Sunday, 19 June 2011
Here, you’ll find a smashing little creative writing course at Warwick University. The podcasts, delivered by David Morley, focus on various aspects and elements of the writing process. One in particular has caught my attention. Entitled ‘A Mental Switch’, it begins with Morley stating very simply that, “...there is writing – and there is not writing. And ‘writing’ is a zone.”
I’ve been stuck far too regularly of late in ‘not writing.’ I’ve been thinking about writing; I’ve been sketching out plots and assembling post-it festooned wall charts; I’ve been tinkering with character traits and even – preposterously perhaps – drawing maps of imaginary prisons. But writing? Not much.
Morley’s use of the term ‘zone’ to describe the writing process is an interesting one. A place; an area. It brought to mind the work of Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (more about him here). I know a fair bit about this guy but rarely mention him in public on account of not having the slightest clue how to pronounce his name. I once mis-pronounced ‘Goethe’ at university and got laughed out of a seminar; I make it a rule nowadays to avoid being laughed out of any enclosed space-of-learning. Thankfully I have found support in the confessions of a friend – for the purposes of this post we’ll call him Argyle – who thought ‘misled’ was pronounced ‘myzled’, and for many years pronounced ‘pseudo’ to rhyme with ‘play doh’.
Anyway, Mr Csíkszentmihályi is a psychologist, just in case you care, who developed flow theory after studying extensively the process of intense immersion achieved by sportsmen and women during competition. His studies took root, appropriately, when he witnessed artists capable of getting ‘lost’ in their work for hours at a time. He began by observing that athletes and artists, when interviewed, often compared these elevated states of concentration to being carried along by water – thus the ‘flow’ metaphor.
But there’s a temptation inherent in this turn of phrase; that creativity is somehow passive. That we’re ‘carried’ along, unable to create these states of concentration and restricted to simply waiting for them to happen.
That’s where the flow grid comes in. And it’s a cracker:
This is more like it, right? The implication here being that we can ‘measure’ our current state of mind, and adjust the challenge or skill required to push ourselves towards the top-right of the grid rather than waiting to be carried along.
And I suppose the lesson for me at the moment is simple – if you want any river to sweep you up, you’ve first got to get into it.