Monday, September 13, 2010

Flow

As I posted about last week, I'm doing the Terry Fox Run for cancer research this weekend (pledges always welcome!). And, as many of my Fellow Sophisticates know, I'm prone to using running metaphors here and there. Yup, there's a reason for this, as I think there's a connection between running and writing, at least for me.

I'm not the only, either. Haruki Murakami wrote a great book called What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, and it's about running, of course, but it's also about writing, and about how the two sometimes meet, and how they both infuse his creative life.

I think something of the same goes for me - there's a connection. How profound, I don't know. I wouldn't say the running is necessary for the writing, though I feel better when I run. And I do often think about stories when I'm running, so there is, in a sense, a direct linkage. The running is a piece of my creative process.

The real connection, though, is something to do with the state of mind. The old sports metaphor is "in the zone". It is, I think, when you seem to move beyond the conscious to an almost automatic response. It's like instinct. You seem to stop thinking and simply react, and everything comes easy. Everything flows.

It's a peaceful state, in some senses, and yet also an ecstatic one. There's a calmness, and yet the world comes more vividly to the eye, more clearly to the ear, more solidly to the hand. It seems like instinct, or the muse taking over. You feel almost like a funnel, and things just flow through you. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi even wrote a book about it: Flow.

I feel this when I write. Not always, but often enough when I get into serious writing, deep into a story I'm working on every day. I feel it when I run, too. Not always, but often enough when I'm out on the roads every day. The sudden ease, the sudden flow. It's a bit like you're flying, a sense of pervasive lightness, of freedom. The fingers fluttering so light and quick upon the keys, the feet flashing so smoothly upon the road it's as if you're gliding, barely skimming the surface.

Yet that feeling can be misleading. I'm not sure it's entirely the muse. I may not be channeling anything but myself. And it does not comes easily. My first run in the spring, after months off this year... there was no flow. There was not a flow for many days, perhaps a month or two. The legs had to put in the hours, the miles. The muscles build strength and memory. The stride is slowly encoded in the body. It becomes automatic, it flows, only with endless repetition. A thousand steps, a million steps.

It's not so different with writing. It comes only after a thousand words, a million words, a conglomeration of countless bits of learning, countless moments of practice. It is not instinct grasping at something before or beyond the rational, but rather a synthesis, the sudden cohesion of what you've learned, of what you know. You don't have to think about it in the conscious sense, as it's become a part of you. Your own mind provides you with a moment of grace.

The patter of keys. The patter of feet.

Flow.

5 comments:

Mira said...

Love this piece - 'the patter of feet, the patter of keys.' Very nice and rang very true.

Personally, I think it's both. It's a: "synthesis, the sudden cohesion of what you've learned, of what you know," but I do think there is something that happens beyond the rational as well. I think there is a channel that opens - to what, I'm not sure.

But it's okay if we disagree on that small, minor point. :)

You can tell I really like your piece when I start quoting from it, Bryan. Nice.

Raquel Byrnes said...

Never understood the runners high...can't run myself, but I do understand being in the zone. Your description of an ecstatic peace and the calm hyper-awareness was spot on for when I'm in the writing throes. Great piece.

Edge of Your Seat Romance

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Lately my mantra is "if you want to write, you have to exercise." It gets me on the treadmill and counteracting the effects of butt-in-chair. I'm not "in the zone" with the exercise, but it definitely helps me get there for the writing. :)

Matthew Rush said...

Running, especially distance running, can be incredible meditation, or at least it was for me when my body was young and lean enough to allow me to do it.

Roberto said...

I think it happens with many things, not only running or writing. It happens to me when playing guitar, too. You stop thinking about what you play, and just flow with the music. It's like a trance. You don't think about what you're doing, it just happens. You think about the music, like if you were singing, and your fingers move by themselves.

For me, it's exhilarating. If you feel that once, you'll be hooked forever.