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.
“A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com