The flow is what some refer to as being “in the zone,” that marvelous state of being when time seems to stop and everything disappears around us while we immerse ourselves in our work—in my case, in the fictional world of my characters.
Does it happen all the time? No. But when it does, it is absolutely wonderful. Writing becomes a transcendent, almost spiritual activity.
According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience and other books on this subject, people are happiest when they're in the flow, which he defines as a state of concentration or complete absorption in an activity. Or, “the result of intense concentration on the present.”
I have found that the more often and faster I write, the more I put my ego aside, and the more relaxed I am, the easier it becomes to reach the zone. My major problem is that I usually edit as I write, meaning that my left brain keeps intruding. Worrying about words, verbs, adjectives, etc. inhibits flow. There’s nothing wrong with editing, of course. The problem is editing and creating at the same time.
For me, editing while creating can result in anxiety. Anxiety, in turn, can be a huge form of distraction. Editing while creating implies that I’m focusing on the end product instead of the process, on impressing the reader with perfect words and turns of phrases instead of letting go and trusting “the soup.” In short, it means focusing on the future instead of the present. This, in turn, means that the ego is in the way, and in a state of perfect flow, there’s no ego and no anxiety present.
I always try to do things to facilitate and increase concentration. I write in the mornings, when my mind is rested and at its full potential, and when I’m alone and the house is quiet. I turn off the internet. I don’t answer phones unless it’s an emergency. I listen to an atmospheric movie score with headphones to help block the outside world. When I’m feeling unusually distracted at home, I go to a café. I find that the noise from people’s conversations around me paradoxically help me focus like music does. To diminish productivity anxiety, I don’t set myself a minimum number of pages at a time. Instead, I tell myself, “Okay, for the next two hours I’m going to <em>be</em> with my novel.” This, believe it or not, has been a major factor in reducing my anxiety. I also say a little mantra to myself: “Trust the soup, enjoy the journey.”
What about you? What do you do to experience the flow?
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About Mayra Calvani
Award-winning author Mayra Calvani has penned over ten books for children and adults in genres ranging from picture books to nonfiction to paranormal fantasy novels. She’s had over 300 articles, short stories, interviews and reviews published in magazines such as The Writer, Writer’s Journal and Bloomsbury Review, among others. A native of San Juan, Puerto Rico, she now resides in Brussels, Belgium.
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