The writing effect

Writing is like good sex. When the conditions are right, it just happens.

“Happiness is not something that you can find, acquire, or achieve directly. You have to get the conditions right and then wait. Just as plants need sun, water, and good soil to thrive, people need love, work, and a connection to something larger. It is worth striving to get the right relationships between yourself and others, between yourself and your work, and between yourself and something larger than yourself. If you get these relationships right, a sense of purpose and meaning will emerge.” – Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis

I struggled for a while to write this post, and this other one and this one, too.

I brainstormed, discussed, and ultimately procrastinated until the last minute.

While procrastination may be a viable strategy for some (including myself ), it’s not fun and it always makes it feel like I’m forcing the creative process. Like forcing sex, it’s less fun than experiencing spontaneous moments of creativity and going with that flow.

There are some articles on this blog that are long and informative, and maybe even inspiring. Yet, it’s not me. There’s no flow, no rhythm, and most importantly, not much joy in the work. I want to bring that element of joy into my writing, so it’s important that I keep it real and channel that flow into words on paper.

Structured writing has its place. But when it comes to productivity and words-written, one thing this blogging challenge has taught me is this: one hour in the zone is worth 20 “forced” hours of writing.

That’s cool. Different writers have different creative processes. Author Taylor Pearson is hyper-disciplined in his approach to writing, with a words/week target that would scare most professional writers. But it works for him.

Other writers are content with taking things slow. In Daily Rituals, How Artists Work, Mason Currey highlights a few writers that get by on short burst writing habits:

Anthony Trollope: “three hours a day will produce as much as a man ought to write.”

Martin Amis: “Two hours. I think most writers would be very happy with two hours of concentrated work.”

Gertrude Stein: “If you write a half hour a day it makes a lot of writing year by year.”

Still more fascinating is Charles Bukowski’s writing habits, described on Brain Pickings:

Writing isn’t work at all… And when people tell me how painful it is to write I don’t understand it because it’s just like rolling down the mountain you know. It’s freeing. It’s enjoyable. It’s a gift and you get paid for what you want to do.

I write because it comes out — and then to get paid for it afterwards? I told somebody, at some time, that writing is like going to bed with a beautiful woman and afterwards she gets up, goes to her purse and gives me a handful of money. I’ll take it.

What works for one person isn’t universal. And worse, by “writing painfully” as Bukowski says, we end up producing content that doesn’t sound like us, and isn’t so enjoyable to read.

As someone learning to write better, it’s tempting to see others extolling the virtues of their style and think, hey I should do that! But the fact is, we have to find a style that works for us, and then work within that framework. If that means posts end up looking different that we’re used to, so be it.

How do we find that flow?

The writing effect

Good writing, like happiness, and like sex, is an effect. The harder we try to force it, the more elusive it is.

To create good content, it’s important to set up the conditions for good content creation. That means working in the right environment, staying relaxed but focused on the task, and enjoying the insights when they come.

I see this in other creatives, like Jason Silva, who brings his camera crew on walks in nature so they can capture his insights when the moment strikes. His conditions – a walk, natural settings, and the free time to let his mind wander – are triggers for that creative flow.

Perhaps, I’m still looking for mine – but I recognize that when the conditions are right, things just work. Next time I find myself staring at my laptop screen, I’ll shut it down, go for a run, read a book, and return to the blank WordPress editor with a fresh set of eyes.