Flow: Writing vs. Solitaire

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

  1. You confront tasks you have a chance of completing, engaging in a challenging activity that requires skills.
  2. You are able to concentrate on what you are doing, producing a merging of action and awareness.
  3. The task has clear goals.
  4. The task provides immediate feedback.
  5. You act with a deep but effortless involvement.
  6. The task allows you to exercise a sense of control over your actions, while also erasing the sense of worry over losing control.
  7. Concern for the self disappears, yet the self of self emerges strengthened, your skills heightened.
  8. The sense of time is altered, disappearing or elongating.

How does that apply to my experience in writing?

  1. 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.
  2. When I start to write, I get the worst monkey mind. Concentration is a joke.
  3. My goal is write a story I like. Not at all clear.
  4. My backbrain provides immediate feedback: This stinks. This stinks. Oh, wait. This is pretty cool.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Every attempt to write that does not kill me leaves my skills heightened.
  8. 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?

  1. Check.
  2. Check.
  3. Check.
  4. Check.
  5. Check.
  6. Check.
  7. Not so much.
  8. CHECK-sent-me-high-yee!

Well. There’s your problem.