In sports, when runners or divers talk about their moments of peak performance,
they describe those experiences as “being in the zone.” During these periods, their concentration is so intense that time seems to stand still and they are in absolute harmony with their goal. Psychologists call this kind of total involvement “flow.” We experience flow most fully when we concentrate so deeply and are so absorbed in something outside ourselves that we forget who we are. Doing and being are one and the same.
These moments of flow are the holy grail. They may be few and far between, and we may have to struggle for them, but when the universe showers us with one, it can restore our faith in what we’re doing and wipe away many hours of tough, seemingly uninspired work. Those times when we’re in flow can last for days if we’re lucky. More often, it’s just an hour or two here or there. But whenever they arrive and how every long they last, these flow experiences can provide the juice to keep us going for long after. Ebb and flow — that’s the writing life, at least for me (see Some Days).
Just today, I had a flow experience that really gave me a boost. It followed hard upon two days where nothing much was happening — I was sick one day and felt lousy the next. I’d been working up to writing a challenging section in my YA novel and wasn’t sure I was going to have the gas to push through it. Then I brainstormed a bit with my wonderful, ever-enthusiastic sister, Stephanie, and got excited. I sat down and wrote through the scene from beginning to end. It just seemed to flow from my pen. I could see it in my head and hear it.
As soon as I finished writing the scene, I plugged it into my computer and reread it. It’s a bit rough and definitely needs work, but I have the bones and the heart of it on the page now. It’s just immensely satisfying, when this happens, isn’t it? Who knows what tomorrow will bring. But tonight, as I write this, I’m happy.