Writer's block, an owner's guide: Mortgage statement
Here’s an interesting discussion, hosted by Emmy winner Ken Levine, of the nature and treatment of writer’s block, with contibutions from major comedy wordsmiths. I particularly like Alan (Mork & Mindy) Eisenstock’s method on page two. Take a look around the rest of the site, unless you’re writing.
Published on February 16, 2008 at 10:45 am. Linking to this article? Thank you! The permanent address is http://www.todayiwrite.com/journal/mortgage-statement.html
Writer's block, an owner's guide: Start with an email
Chanpory Rith over at lifeclever.com suggests If writing stirs a panic attack in you, try this: start with an email. Instead of launching an imposing behemoth like Microsoft Word, call up your humble email program and begin your next writing piece as a simple email.
Read the article: Chanpory has a lot to say on the subject. And I like the idea. I routinely email myself notes of things I want to write, and notes on things I am writing. Including my draft of what you’re reading right now. The problem I find with that is that when you email yourself, Gmail assumes you’ve read it and doesn’t bother putting it in the inbox. So you have to put it there by hand. An annoyingly slow process that you can easily overlook, and which I haven’t found a way to automate with filters or anything else. I suppose I could just not hit Send, and let it lie in the drafts box forever (better ideas please?). (Afternote 2/2/08: that’s what I’ve been doing since I wrote this, and it works well, if you don’t leave too many things lying in there. Which we unblocked people don’t, right?)
Published on December 29, 2007 at 8:34 pm. Linking to this article? Thank you! The permanent address is http://www.todayiwrite.com/journal/start-with-an-email.html
Writer's block, an owner's guide: NaNoWriMo: year 3
For the last two years I’ve used National Novel Writing Month as a chance to learn about how writers are motivated to be productive. 143 NaNos volunteered to answer questions during the month, and I gathered some interesting new information.
This year I’m there again. This project will be the simplest of the three. If you’re a NaNo this year, please think about being part of it. I’ll only ask you to do one thing: fill out two questionnaires in the next couple of days. At the end of November I will download your final wordcount from the NaNoWriMo server. And that’s it. Nothing is hidden from you and everyone is doing the same thing.
What I’m trying to find out is what work habits are associated with successful writing. Part of the deal is that I will let you know what I learn. I’m also taking this chance to expand my collection of reversal theory profiles.
This project is the sixth (I think) in a series of studies of the psychology of writing under the auspices of Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center, San Francisco.
If you are over 18 and you’d like to be part of this, please go here and do it right now. Thanks!
Published on November 3, 2007 at 8:56 pm. Linking to this article? Thank you! The permanent address is http://www.todayiwrite.com/journal/nanowrimo-year-3.html
Writer's block, an owner's guide: NaNoWriMo research info (very short)
Very briefly, because it’s late at night and I have things to do tomorrow. I finally finished analyzing more than a thousand reports made by participants in that research I told you about and here are a few bullet points that I’ll spill for you from my memory:
1. productivity in writing IS correlated with the “metamotivational states” described by reversal theory, specifically with the telic, alloic, conformity and mastery states. More about this when I’m awake.
2. research participants who heard from me every day had a 50% better chance of staying the course for the whole month compared to those who didn’t.
3. research participants who heard from me every day wrote more than those who didn’t.
4. research participants wrote more than regular NaNoWriMo participants (no big surprise there but good to have it confirmed).
So what does all this mean? It means scientific support for a lot of what I’ve been suggesting here since the middle of 2004 – that some of the psychology of writing can be accounted for by the work of Apter, Deci, Amabile and the rest of ‘em, and that writers can be helped by those insights. I’ll say more about this in Today I Write.
And tonight I sleep.
Published on December 28, 2005 at 2:26 am. Linking to this article? Thank you! The permanent address is http://www.todayiwrite.com/journal/nanowrimo-research-info-very-short.html
Writer's block, an owner's guide: Find your work and let it go
This short entry is my return from the great vacation I told you about. I was just hanging out with my visiting daughter at my home here in Southern California; a quiet time of regrouping on beaches and among mountains; a chance to inscribe a peaceful period and end a self-imposed sentence of years of multi-tasking. I’d been trying to simplify life and here at last was a break from the constant multi-tasking which prohibits doing anything thoroughly and getting into flow.
I was still writing during the vacation (but by telling you I was not going to be here regularly, I liberated myself from some “shoulds”). In fact, I was writing some items that were well received. It’s maybe not a coincidence that they were things I threw together quickly and in a good mood. I’m still getting responses to the thing about uninhibited speedwriting, which took minutes to write and whose ending was unplanned when I began.
Also appropriately, when I found time to read, I was melting into the quiet thrill of John Daido Loori’s book The Zen of Creativity. Loori is a Zen master and an often-exhibited photographer. I read it for fun, not as part of my research on writer’s block. It’s certainly not a book about writing. At one point he does say he is about to discuss writing but he never seems to get there. But he had some things to say that I would like to share.
“Ordinary life has its own rush. We feel it when, being completely present, we step out into the world. There can be a rush in simply driving a truck or bus, or digging a ditch, building a house, washing clothes, doing the dishes, but only if we don’t blanket the unknown manifestation of the moment with our preconceived notions. We just allow each event to be what it is, entering it completely.” Don’t you wonder what would happen if this master met Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi?
There was a section I wanted to summarize for you about the relationship between artist and subject. But, you know, it defies summarizing. Part of it is the importance of being with your subject, waiting while it does what subjects do: “reveal different aspects of themselves if you’re able to be patient and allow this revelation to unfold.”
For my purposes here I want to say again that just because you’re not typing it doesn’t mean you’re not writing. One secret to being truly a writer is, maybe, how would I know, in knowing the moment to crystallize what has been growing in your imagination, the moment to show it to the rest of us, when it is ready to be perfect and has not begun to fester.
He also has a lovely story about letting go of our children. “Once I got so upset that I refused to sell a photograph to a man whom (sic) I felt didn’t appreciate it… I bought the photograph myself, just to keep it out of the man’s hands. What saved me from perpetuating this torture was eventually realizing that it was painful to be so attached… I began spending each night before an exhibition just being with the photographs, sitting quietly with them. I thanked them for the teachings I received in the process of creating them, and let them go with a bow. That helped me to shift from feeling like their creator into simply being their temporary custodian.”
Once again I am coming to an unplanned ending. I had expected to tell you that this sort of thing is all very well for photographs but could not be fitted into the writing life. But, y’know, I find that I can imagine taking a half hour to say a respectful thanks to a screenplay, or raise a glass of Glenmorangie in appreciation to my Scottish Expatriate Novel five or ten years from now.
Whatever of that, it’s certainly important to be able to release our words into the wild. They tell me – I wouldn’t know – that when you sell your novel to Hollywood you have to know that it is no longer yours (that’s what “sell” means, I guess) and will be adapted by people who possibly don’t even get why you wrote it. If you can’t deal with seeing your words go beyond your control, then you need to do as I did – become a blogger, so that even years later you can go back in and tinker with what you already published.
Every time I post something here – and already I can feel that today is going to be a major case of this – every time I post something here, it’s no sooner posted than I realize how I could have expressed myself better, how much shorter the sentences and the words could have been, how I could have made the clever remarks less irritating. And then I fix it!
Published on May 22, 2005 at 6:31 pm. Linking to this article? Thank you! The permanent address is http://www.todayiwrite.com/journal/find-your-work-and-let-it-go.html
Writer's block, an owner's guide: If you had to write, you’d write
I was reminded about this when broadcaster Melvyn Bragg wrote in his newsletter from London, “as always, when we record an edition, I stumbled on the intro and had to retake it two or three times and we over-ran. Some day we should do a programme on the psychological difference about (sic) broadcasting live and recording a programme.”
I remember hearing long, long ago that, because of nervous tension, newsreaders never sneeze on air. In the years I’ve been listening since then, they never have.
If you go to a writing workshop with your notepad and pen and you’re given a writing exercise to do, you do it. No problem.
If you sit at your own computer like you’re possibly doing right now, intending to write something, you can be there six hours later without producing a word.
What’s the difference? It’s something inside you. Okay, the circumstances are different too, but that’s just circumstances. It’s something inside you. Partly, I’m sure, it’s Parkinson’s Law (but that’s only a name, a label, it doesn’t explain anything).
So let’s bring the workshop and the computer together. If I asked you to write a passage and email it to me in five minutes from now, we both know you could do it.
In fact, why don’t we prove that right now. You don’t need to give me your real name. Why don’t you scroll down to the Comments box and type your first response to this article. Your very first response, with the embarrassing immature and smutty and clumsily expressed thoughts, will be fine; a polished response will be fine too; or anything else that is on your mind right now will also be fine, unless you want to sell me dirty pictures or men’s medications. The rule is that you must click Post within five minutes from the time you read these words.
Clicking Post does not post your comment on the web site. It just sends it to me privately. I will not publish any of the responses to this article unless the writer says it’s ok. Also, I repeat, you’re not required to give your real name.
Your five minutes already started.
(by the way, if you have a Typekey identity, make sure you are not signed in, and just enter a false name instead; but if you don’t know what I’m talking about, be glad and don’t worry about it).
Published on May 7, 2005 at 10:33 am. Linking to this article? Thank you! The permanent address is http://www.todayiwrite.com/journal/if-you-had-to-write-youd-write.html
Writer's block, an owner's guide: Can intrinsic motivation defeat writer’s block?
Teresa Amabile researches the social construction of creativity. That means what? It means that creativity is affected by your involvement with other people. You may think that’s obvious, but stay with me: we’re headed down some surprising alleys.
A group of students spent five minutes thinking about the intrinsic satisfactions of writing – the ways it makes you feel, the learning, growth and pride of being a creator. They were asked to rank these satisfactions in order. Another group spent five minutes thinking about the extrinsic reasons for writing, such as approval and wealth, and ranking them in order. After that everyone was asked to write a short poem.
Independent judges rated the first group’s poems markedly better.
This reminds us of Deci’s research finding that – in certain circumstances – people will work harder and longer if you don’t pay them.
First, let’s mention those writers whose first novels are enormously successful, who are hailed as rising young stars, and who never publish anything again. People who originally wrote for pleasure but whose later writing was undermined (or who feared it might be) by recognition and reward include Dostoevsky, Einstein, Eliot, Plath and Wolfe. One thing we’ll do today is try to understand why that happens.
We are talking, here, about intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is when you do a thing (like writing) because you want to. Because it pleases you, because just doing it is its own reward. In Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi’s language it’s an autotelic activity. In Mike Apter’s language, you are in the paratelic state.
So Amabile’s key conclusion, her Intrinsic Motivation Hypothesis of Creativity, is that “the intrinsically motivated state is conducive to creativity, whereas the extrinsically motivated state is detrimental.” Now the first part of this might seem obvious. But just think about the second. Encouragement undermines creativity.
Amabile’s research threw up some factors that help you to get into this state during a creative activity:
- the project arouses your curiosity, or stimulates you in some other way
- you get a sense of competence from engaging with the project
- you see the project as being free of strong external control
- the activity gives you a feeling of play rather than work
When you’re expecting to be judged by other people – and I don’t just mean critics, I mean your supporters and your fans and your mentors and your favorite teacher and your perfect approving boss and your ideal generous grant-awarding body – when your work is subject to the approval of others, then you are less likely to be highly creative. This is not what you want to happen.
How does this happen? Here are two ways that the prospect of winning an award, pleasing a boss or satisfying an eager public can prevent you from fully unleashing your creativity:
- they can divert your attention from the actual project as you focus on the reward
- they discourage risk taking.
The kinds of projects that are affected by this, Amabile says, are ones which are heuristic rather than algorithmic – or in my words, when the task involves craft rather than following established procedures exactly. To put this another way, “it may be important for creativity to be able to break out of well-used scripts occasionally, or at least to be able to examine them, instead of proceeding through them uncritically.”
The kind of reward which might not damage your creativity is a reward which is not aimed at controlling you. Some examples:
- a small reward (or if you have very strong internal motivation, that would work too).
- a reward which is more enabling than controlling. That is, a reward which is something interesting or personally challenging. Think of the weekly rewards in The Apprentice on tv – the winning team on each project gets to do exciting stuff that is cool enough to motivate them in spite of their being successful businesspeople with large incomes.
- the reward is more a matter of information about your competence, less a matter of control. For example, you might be turned on by the approval of a leader who actually understands how good you are, but turned off by praise from some pointy-haired Professional Manager. I’m writing as a recovering MBA, and I strongly agree that it’s demotivating to be flattered by someone who has no idea whether you are using your talent to the full or not.
- the reward is one that can make you feel good without controlling your actions: for example it’s an unexpected bonus payment.
- the reward is fair compensation for your great work overall, not for a particular task.
- “the mere presence of others… can impair performance on poorly learned or complex tasks, but enhance performance on well-learned or simple tasks.” In writing terms, this is why we sometimes don’t like to expose our developing ideas to the comments of people who might be able to give advice.
Thinking about all this, it’s not surprising that “discovered problems” are more likely to be solved creatively than are “presented problems.” This was stated by Getzels, an associate of Csikszentmihalyi. People are more likely to work creatively on a project that they chose, not on one that was handed to them.
Amabile has a long list of suggestions to stimulate creativity. These are the ones most relevant to creative writing, I think:
- stress undermines creativity. “Job security appears to be extremely important in fostering creativity in adults.” We know that when people’s jobs are on the line, they tend to play safe, which is uncreative. On the other hand, if your day job is stressful, then I just gave you a reason to move on.
- Creativity heuristics: learn and use ideas for stimulating your creativity (like those cheery lists of wacky ideas for blocked writers)
Personality factors of the successfully creative person, Amabile says, include independence (“an absence of conformity in thinking and dependence on social approval… conformity to social pressure is negatively related to creativity”), sensitivity and a preference for complexity.
But we probably shouldn’t get into the personality factors of the successfully creative person. There are too many of them in too many different lists. And how would the information help you.
Finally, some other interesting social factors that affect creativity:
- financial and conceptual control (freedom to choose the task and the methods)
- the spirit of play (freedom with time and resources)
- your work setting (low surveillance and low expectation of being evaluated)
- individual differences: people respond differently to all these influences.
Did you guess? Teresa Amabile, although she obviously knows a lot about creativity, does not write about writing or about any of the arts. No: she teaches at Harvard Business School. Her ideas must remind business leaders of the “skunk works” concept that Tom Peters made fashionable in the 1980s. They must ring a bell with anyone who read and enjoyed The Soul of a New Machine or who understands Dilbert.
But I’m suggesting to you that her discoveries about creativity have just as much to do with the creative arts as they do with engineering. What do you think?
Source of all this: I loved and hated Amabile’s (and Mary Ann Collins’s, Regina Conti’s, Elise Phillips’s, Martha Picariello’s, John Ruscio’s and Dean Whitney’s) book Creativity in Context when I first read it about a year ago. I loved it because it’s a thorough, research-based survey of an area that I had been thinking of researching. Of course that’s why I hated it, too.
Published on April 25, 2005 at 11:10 pm. Linking to this article? Thank you! The permanent address is http://www.todayiwrite.com/journal/can-intrinsic-motivation-defeat-writers-block.html
Writer's block, an owner's guide: Writer’s block and the Zone (part 5)
“It’s almost midnight, the time when some mystery writers believe their best work is done. But as we peer through the drapes and onto the cluttered den of a writer I have in mind, he is not writing. For some reason he is making strange sounds and staring at a blank sheet of paper.
“The following morning we visit the bedroom study of a well-read children’s book author. It is a little past nine and her youngsters are in school. Her husband has been at his office since eight. She has six delicious hours for her work. But she is not writing either. Instead, she is smoking and pacing and muttering. Why?
“There is a very good chance that if it were possible to monitor writers in this country and abroad, we would find many of them grappling with the same invisible presence: a two-headed monster whose insatiable appetite consumes creative energy with one head as the other devours confidence.”
This is the opening of Right Brain Write On!, by Bill Downey, published 1984 but still in print. It’s a fine description of some of the ways writer’s block affects us.
But what is all this talk about your brain?
I have no idea whether the left and right brains really work in different ways as so many people say they do. That’s a little embarrassing to say, because I work with EEGs every day and with their relationship to behavior and experience. But I do not know or care whether the left brain is the orderly rational part of you or whether the right brain is your artistic creative part. That’s of no importance for my work.
And it’s of no importance to us here and now. Downey wasn’t writing about neurobiology, he was writing about accessing your creativity and about not being blocked by your rationality. He just happened to give his book a catchy title using trendy 1980s language.
He seems to have picked up the right-brain idea from Betty Edwards’s Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, a book about drawing and painting for people who just can’t do things like that. I remember that book from the 80s; I even bought it, and her ideas seemed to work (I still can’t draw, but that is not her fault, I just Failed to Apply Myself).
I learned that, even though I can’t copy a picture of a person when I know that it’s a picture of a person, I can copy it quite well if I turn it upside down. That says something really interesting about cognitive psychology. It says something about how my preconceptions limit my ability to see what’s in from of me. It’s a clue to how I could switch off my Inner Editor and think outside the box and release my creativity. But it doesn’t matter what parts of the brain are involved. The right and left stuff, the way Edwards and Downey both use it, is just a metaphor, just a handle to help us grasp their ideas about creativity.
So let’s not talk about neurobiology. Let’s talk about writer’s block, Downey’s two-headed monster (I guess it must have two right brains) and about unleashing the hounds of creativity.
Actually, writer’s block is not what the book’s about. This is just one more engaging, interesting book about the craft of writing. It includes almost 60 pages of interviews (not about neurobiology) with various writers, quite a few of whom are people I have heard of.
Then why am I mentioning this book here at all? Because Downey’s description of “crossing over to the right brain” is exactly like a description of flow. “When I glance at the clock and see I have been writing for several hours, I am stunned,” one writer told him. “I did not hear [the phone] ring.”
Other writers told him about a strong sense of involvement in their scenes, and a deep satisfaction at the end of the session.
So writing in the right brain is the same thing as writing in flow.
This isn’t a scientific discovery. What I’m saying is that these are two out of many ways of describing a particular state. Think of them both as metaphors, if you will. Whichever works for you, works for you. Different routes to access the same goal, which another of Downey’s writers called “heaven.”
I think what this left / right thing is about is the difference between thinking and feeling. One of the reasons that getting into flow, into right brain, into pure feeling, is harder for writers than for, say, painters is that writers more or less have to do some thinking. If we were musicians or runners we could operate on instinct and body-learning. We could get the flowing, uncomplicated feeling of what it’s like to be an animal (your cat doesn’t really think, she just does her cat thing, she just is, she just responds to the environment, she doesn’t ever figure things out and probably can’t count to three). What bliss to be in the flow state, simply running through the trees doing what nature meant you to do!
I’m saying here something just slightly complicated. I’m saying that in my personal opinion, flow has to do with a reduction in thinking and an increase in what I called “instinct and body-learning.” Flow puts us more in touch with our drives and our basic rewards; bringing us closer to our essential animal nature, and burrowing under the intellectual layer that every human lives above. Flow stops the constant annoying chatter of your own thoughts, just as meditation does. Just being where you are, doing what you are doing. As the Zen master said, “when I am hungry I eat.”
Animals don’t have thoughts, as far as I can tell. They certainly don’t have the same worries and self-censorings and other left-brain problems that the curse of language has burdened us with. But then why do animals have left brains at all? It can’t be just because most of them would look so ugly with half a head.
To be continued…
Published on April 20, 2005 at 8:04 am. Linking to this article? Thank you! The permanent address is http://www.todayiwrite.com/journal/writers-block-and-the-zone-part-5.html
Writer's block, an owner's guide: Writer’s block and the Zone (part 4)
In Csikszentmihalyi’s books on flow, such as Flow, I haven’t found advice on how to get into flow. Mind you, I have not read all of them. Elsewhere, though, he gave these tips amongst others. We are miles from writer’s block now, but I have a feeling this will all somehow turn out to be part of our jigsaw:
1. Wake up in the morning with a specific goal to look forward to. How we gonna do that, you ask? Csikszentmihalyi doesn’t say. I suppose you have to plan for it at bedtime. Anyway, it sounds fun to me and I’d like to give it a try.
“Eventually most of the day should consist of tasks you look forward to, until you feel that getting up in the morning is a privilege, not a chore.” Sounds good, and we can maybe see how it would benefit the writer. Of course, you’ll have to get right off that romantic myth about having to be a hard-bitten drunk.
2. If you do anything well, it becomes enjoyable. As I was saying recently – maybe not in these words – I only like to do things I can do.
One of the qualities of a sympathetic movie protagonist is that he is good at something. I forget who said that – Seger? Hauge? – someone please let me know and I’ll acknowledge it. The same reason that you like the protagonist could be a reason to like yourself. Just decide to develop the same quality he did: be good at something, and do it.
Csikszentmihalyi’s statement is obviously relevant to the emotional ups and downs of writing. “If you do anything well, it becomes enjoyable.” So that’s yet another reason to do those darn futile morning pages, I suppose.
3. To keep enjoying something, you need to increase its complexity.
Well, now, we’re getting to the heart of our discussion of flow. “To keep enjoying something, you need to increase its complexity.” Flow, we saw last time, occurs where there is (a) full use of your skills on (b) a challenging task. Therefore, as you get better at using any of your talents, you need to tackle harder and harder projects. Isn’t this true? If you’re like me, you get excited about some new activity – you begin to do it – you learn the essential skills – you get bored.
Which is maybe why, as I also mentioned last time, the things we maintain interest in are the things we can never do perfectly, like making love and making novels. Random note: in Scotland, we used to call poets “makers.”
So what does this say about your writing life, about your future writing? What does this say about why your first novel-writing or scriptwriting project becomes boring as your skill grows with every page? How could you plan your life differently? “To keep enjoying something, you need to increase its complexity.”
4. Take charge of your schedule.
5. Make time for reflection and relaxation.
You really don’t need me to explain these; maybe I could make suggestions about how to do them, but I’m not the only one who could do that, and it’s not the point right now. (I’m expecting to include some of that in the workshop, though, if time allows)
Published on April 11, 2005 at 9:57 pm. Linking to this article? Thank you! The permanent address is http://www.todayiwrite.com/journal/writers-block-and-the-zone-part-4.html
Writer's block, an owner's guide: Writer’s Block and the Zone (part 3 of several)
<weird mode on> Let’s be 1960s-spiritual today.
A few days ago I said something humorous, but in admiring awe, about Csikszentmihalyi still not being able to define flow after decades of research into it. I meant that in the best way, of course. He knows what he’s talking about and so do you.
One interesting thing is that he expressly identifies it as the same thing as religious ecstasy. So now we’re close to saying that flow is the state you’re in during a peak experience (look it up: Abraham Maslow discovered a lot more interesting stuff than just that darn pyramid they show you in every introductory business course). Well – of course it is! When you see the face of a god or you write a poem, you are doing nothing else at that moment, right? You are totally there, doing what you’re doing, thinking what you’re thinking, seeing what you’re seeing, and this is flow, and this is the Zone.
Now let’s talk about how a writer should live.
Csikszentmihalyi (by the way, that’s “chick sent me high”) doesn’t say people should not set goals. He likes goals.
Once again it’s what I called the Zen of the Zone. The spiritual master seeks enlightenment by not seeking enlightenment, right? Yet at the end of a life well lived the master is closer to enlightenment than at the start. Call it what you like, I call that an entire life of passionately seeking a stated goal.
Csikszentmihalyi says that:
- flow tends to occur when a person faces a clear set of goals that require appropriate responses. This would be one of the reasons that the journalists I’ve asked all find news-writing easier than their spare-time writing.
- flow activities provide immediate feedback: you know how well you are doing. This is one of the ways in which driving or climbing is different from paper-pushing. I suppose this eliminates the temptation to worry about progress, and so to distract yourself. Again, this would explain why journalism is relatively (experts tell me) easy and why would-be novelists can lose focus.
- flow, and here we get to the fun part where we can do something about it, tends to occur when a person’s skills are fully involved in overcoming a challenge that is just about manageable.
Stop and think about that. Flow tends to occur when a person’s skills are fully involved in overcoming a challenge that is just about manageable. Climbing a rockface doesn’t do it; climbing a hard one that tests you is what does it.
In sporting activities (and computer games) we always want to advance to harder levels. In heaven’s name why would anyone want to do something so stupid? How would you explain that to a scientist from Mars?
I noticed this decades ago but I didn’t have a context to put it in: the things that adults like doing, from sex and psychotherapy to golf and chess, are all things that we can never do perfectly. Things where there’s always room for improvement.
Explain to the Martian why you seek out activities that you know you will never be able to do right?
Because you’re human, and that’s what we do.
Why do you write, when it is so darn hard?
Stop and answer that.
Moving on now.
Here’s a diagram by Csikszentmihalyi entitled “the quality of experience as a function of the relationship between challenges and skills.” It’s self explanatory and interesting.
Let’s relate it to writer’s block, ok? I’ll make this material up at the keyboard so I’m challenging my skills; almost unaware of the jazz music, of Camilla the cat restlessly wandering, of the coffee pot being empty.
So; when you have to write something that’s routine, say a regular report, but this time it’s going to the most critical boss or teacher who holds your life in her hands, how do you feel? Anyone? That’s right, Johnny, you feel anxious.
In the opposite situation, when the task calls for all of your skill but it’s of no special importance, maybe like rewriting a chapter that you already wrote about a complex subject, that already says everything you want it to say but doesn’t say it very clearly… then you feel relaxed. I’ve been doing a lot of that kind of rewriting on this blog recently, and let me tell you it is more relaxing than the task of settling down to create this article out of my head.
If your writing project is easy for you, and is also of no great importance, your attitude is likely to be apathetic. Not good for getting it done, getting it done well, or feeling like you had a good day.
We’ve been all over the wheel except the top right spoke. Try a demanding task that uses all of your existing skills. Let’s say you’re still writing that important report that you knew how to write, but because of anxiety you’ve procrastinated and so now you’re up against a firm deadline. Now you sit down at 11pm and you really get into it and in that last hour you can feel the talent rushing down your arms and out of your fingertips and the task is getting done and you feel good and you weren’t trying to get into the Zone but you are suddenly in flow and is this why so many of us are turned on by deadlines? Do we procrastinate in order to make an easy task difficult, because we like to be up at the top of the diagram?
The Martians must be laughing their space socks off.
Published on April 10, 2005 at 12:14 pm. Linking to this article? Thank you! The permanent address is http://www.todayiwrite.com/journal/writers-block-and-the-zone-part-3-of-several.htmlNext Page »