Getting into flow

Hello gentle reader, today I am posting about writing. Slowly I am managing to get into the groove of what I call ‘free writing’, writing with a loose wrist and a pleasantly disengaged conscious mind, as inspired by the writings of Natalie Goldberg. I will borrow from the widely respected psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi to refer to the process when it is going well as flow, and I am coming to recognise when I am in flow mostly by recognising when I am not. It’s a slow process of determination, the equivalent of getting to know what’s in a dark room by slowly backing in,  waving your arms behind you. It might be all arse-end about, but it’s reasonably effective, even if a few things do get knocked over in the process.

So Tuesday night at about 11pm I hit flow, probably because I knew that the gig was up, and I really needed to get to sleep in preparation for an early start. This seems to be an important part of the process -  writing in strange or inconvenient places (lying face down in bed) and at incovenient or ‘peripheral’ moments; for example, when I really should be doing other things. Important things. It is like I have to sneak up on the moment in order to trick my conscious mind into a state of comfortable distraction. 

So it’s a delicate balance, but when the mind is suitably distracted, and I am suitably settled, I can get in some serious pen-stroke miles. Of course, I don’t get it right most of the time. I get pretty anxious about it if I try to get into flow too directly, or confront the writing moment too, well, frontally. This is partly why I haven’t settled on a writing desk yet: my glass writing desk is covered in crap, and nothing at home seems to stay clear long enough for me to use it.

I also find that it can be a challenge to make my mind go quiet, in order to devote serious production time to writing, when I find reading or watching television superficially more relaxing after a busy (regular) work day. Writing is hard work for neurotics and non-neurotics alike, and then there is the nasty little question posed by my good friend Anna Johnson, the author of a series of excellent books about architecture and design (for example this): do I actually have anything to say?

I won’t try to answer that one here. Chances are you have already formed an opinion, and I wouldn’t want to plead my case. Don’t want to come off all needy, if you know what I mean.

On being in flow

I have successfully banished my writer's block, and I am feeling positively incendiary. I feel like I have been circling around a method of writing practice, slowly zeroing in on the sweet spot. This process is inspired at least in part by the delightfully neurotic and generous frankness of Anne Lamott's 'Bird by Bird'; and to a lesser extent by Natalie Goldberg in 'Writing Down the Bones', where she takes a slightly more Zen approach, with less swearing.
The emphasis in Goldberg is on 'first thoughts', and in writing in an unfettered manner, with your whole body attuned to the pen and the paper. I can relate to this mostly through suffering (often enough) from the opposite condition - writing in a constrained and straight-jacketed way, using my conscious mind far too much, which means working against the subconscious or unconscious. Thinking rather than doing.
While Goldberg speaks of the hand and the pen, I have expanded her observations to include the hand and the keyboard. I can touch type at about 80-90 words per minute, and to do so feels like an unconscious and fluid process, so I mix up hand writing (longhand) with typing and the occasional speaking into a recording device. At the moment I am buzzing, and I feel like doing all three at once.
You may have noticed that I have also been working on the peripheral parts of this website, streamlining the story I tell about myself to focus more intently on the writing. The writing's the thing: everything else is secondary. All in all, despite being buried here in mid-winter in Melbourne, it feels like a time of renewal and change: a Springtime of the soul. Let's see if I can sustain this fertile and provocative frame of mind.