Reflections & Ruminations

  • Jacqueline Stuart

Finding Flow through the Act of Writing


Photo by Aaron Burden | Digitally altered by Jacqueline Stuart
Flow offers a sense of satisfaction in the act of doing a task.

Finding flow while writing is not only a desired altered state to achieve, but for me, it holds therapeutic benefits. As someone who is plagued by OCD, ADD, depression, anxiety, and chronic pain, finding flow during creative moments such as writing, helps to lessen these symptoms by enabling me to enjoy the moment of being one with the creative work.



A Wandering Mind



During flow, self-consciousness diminishes reducing the likelihood of worry, perfectionism and over thinking. The audience disappears and it is just me and my craft.

I get into psychological and physical trouble when my mind wanders, when I have seemingly nothing to do, or when a task is tedious and unfulfilling. Flow offers a sense of satisfaction in the act of doing a task. Often times, flow is aligned to skill and ability. Csikszentmihalyi (1997) offers a figure demonstrating this point. The author points out that optimal experience (i.e., flow) occurs when challenge and skill are matched. It is during such moments that “there is no space in consciousness for distracting thoughts, irrelevant feelings” (p. 31). If there is not enough challenge, then the task becomes boring, thus impeding flow. Likewise, if the task is too challenging, flow is difficult to achieve. For me, writing (and art) offers that perfect combination of challenge and skill. Writing does not come naturally to be. It is a skill that I have had to mindfully approach time and again, but as my craft improves so too does my flow.


Flow Diminishes Worry


...Noticing our inner states actually detracts from our involvement with flow.

During flow, self-consciousness diminishes reducing the likelihood of worry, perfectionism and over thinking (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997). The audience disappears and it is just me and my craft (Perry, 2009). In fact, it is during flow that my best work develops because I essentially stop getting in the way of the work. By this I mean, I don’t stop to analyze and second-guess myself in the middle of the process. Editing and reframing come later.

Interestingly, Csikszentmihalyi (1997) further explains that being in flow is not about finding, for example, happiness. The reason for this that noticing our inner states actually detracts from our involvement with flow. For me, the feelings of happiness or satisfaction occur after I exit flow and observe my accomplishments.



Ritual and Pauses


...There is a delicate line between optimum flow states while using mind-altering substances and feeling too “stoned” to find flow.

Perry (2009) highlights the connection between ritual and flow. What sort of rituals offer the optimum opportunity for flow? Waking up early, doing a quick wake-me-up workout while my coffee brews, then having my cup of coffee while I write is one of the rituals that I do that enable flow. Cannabis, too, allows for flow states to happen as it reduces my ADD and helps me to get more focused on my task. Of course, I am proponent of moderation and there is a delicate line between optimum flow states while using mind-altering substances and feeling too “stoned” to find flow.


Finding flow and being in flow is a fulfilling state. I am not worried about anything but the thing I am trying to accomplish in that moment.

Perry (2009) also highlights how to return to flow. It turns out that pausing my flow state quite literally in the middle of writing a sentence, helps me to return to the task at an interesting and challenging point. This allows me to reengage with the work and consequently return to a flow state. I always wondered why I often walked away from a written project mid-sentence, or in the middle of doing something within that project. As the author points out, this is done in part to allow the artist to mull over the task while away, which I inevitably do.


Finding flow and being in flow is a fulfilling state. I am not worried about anything but the thing I am trying to accomplish in that moment. In this sense, flow is therapeutic. My mind is not wandering off into self-doubt, self-criticism, anxiety, or sadness. My focus is on process and this for me has a “self-regulation” (Sexton & Pennebaker, 2009, p. 268) benefit that helps me to be on an even keel.


References

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997). Finding flow: The psychology of engagement with everyday life. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Perry, S. K. (2009). Writing in flow. In S. J. Kaufman, & J. C. Kaufman (Eds.), The psychology of creative writing (pp. 213-224). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Sexton, J. D., & Pennebaken, J. W. (2009). The healing powers of expressive writing. In S. J. Kaufman, & J. C. Kaufman (Eds.), The psychology of creative writing (pp. 264-273). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

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