Even if you haven’t read Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, you’ve probably read something that refers to it, and you’ve most likely experienced a “flow” or “optimal experience”, even if it’s just doing crossword puzzles. Often writing is given as an example of a flow experience. Oh, really?
The Eight Elements of Optimal Experience
- You confront tasks you have a chance of completing, engaging in a challenging activity that requires skills.
- You are able to concentrate on what you are doing, producing a merging of action and awareness.
- The task has clear goals.
- The task provides immediate feedback.
- You act with a deep but effortless involvement.
- The task allows you to exercise a sense of control over your actions, while also erasing the sense of worry over losing control.
- Concern for the self disappears, yet the self of self emerges strengthened, your skills heightened.
- The sense of time is altered, disappearing or elongating.
How does that apply to my experience in writing?
- Writing is a very challenging activity and part of the fascination lies in learning how to improve my skills. I suppose I have a chance of completing a story, but I rarely do so.
- When I start to write, I get the worst monkey mind. Concentration is a joke.
- My goal is write a story I like. Not at all clear.
- My backbrain provides immediate feedback: This stinks. This stinks. Oh, wait. This is pretty cool.
- If I get deeply immersed I enter a dream state where I’m watching the story, and my task is to transcribe and describe what’s happening.
- I don’t think I control much when I’m writing. I know what I intend to have happen, but there’s no telling how exactly it will hit the page.
- Every attempt to write that does not kill me leaves my skills heightened.
- Time loses all meaning whether or not I’m writing in flow.
So, no. I wouldn’t call writing a flow experience, except in all-too-elusive moments. Okay, how about playing solitaire?
- Not so much.
Well. There’s your problem.