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Monday, March 3, 2014

The Flow Trap

It might be a mistake to put too much emphasis on mental states. The "flow" will not be there every day, or even most days. If you expect the production of scholarship to be consistently ecstatic you will be disappointed. Also, the ideas will frequently flow, but the prose might never just come out easily. You'll have to accept that.

On the other hand, the experience can be mostly positive and productive, on most days, and over the long haul as well. The idea that writing should mostly be a painful process is also mistaken, and a dangerously self-fulfulling prophecy. It can lead to the avoidance of writing. Most procrastination in scholarly writing is due to those two factors:

(1) Not be able to achieve a flow. The writer has it backwards, usually, not realizing that the flow is inherent to the work process itself, not something that exists before you sit down to write.

(2) Avoidance of anxiety. Writing is associated with frightening negative thoughts.

2 comments:

profacero said...

We had to write so much in college that I never got the chance to worry about flow. Some papers were easier, others harder, better, worse, but they had deadlines and had to meet certain minimum standards, so they got in. I think this familiarity with writing a lot got me into trouble later: I did not understand all the writing advice we were getting, why we were getting it, what was wrong with what I was doing, what was bad about just moving ahead each day, or why there was so much hand-wringing, so much assumption of imminent failure or laziness.

Avoiding writing to avoid anxiety, yes. Actually writing calms the mind but if you have learned to associate it with the wrong things, woe. It is one thing if you understand those and can just detach and let them pass by, but if you don't ... !

profacero said...

... and I see something I think I saw a couple of years ago: all the standard problems people have about writing, all the advice I wonder why is needed, fit(s) me perfectly if I apply it to teaching.

FLOW. I think I need flow to figure out what to do for class.

ANXIETY. I fear teaching and I procrastinate about it. Exactly the way people talk about this re writing.

There are historical reasons for this, but it is still irrational.