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.

Why I write: a flawed explanation

I write because I love the angle of the wall as it meets the ceiling, just over there near the head of that black timber window. I write because I love the cold, flat grey light of winter, the stillness of those ugly trees in the chilly midday air, and the way Melbourne’s footpaths change from grey to black under a light fall of rain. I write because I love a messy house, because I hate housework, because I hate going to the supermarket on a Saturday and because I want to exist long after I have turned to dust. I write to remember that part of my day is worthwhile, even while some gets wasted; I write to remember to take it easy, to take it long and low and to draw out the strokes of my lazy afternoons.

I write despite having no ideas about what to write. Having an idea for a story is like having an idea for a poem: it doesn't lead anywhere in itself. It is merely the conscious mind attempting to take control and set the agenda. It is not productive. I seem to get this with poetry more than prose: I begin a poem because I find the fragment of a poem in my mouth and on my tongue, a stray association of words that has sprouted like a seed from my subconscious. I should try this more with prose.

Story ideas are a red herring. They miss the point. They are ‘about’ and not ‘of’. They are desperate attempts to herd fish when the real game is a shotgun blast in a salad bowl. If an idea has value it will emerge from the seeds of free writing. If it does not it will not: something else will emerge instead. Something strange that will take root and grow out of the fertile soil of steady production. And production is everything: to write, and to write and to write.

So I write through interruptions, through rain storms, and through the beats and chimes of this drawn out Friday afternoon. I write through application and concentration. I write through the eye of a needle, threading each sentence through the eye just one word thick, one word at a time. Sometimes I write through a fine, white gauze I call Mental Muslin.

I write imperfectly and impatiently. I write enough for now, and then some more for later. I write up and I write down, and I am working on writing sideways as well, but I am not there yet. 

I am therefore I write, but the am came first.