As I was travelling with the day job this week I thought I would stop and take stock of exactly where I am with my writing. Having placed myself in the arena of critique by submitting my new book and waiting for agents on Life: Immaterial, I am at a crossroads where I have a lot of ideas about what I want to do next.
One idea is to collate my short stories into a volume and submit those to competitions and publishers. Another idea is to make an immediate start on the next novel. Yet another still is to write the non-fiction book I am desperate to write. How do I decide?
Of course, the time I have to spend on them depends on edits I have to do on my identity books and if I get requests to see More Than One Way. I could timetable each of these ideas into my writing time and work on all three, but would I be able to transfer my attention between the three?
When I was writing my thesis I found it hard to switch off from the day job and concentrate on the philosophical difficulties to be contended with. It took time and effort to learn how to do this and to some extent it has remained with me. Yet the transition between work and creative writing in more difficult, and I suspect the reason is ‘flow’.
I have always found flow hard to explain. To me it equates to ‘being in the zone’ and it makes work seem like play. I have been amazed at the quality of the work I have produced whilst in ‘flow’ and love the feeling. Yet ‘work flow’ and ‘creative flow’ are different. In the process of my job I carry out tasks that I have learned over a long time. I am very lucky in that I understand how my work contributes to the greater good and this spurs me on. ‘Work flow’ comes when I am producing teamwork, contributing to shared ideas and completing tasks.
‘Creative flow’ more euphoric. When I write, not just fiction but in any context, I feel like I am at play. Because writing is mainly an isolating, singular process it feels entirely different to my day job. Also, the freedom experienced within the writing process is opposite to the structured expectations of fulfilling a job description or shared understanding of a task. The flow involved here is more to do with the lack of truth and validity, the excitement of seeing the words on the page, not just in an order that makes sense, but also the invisible representation of another level of, as yet uncompared with the baseline of empiricism, theory or living created by committing the words.
The basic conditions of ‘flow’ are the same for both work and creativity: time commitment, dedication, perseverance, creation, ideas, communication. For me, the difference is in nature of the knowledge generated. Work knowledge tends to follow a scientific, empirical path of structured methodology, where the outcome is prescribed and we all know where we are. Creative knowledge, although bound to certain structural rules of grammar and presentation and prescribed genres and sections, has an extra element of generating knowledge outside the empirical model, where anything goes, originality is a major goal and truth is incidental.
Turning the eye from one to the other, in these terms, turns out to be a major philosophical feat. As it turns out, I have decided to focus on just one of the potential creative projects above; whichever one it is, I’ll be making up some more potential truth!