Play and Flow
I admire writers who work quickly, who piece together plots with a few pen strokes. I once remarked to my seven-novels-published friend, “I must be the slowest writer on earth.” He responded, “No, I am. I’ve just got a head start on you.” Maybe all writers, at one time or another, think their brains don’t work fast enough, feel their ideas take too long to coalesce into stories. My stories take months to gestate no matter how I encourage them towards an earlier birth. Writing slowly isn’t necessarily wrong or bad, but I think it’s more than that for me at this moment.
During the Covid lockdown I decided to finish a novel I’d been coddling for two years. I was working from home and, as long as I finished my projects on time, no one cared how I divided up my day. I attacked the remaining pages of the novel with enthusiasm, but as the weeks wore on, my writing wells evaporated. I missed the stimulus of the outside world, and while I’m a practiced hermit, even I yearned for some new experiences. A visit to the local bookshop, some detours during my weekend walks and, of course, new reading materials helped, but they didn’t expand my reserves in the way I wanted. I had to find another path.
Frustrated and totally blocked, there was one choice left: leave it alone. My only job was to sit down at the computer and start tapping. Let it flow. I wrote whatever hooey came to mind. This seemed to work better than trying to force my creativity. Still, throughout the month of August I struggled, my keyboard warm from summer heat and use. And although I didn’t show up every day, I accumulated enough hours to eventually produce a short story.
I had finished a story!
Flow. It’s an important word for a writer. I believe this for two reasons: 1) I had proof it worked: a story was born! That’s a Hallelujah moment in any writer’s life. 2) The subject matter, characters and setting were different for me. I don’t normally write in first person. This story was in first. I don’t normally set my stories in warm climates. This fictitious setting had an atmosphere like Florida or Georgia. I don’t normally write from a male perspective. This character’s male voice immediately spoke to me through the swampy mist of the setting. These pieces of the story were gifts from the Muses, maybe Calliope. Or maybe it wasn’t a Muse at all, but Mercury or the Goddess Brigid. I’m grateful for any intervention from the Universe in any form, but I suspect these ideas came from the flow.
I enjoy streaming NPR’s Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC. At the end of 2021 one of his guests was Julia Cameron, author of “The Artist’s Way.” I’d bought her book years ago, but at the time I was very young, unfocused and probably resistant. I remember reading part of it and thinking, huh, then shoving it back onto my shelf where it collected dust for years. But after that episode, I dug around my house until I found it, magically pristine, no dust at all. I read the first few chapters and wrote morning pages that very day. The feeling returned: flow. When I cobbled together my short story last August, I wasn’t writing morning pages. I wasn’t even thinking about “The Artist’s Way.” But by early autumn, I’d logged in hours of writing time. Both feet were in the river, so to speak.
Having now finished a week of morning pages, I’m beginning to see how much value there is in play, in writing freely. I received my short story as a gift, but I’m betting that a daily dose of morning pages will open me up to even more gifts. It’s the connection with my creativity that’s been missing. Of course, I need stimulation from the outside world, but I also need to wash it through my perspective. An art teacher of mine once said, “Art is reality seen through a personality.” It’s my conversation with my subconscious mind and my emotions that will make the difference in the flow of ideas. Keeping that channel open takes practice. So often we are taught to close it, to view it with suspicion. But there is joy in that connection to the flow. I keep thinking of the end of the film Under the Tuscan Sun. I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen it, but if you have seen it, you know what I mean!
This is a fresh, new journey for me, a mystery I’m ready to explore. Not because I’ve never heard this advice before, but because now I’m ready to listen.
“When the student is ready the teacher will appear.” (Quote attributed to various sources.)
What is it about play and flow that feeds the artistic soul? I’m hoping to find out.
Until next time,
*The story referred to in this article is now published on Amazon. Ready to read it for .99 cents? Click here! Thank you for your support!