Sometimes writing feels like a jigsaw. I’m working on a piece today and I feel as if I dropped some central piece of the puzzle down the back of my brain. I can’t get past the gaping hole that’s been left.
I’m waiting for that moment, that perfect moment, when I find the missing piece and I get into a rhythm. There’s nothing like it, nothing like the feeling of fluid writing. When words seem to come, when the structure of the piece starts to lay itself out over the page like some scribbled architect’s drawing. When I write, I find myself searching for that elegant immersion, those hours when all anxiety is replaced by joy and clarity for the task ahead. I don’t always find it, but I’m addicted to that feeling of ‘flow’.
I was introduced to the concept of flow by an amazing friend of ours who’s pursuing her doctorate in positive psychology. She explains it beautifully so I should start by apologizing to her for potentially botching and over-simplifying all that she told us.
From what I can gather, the study of flow first came about in the 1960s when Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his fellow researchers began investigating artists who would get lost in their work. He studied artists, especially painters, who got so immersed in their work that they would disregard their need for food, water and even sleep.
I would be a poor candidate for Mihaly. I am rarely so distracted. My belly whines if a few hours go past without food and I always have a cup of tea sitting on my desk. But I do know that feeling of excitement that comes with writing, the belief that, if I stop, I may not find that fragile fluidity again.
The problem is, you cannot force flow. And often it is nowhere to be found. Still, writing is a job, it is a discipline, so we cannot wait around in the hope that we will discover flow with every paragraph we compose. Sometimes, we just have to sit in front of our laptops and write. As Elizabeth Gilbert puts it in her TED talk, “sometimes you just need to show up.”
Often that writing will not be pretty and the hours may feel long and arduous. But we must carry on, we must try to put the pieces of the jigsaw together and hope that, eventually, the words will flow.