Writing in the flow

Writing about my prime time of 9 am yesterday made me think about the concept of flow. It feels as if I am most likely to experience flow at 9 am each day, and I even have a clock in my office stopped at 9 am to remind me of that feeling.

The concept of flow is often attributed to the work of psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. My understanding is that flow refers to the experience of being immersed in a task in a way that is so satisfying that you lose track of time. You are caught up in the flow.

My impression is that flow, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, so it is not necessary to read too much into it if you aren’t sure you have ever experienced flow or the only examples that come to mind are watching a movie or playing a video game, both of which can be enjoyable and deeply engrossing activities but don’t necessarily involve creating something new. At any rate, I know you can be highly creative and/or productive without experiencing flow.

Still, it is a nice concept to consider because it feels great to be immersed in a task, to get carried away by it. Dare I say it? To enjoy what one does! For some reason, this is reminding me of a line from a Seinfeld episode in which George Costanza says he always looks mad when he is at work because otherwise people think you aren’t working. It sometimes seems as if it is inappropriate to experience joy and satisfaction from work. Yet I am radical enough to think that everyone should find an activity that generates the experience of flow (or something like it), whether as a profession or as a hobby.

At any rate, I am most prone to experience flow when I’m writing. This fuses a bit with my interest in time management strategies because I have discovered that routine and momentum boost the likelihood that I will experience flow. To paraphrase “Field of Dreams,” if I build it (the space to write), it (flow) will come.

This also explains why I love writing first drafts the most. That is when I am most likely to get lost in the moment. Editing, on the other hand, is not conducive to flow. For me, it’s usually conducive to feeling grouchy and channeling self-doubt, not to mention requiring many stops and starts. On the other hand, writing new drafts without interruptions is when I can get lost in the moment.

When I got my first full-time job as a teacher, during my first (blissful) summer off, I got into a routine of writing first thing in the morning. I was working on a novel, and I always stopped each day, Hemingway-style, with a sense of what I needed to write next. I found the experience so rewarding that I got up at 6 am without hesitation. I just couldn’t wait to get back to the words.

I don’t always feel that same enthusiasm and satisfaction, and I don’t always experience flow when I write, but routine and momentum (and reducing interruptions and ignoring doubt) help.

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