From Part 2: “What if our goal was to imagine deeper, to find more meaning and enjoyment out of our writing, to create fiction with more confidence and vigor?”
Let us look at the first goal: Imagine deeper. Sounds nice, doesn’t it?
Before imagining something new, try to imagine something remembered. Once you know what it’s like to imagine something real (memory and imagination aren’t really all that different) you can know what fiction should feel like; only in fiction, you imagine it from someone else’s perspective.
Okay. First live in the memory a bit. Look around as if you were really there. Take some notes on what you see and feel and smell. Only once the moment and place is vivid in your head should you start on a story, writing down memory and creating that Flow experience. Practice will make this all easier.
Wait a week before looking to see if what you wrote is any good.
Lynda Berry covers some of these ideas in her book What It Is. She explores how memory is connected to nouns; really anything in the world can trigger memories and the imagination, but you have to practice seeing the location that the imagination creates, really look around as if you were really there.
That’s one way to get the gears turning. Flow is extremely rewarding and enjoyable, and its byproduct is productivity.
Remember, it is important that your goals fit your current skill level. Try learning how to remember before starting on that memoir. Try seeing your own perspective, really knowing what that feels like, before imagining someone else’s.
Think of writing as gears on a bike. If the gear is too high, it will be too hard to peddle and you’ll waste all your energy. If the gear is too low, peddling will be useless. The sweet spot will take you far, but the real goal is the riding of the bike.
Enough babbling for the day, get to writing.
Helpful hint from Part 1: Don’t pound out the required amount of words as if bleeding a stone, improve the moment to moment activity that is writing.
Okay, let us go deeper into Flow.
Because writing is a lifelong endeavor that can never truly be mastered, writing can provide challenges for any skill level, creating endless opportunities for Flow. This also means it can create endlessly frustration if the writer’s goals are too ambitious.
There are many ways to alleviate frustration (ever heard of a vomit draft?), all boiling down to making easier goals.
It all depends on where you are as a writer (or even where you are that day). If you can’t write at all, try writing something bad for ten minutes. Move up from there. Instead of the perfect short story, how about an honest paragraph. Instead of the next great American novel, how about a vampire novel you always wanted to read. Play within the rules before you re-invent them. Can’t rewrite your novel, write the first draft of something new and come back to the old stuff when you have upped your skill.
Note: If your goals are too easy, boredom and stagnation set in. Also bad. The key is to find a balance. Think of writing as gears on a bike. If the gear is too high, it will be too hard to peddle and you’ll waste all your energy. If the gear is too low, peddling will be useless. The sweet spot will take you far, but the real goal is the riding of the bike.
All that said, our goals don’t just need to match our skill level, they also need to improve on the writing experience and our writing skill.
One problem writers seem to get into is our goals suck: Finish a novel! Even if I hated writing it. Get a novel published! Even if I don’t like the novel I’m publishing.
What if our goal was to imagine deeper, to find more meaning and enjoyment out of our writing, to create fiction with more confidence and vigor?
What if our goal was to enjoy writing?
Part three will look at the goal of imagining deeper.
I am currently reading Flow by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Nice last name!), an extraordinary book about optimal experience and enjoyment created when skill is equally matched by challenge.
Wiki defines Flow as the mental state “in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.” Flow (the book) talks about creating Flow in all aspects of life, but here I’m going to be talking about Flow when it comes to writing.
The idea of flow is complex and has far reaching implications, but what has inspired me is the concept that absorbing ourselves in the experience and not the outcome can lead us to Flow. The end product only gives you feedback once it is finished, and to reach Flow, there needs to be constant validation that skills are being utilized successfully.
Got writer’s block?
Even when you do get something down on paper, are you frustrated with the result?
This is because you are either focused on a goal too far in the distance or a goal not fit for your current skill level. Instead, try focusing on the experience of writing. You can decide what is good or bad later on. Word count goals can be useful, but if you can create a focused state that envelopes you, the high word count will be a happy byproduct. Your current goal shouldn’t be finishing chapter nine, but envisioning the scene as if it were a memory and getting it to flow into your computer or down onto the page.
If you refine the experience of writing into a Flow experience, not only will you improve your writing, you will improve the life you live as a writer.
Nice in theory, but how do we actually do that in real life? Well, we’ll get to that and more in part two.