Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Writing In the Zone: How the Science of "Flow" Can Increase Our Creative Output

Do you know any video gamers? Food, sleep, and even bathroom breaks are foregone by a teenager who is in the "zone" of the game. Caught in its vortex, chores and homework are forgotten for the evening.They enter a "flow" of activity that is so self-consuming, self-immersion to the point that nothing else exists.

Why are so many teens so hooked on gaming?

Flow. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote a groundbreaking psychology book on the topic that has been discussed in TED Talks and has implications for the workplace and universities.

How can plugging into "the zone" like video gamers do improve our creativity?

Flow is the "state when people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to make matter." The task is enjoyable just for the pure sake of doing it.

Is that what writing is for you? Or has it become a means to an end? Are you so completely absorbed in your writing that nothing else exists?

The best video gamers enter a trance where they play but pay no attention to the details of the game. Do we become hyperfocused on word choice, sentence structure, etc and begin to lose that flow?

Good gamers are skilled and like to increase the level of challenges. Video game designers up the ante by creating entertainment that is self-motivating. You are intrinsically motivated to hit the next level, then the next. You keep upping the ante for yourself, there is always a new level to be achieved, a new monster to be killed, more in-game rewards.

Don't we all love those days when the words fly off the tip of our keyboard and nothing but our storyworld exists? 

Mihaly lists three conditions for creating flow in the workplace, which can also benefit our writing lives.

1) To achieve flow, goals must be clear.

Have you forgotten why you truly write

First of all I think we must recognize that we need to write for the pure love of it.

What is your next goal? Not  your dream.

Remember goals must be concrete and definable, able to be broken down.

2) We must be able to obtain immediate feedback.

At some jobs this is easier than others. This is where the online community can come in handy. It is a virtual realm where we can find the feedback of other writers at all times. If we don't know how we're doing, we won't grow.

3) A balance must exist between opportunity and capacity.

If you truly believe you can't achieve your goals, you won't be able to stay in the "zone" of creativity. Yet you need to keep the challenge level high.

Know what to do.

Practicing rituals related to our writing day may help. For instance, a cup of coffee in your snoopy mug, a particular spot for writing, physical surroundings such as photos of loved ones. These things center you in your goals.

Know how to do it.

Read craft books in your own time, but don't bring these to mind during your writing time. Read good books in your genre and absorb all they can teach you. You don't need to specifically focus on techniques, the things you've learned will flow out.

Knowing how well you are doing.

Here again is the value of using critique partners, feedback groups and accountability friends. Seek feedback on a continuous basis. Listen and grow from it. But don't let thinking about these evaluations hold you back during your writing time.

High perceived challenges.

What was your writing goal yesterday? Take it up a notch. Add 100 words today. Did you write a magazine article this week? Next week, shoot for two. How can you up the challenge of your career goals?

High perceived skills.

Challenges without skills equals discouragement. If God is calling you to write, He will equip you with the skills you need. Your writing time is not the time to beast yourself up over your stilted dialogue or flat characters. You will edit and improve on these things later. For now, stay in your zone. Be confident in the calling God has given you.

Freedom from distractions.

I think we all know how quickly we can allow these simple things to pull us away from flow. Some may need music, others silence. Some of us work best in a crowd, others need a quiet corner. What energizes you? Spend some time thinking about it and think of ways to fight those specific distractions. Find your best time of day and devote it to your creative pursuits.

What is distracting you from writing in the zone? Let's brainstorm here together!

  Julia is a writer and reviewer for Library Journal, as well as a contributor to the site Wonderfully Woven. She lives in the Richmond, Virginia area with her husband, two children, and three ragdoll cats.


Robin E. Mason said...

YES, YES, YES and AMEN!!! couldn't agree more!!!

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Great post, Julia! I love your suggestions for staying in the zone. Distractions are my biggest nemesis. Especially online. I'm learning to turn off the internet and my email notifications when I'm writing. This is helping me greatly. :)

You've given me some good food for thought today.

Julia M. Reffner said...

ROBIN, Thanks for stopping by!

JEANNE, Me, too. Online distractions is surely the worst for me. I have to choose to turn off the internet as well and haven't been doing so great at that lately.