Louise Couper
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Achieving the Art of Flow - the Lilies of the Field vs the Wagging Finger
Ever notice, when you put pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard – a little voice in your head wags its finger and says things like: ‘you should be doing something more useful, more lucrative’ or, if that doesn’t work, it carries on with: ‘you’re useless at characterisation’, ‘your dialogue doesn’t ring true’, ‘you’ve clearly got trouble with plot’, ‘grammar’, etcetera, etcetera.  I bet you can recall dozens of similar whisperings that plague you endlessly, as you try to get words on the page.
The impact on your writing can be paralysing.  At the very least, you tighten up, become anxious or, even worse, stop altogether.  As if that weren’t enough, these little criticisms often become self-fulfilling prophesies, as Timothy Gallwey http://theinnergame.com points out in his inner game strategies for success at sport or business.  His principles and methodology could equally apply to writing; his insights into the process of overcoming blocks which prevent us from living/writing to our full potential, offer a roadmap to success.  Very helpful for those times when the wagging finger threatens to overwhelm.
Now, it may actually be true that you need to focus a little more on authentic dialogue, deepen your characterisation – what I would call the ‘nuts and bolts’ of writing.  But paying too much attention to the wagging finger of writing when you’re writing your first draft can mess up the side you’re relying on to write the story – the creative you.
How to quieten the wagging finger:
  • Make a list of what it says, be-friend it
  • If you agree that your characterisation lacks depth, your dialogue is stilted, etc., work on these – but separately to your work-in-progress
  • Don’t try to stop the wagging finger from speaking – say ‘I hear you, your time will come but not now’ - and continue to write.
  • Each draft is, as T S Eliot put it, a ‘raid on the inarticulate’.  It’s not supposed to be perfect.
How to let the glory of the lily shine
  • The lily doesn’t ‘toil’ or ‘spin’ – and, to stretch the analogy, neither does the creative you.  It simply expresses itself, without effort.  A journal is good practice to get this effortless effort or flow going so that, in time, you can sit before a blank page, anytime, anywhere and write.
  • Just as the lily needs sun, water and soil to thrive, your writing self has its own needs, unique to you.  These could be anything from sitting, daydreaming for a few minutes/hours a day, to spending time doing something non-verbal.  A day at the art gallery works for some (me); simply walking worked for Charles Dickens – and we all know how productive he was.
  • We also need to fill the creative well by reading and listening to good writing­, so that it’s there, in our sub-conscious, waiting till you put fingers to keyboard …
Speaking of good writing, have a listen to this:   https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0003zz0