According to Wikipedia:
In positive psychology, flow, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.
I do love flow. It's why I read, and indeed for many years I simply could not sleep unless I'd achieved at least half an hour or so of reading flow. It's why I play musical instruments in ensembles when I can, for the magical moments that I used to describe as 'transcendence'. For a long time, though, it wasn't why I wrote. Experiencing flow in writing is a relatively new thing for me, that has started to occur as I've gained confidence and self-assurance in my writing. When it does happen, it's precious.
According to my flighty, frustrating brain, these are the conditions for flow state when it comes to writing:
1) It must be dark out.
I've always done my best work at night. I got my bachelors degree on the strength of essays written after midnight, and have become resigned to the fact that this is simply how I operate. This means - particularly here in the UK - that I write significantly more in the winter months than I do in the summer.
2) I must be uninterrupted.
Obvious, really. I can't get into flow state if people are nudging me out of it. This also means...
3) There must be no danger that I will be interrupted.
This one is significantly harder to achieve. Being alone in the house almost qualifies, but I've got to know when people are coming back, and that's not always enough. Better is for everyone to be asleep. You can see a sort of circular feedback starting to appear: do I write better late at night because it's dark, or because everyone else is asleep? Do I actually need the dark or do I like it simply because it means 'uninterrupted time' to me? Either way, I can't get into flow state if I'm on edge that someone may jolt me out of it.
4) I have to feel like my time is unlimited.
I can't get into flow state if I'm clock-watching. I'm in great envy of people who can get up early and write before work. I just can't... if I enter flow state I'll lose track of time, and if I don't, I just won't get anything done. And also:
5) I can't need to function afterwards.
This is also why I've banned myself from reading fiction before work. If I slip into flow state I'll be half-stuck in the book and unable to concentrate for the rest of the day: the pull of the story is too strong. The same goes for writing. Last night, even though all I had to do was drop off, the flow state was hanging around and left me dozing restlessly when I should have been sleeping. Before work, flow robs me of the ability to focus for the rest of the day. I find it hard enough to concentrate already!
My writing time is both precious and precarious. In the summer, with long bright evenings and a more wakeful family, it diminishes. Now, with autumn gathering and the nights growing longer, I can feel it expanding. I can start writing earlier, but I will have to be careful not to have too many nights like last night when flow makes me its own for hours at a time. I already walk a fine line of sleep deprivation, unable to shake the habit of, and desire for, my long quiet evenings. Hallowe'en is coming, and with it NaNoWriMo, and I feel the desire to slip into evenings of flow growing once again.
|Post-reading daze, 1989. Photo: NR.|
The book I am holding is Lynette Winters' "My Dog Eats Mangoes".
We've got two major family health crises unfolding at the moment (neither is me, I am suffering nothing worse than an autumn cold) and I'll admit that flow is a kind escape from thinking about those, too.