When it flows

When humans write, certain things happen in our brains that help us do what we do. The more we write, the more we train our gray matter to blot out distractions.

Fluffy's in the yard, somewhere.

Fluffy’s in the yard, somewhere.

Rather than think about the laundry that isn’t getting done or the grass that’s drawn the attention of the Home Owner Association’s lawn Nazi, we focus on getting our fictional hero into or out of a jam. Alternatively, instead of focusing on paying bills or ironing shirts, we zero in on a recount of the day Uncle Rupert got stuck under the house trying to rescue the neighbor’s cat, which turned out to be a possum.

Our brains learn other coping skills, too. Like ignoring hunger pangs, monotonous noises, even uncomfortable clothes. Once we’re finally on task and the words have begun to flow, it can become very hard to stop. If you know the flow, then this will be all too familiar:

mad“Yes, dear! I’ll join you in a little while. I just have to finish this paragraph.”

Of course, the paragraph turns into a page; the page morphs into a scene, and just about the time you realize you can completely wrap up the chapter with just a tiny bit more work, you detect the sounds of an aggrieved spouse flipping through the Yellow Pages in search of a divorce attorney.

If this hasn’t happened to you yet, just keep writing and it will.

Fortunately for me, my marriage has survived such flows. Most recently, however, there haven’t been any. I’ve allowed myself to be consumed in non-creative stuff such as taxes, lesson plans, and other worthy commitments. (I won’t dwell on the amount of time spent on FaceBook or “research.”)

For every writer who goes on a tear and becomes so immersed in an evolving tale, there must be thousands of readers who experience something similar. Who hasn’t been so absorbed by a story at one time or another that they just couldn’t stop reading?

man-reading-bed“Turn off the damned light, Filmore! You have to go to work in the morning.”

Mumble.

“Filmore? Did you hear me?”

Mumble.

Filmore! I’m talking to you.”

“Hm? Hang on, dear. I’m almost– Hey! Why’d you turn the light out?”

If you’ve been through something like this, then you’ll have an inkling about what a writer experiences when it flows. I can’t even talk about it without tripping over clichés. The experience may well be supernatural. And if not, then it’s almost certainly driven by the creative equivalent of endorphins. I shall henceforth call them plotdorphins. Someone alert the OED!

tangled lightsBut seriously, when it flows, something does happen in your brain, and it’s gotta be way more than one tiny little synapse firing. It’s more like a whole series of them, winking on and off like a string of cortical Christmas lights–the super deluxe kind with plastic reflectors and a built-in controller to manage the blinkeration. Only organic.

I don’t know what it is or how it works, but if I could boil it down, ferment or otherwise distill the stuff, I’d sure as sugar bottle it. I’d pour myself a serving every time I sat down to write, ’cause I’m already addicted to it, and I can’t get enough.

And I need it now more than ever.

–Josh

About joshlangston

Grateful and well-loved husband, happy grandparent, novelist, editor, and teacher. My life plate is full, and I couldn't be happier. Anything else I might add would be anticlimactic. Cheers!
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3 Responses to When it flows

  1. kathils says:

    I’d bottle some flow and send it your way if I could. Sounds like you’re in a rut.

  2. joshlangston says:

    Little bit. I’ve been so focused on other stuff lately, I haven’t written anything but a few BOCs and a handful of blog posts. But I’m not worried. I just need to eliminate distractions and force myself to focus on Mato. He’s been all too introspective. He needs to go kick some ass.

  3. Amanda Rillema says:

    This guy might have some insights on flow. I don’t think he’s bottled it quite yet, but has written several books about it. Good luck!
    http://www.amazon.com/Finding-Flow-Psychology-Engagement-Masterminds/dp/0465024114

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