretty far for the crow. Where ever the elusive Splat Creek Ontario is. Somewhere in the north, eh? Awful black flies up there. One of the reasons I’m glad I left the UP. Too many bugs for this Southern MI person.

    Yeah, you are hiding behind the crab exterior. Don’t worry. I got it all figured out. hehe. Remember, I live with a double Cancer. Do I know crabs! Crabby, crab, crabbiness. There are very many excellent Cancer writers. Like Hemingway, for instance. Also, may actors are crabs. Something I found interesting. It must be something about emitting all those emotions.

  13. My flow is easy to find, but only without distractions. It’s kind of hard. I live in a noisy neighborhood, run a preschool, and have two children. When I do have an opportunity, I jump on it like a coyote on a squirrel, open up THINK (an application that turns off all others except the clean white sheet in front of me) and SOAR.


  14. Writer Dad – I don’t like distractions either. We also live in a noisy neighborhood, but I can’t believe you can write much less think with running a preschool! My hat’s off to you.

    “Jump on it like a coyote on a squirrel.” Good analogy.

    I don’t have any applications that turns off all others. I have to be disciplined and do that myself. Which is hard.

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