Getting in the Flow

The hardest part of my writing life is those long swaths of time when I’m not writing. It is easy for me to get a little sloppy with my attention, by which I mean, drift out of the flow. I love being in the flow. It’s really the only reason I write. If you’ve ever enjoyed writing, you’ve been in the flow too. When I’m in the flow, I’m not worried about tomorrow or regretting yesterday; I’m not thinking about results, I’m not comparing myself to other people, I’m just focused on the next interesting thought and the next interesting thought and the next interesting thought. When I’m in the flow, my job is to ask interesting questions and then listen to the interesting answers. There is no right or wrong in flow, no good or bad, just that which belongs in my story and that which does not.

So I like the flow. But then I stop writing and it is easy to believe that that which was flowing while I wrote has gone still. Being that I am an adult, it seems like there’s a bunch of things I have to do – my chores and appointments. In truth, I don’t mind doing chores, I don’t mind cooking dinner or going to the store or paying the bills, and if I made an appointment I’m usually happy to keep it. I just don’t like being out of the flow, and I’m not entirely sure that if I were in the flow I would want to attend to my chores and obligations because the flow sets its own course. In other words, the flow feels great, but is it practical?

Yes, it is. In fact, it is the most practical state of mind I can achieve. The flow is where opportunity is found. Whether I’m writing or vacuuming, being in the flow is how I attract new and interesting ideas. Ideas are a kind of opportunity. A new story, a new essay, or a new lecture always begins as an idea. I cannot manufacture, demand, or conscript these ideas. All I can do is get into the flow and wait for them to come, which they always do.

Then there are those opportunities that I spot in the world around me. When I’m in the flow, I’m curious and optimistic. When I’m in the flow, I’m not judging the world, I’m just interested in it. It is the perfect state of mind to notice the website, the article, or the book that will inspire me, assist me, or answer a question I’ve been asking. The flow is a supremely friendly state of mind, and all these things other people have created, instead of being in competition with what I’m trying to create, now exist to help me.

Finally, there are those mysterious opportunities, the unexpected email, phone call, or encounter on the street. Someone literally offers me an opportunity to speak, to teach, or to write. The more time I spend in the flow, the more often this happens. I admit that unlike thoughts and things I spot, I cannot perceive the direct link between being in the flow and getting a “lucky” phone call other than a consistent experience. By and by, I have had to conclude that one is born out of the other.

There is, of course, one other opportunity that is only available to me in the flow: the opportunity to be happy. This is the flow’s the first and last benefit and its one requirement of me. I do not get to be unhappy and be in the flow. I do not get to doubt or criticize or be afraid. To be in the flow, I must let the world be what it is, let myself be what I am, and find out what we will make together.

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Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.

A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

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The Whole of Creation

I have been writing and talking a lot lately about the flow. The flow has many names. Some call it the zone, others call it the vortex, still others the imagination or the muse. I like the flow because when you’re in it, the flow seems to have a momentum all its own. You know you’re in the flow as a writer when you feel as if you’ve entered a dreamlike state within which time loses its rigid hold on your awareness, and you forget to be afraid or to doubt yourself or to try hard. When you’re in the flow you don’t need to do anything but stay in the flow.

I think a writer could and should spend as much time as he or she needs learning craft, and learning about the publishing industry, and learning what makes a good character and good scene and all the rest. Yet no amount of study and workshopping and careful editing can replace the flow. What the flow provides for me as a writer is beyond my human skill.

The flow is more than a good feeling, though it is that for sure, and the pleasure of the flow should never be overlooked. The flow feels good for the same reason sex feels good. That good feeling is life’s friendly invitation to creation. Come make something with me, life says. But more than the pleasure of forgetting to be afraid or jealous and doubtful is the blissful division of labor. My job is to show up, be curious, be honest, be open, and then let the flow do the rest.

And it does. The flow is responsible for all the details I could not have predicted, is responsible for all the surprising turns of thought and story. The flow is what keeps me writing because I do not feel as if I’m working. The flow is what answers every question. As wonderful as it is to be in the flow, I must remind myself of what is my job and what is the flow’s job again and again and again. Easy enough to doubt a thing I cannot see or taste or touch or hear. Easy enough to believe I am alone at my desk, responsible for the whole of creation, stuck with a handful of seeds and no ground to plant them.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.indd

Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.

A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

Think Nothing

Sometimes when I’m having trouble rewriting, I think of the movie “Searching for Bobbie Fisher.” In one scene, the mentor, played by Ben Kingsly, is trying to help his prodigy student understand a particular chess puzzle he has set up for him. The student can’t see it. In a fit, Kingsly sweeps the pieces off the board and commands, “Now see the board.”

Don’t over complicate things. It can be very tempting while rewriting to start tearing your story up at the roots, to add new characters, kill old ones, or introduce fresh subplots. Not that any of these ideas should be off limits, but it is important to remember that a story is not a perfectly balanced series of scenes, but a stream of energy upon which your characters ride from event to event.

For instance, I cannot, no matter how often I have tried, think my way through a story that does not yet satisfy me. I have tried, and it is like trying to build a log cabin out of wet spaghetti. The intellect does not know what should come next in a story any more than it knows whether you want to wear the red shirt or blue shirt today. Your intuition, however, your heart, you desire—these know when a story is working and when a story isn’t.

And what I have noticed, particularly in rewriting, is that the parts of my story that work the least are those parts I tried to solve intellectually. I stepped out of the stream and tried to figure out what came next and so constructed a perfectly logical next scene, which, for no logical reason, simply didn’t work.

In rewriting, I go back to that which is true energetically to the story, knowing all that I need to find is always contained within it. After all, everything in your stories, just as in life, is connected. When writing or rewriting, clear your mind, sweep the pieces off the board, and find the story’s flow. A true beginning always leads to a true ending as long as you stay in the stream and follow where it’s headed.

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Life Itself

I changed my writing schedule today. Instead of writing in the afternoon I am now writing in the morning. Not that I never got work done in the afternoon, but my children get home from school just as I’d be getting warmed up and so the interruptions began and the flow would be interrupted.

The flow is very important. Writing is unlike any other work I have ever done in this way. I feel sometimes when I am writing as if I have plunged into a swift current. The ride can be exhilarating and interesting, but the engine moving everything forward is somehow separate from me. This is why writers often talk about characters hijacking their stories, or beginning a sentence and realizing by the end of that sentence that the story has changed completely.

I understand now that I both love and fear the current. The current is what draws me to writing and what, on my bad days, keeps me away from my desk. On the bad days I don’t trust the current at all. What if it leads me to a quagmire? Shouldn’t I know where I’m going before I jump in? On the good days, I’m happy to be along for the ride, and when it’s time to get out, there’s always a dock at the ready.

It’s great to learn about dialogue and plot structure and crisp sentences—these tools help you stay afloat when the water gets rough. But writing is more about trusting the current than all the technical know-how put together. Eventually you must release your hold on the shore, and even the most skilled navigators can strike a rock now and again.

I have wanted to write to be famous; I have wanted to write so people would think I was smart; and I have wanted to write to make other people happy. It is obvious why none of these are reasons to write, but what was not obvious to me until recently was that I wasn’t even writing to tell stories. Eventually, I, like everyone else, was going to have to learn how to let go of the shore once and for all. The closer I got to the water the more I understood that nothing I wrote was make-believe, that the current I called a story was actually life itself.

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