Thoughts on Writing, Flow and Quotes

mihaly flow

IT NEVER CEASES to surprise me, how difficult putting one word after another can be. Sometimes the words fly onto the screen so easily it’s disgusting, as if my hands are operating independently of thought. I swear my brain might be in my hands.

Then there’s the times, when putting a sentence together seems like the most complicated struture known to mankind, that even a team of engineers would walk away from, terrified and confused at the syntax, the vocabulary and everything else possible, shaking their fists at you, calling you a semi colon, the c-word of all writers putdowns.

That brings me on to the concept of flow and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a topic I’ve touched on before. Despite having the most difficult last name to remember in human history, a spelling bee nightmare, Mihaly fathered the concept of flow, or the mental state of being in the zone. In writing terms I’ve been there, where every touch of the keyboard is in perfect harmony with the mind, and the story, poem or article comes out voluntarily, apparently ecstatic to be released. It’s such a strange phenomenon though. Why does it occur sporadically? One night I wrote 1000 words and couldn’t have been happier with the result, needing no editing beyond spelling. Tonight I wrote 2000 words and while not dissapointed, the story didn’t appear on page as I’d like, an idea I’d had for some time too.

Despite the difficulty, I still feel happy that I’ve written something, but not as happy as if I’d written something that seemed more organic. But as the saying goes, no writing is bad writing. In Hemingway’s words “sometimes it’s like drilling rock then blasting it out”. And while that is exceptionally true, those times I trip and stumble over words, when I go back, there never seems to be the same magic there, no matter how much I edit. Is that just the way it is? Ultimately, not every creative output can be classic, or exceptional, or necessarily anywhere near it, and dealing with that is key to moving forward and improving for me, as much as anything else. One thing Mihaly doesn’t say is that you can be in the flow 100% of the time. So that rules that out :/

What are your thoughts on drilling the bedrock, or being in the flow? Is it just a case of writing twenty things and at least a couple will be good?

Some food for thought:

The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” ~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

3 Comments

  1. You’re referring to every writer’s dream AND nightmare: one is meeting a challenge or deadline, completing an article or a short story; the other is staring for half-an-hour at a piece of paper or a screen with only three word on it. But I agree what you write is just as important (maybe more important) as (than) how much. Those three words might be revolutionary.
    I’m sure everyone can think of a few examples, especially on Valentine’s Day.

  2. This is so very true! I wonder on these same lines so often when I sit back to review my handiwork….in some cases I already know it is what I had envisaged and so requires only a perfunctory edit. In other cases, I know the moment I complete the piece that I have failed to do justice to the idea which had found me…..the words and thoughts are all there, but the magic, the connectivity, the links are missing….In the end, satisfaction derived from even the few and far between instances of the first manage to outweigh the more frequent bouts of disappointment with the output. And the pen never stops…..

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