I’ve been slowly reading through Mihály Csíkszentmihály’s book Flow in between other readings for the last few months. There are so many little niche things that I could expound up on, but for this post I wanted to share something specifically about the act of writing.
In the chapter titled “The Flow of Thought” he writes: “If the only point to writing were to transmit information, then it would deserve to become obsolete. But the point of writing is to create information, not to simply pass it along” (131).
And a few sentences later, “The kind of material we write in diaries and letters does not exist before it is written down. It is the slow, organically growing process of thought involved in writing that lets the ideas emerge in the first place” (131).
I had to sit and think about this for a few minutes to figure out if I really agreed with what he was saying. And I absolutely do!
I read a lot of books about spiritual formation, growth, disciplines, etc. and often times these books include exercises and questions within them to foster growth and insight. Admittedly, I often read these thinking about how I would answer if I were to actually do the exercise and write down my thoughts like it asks me to. But I’ve come to realize that merely thinking through the exercise is worlds away from actually doing the exercise and writing down my thoughts. Something totally different happens when I actually slowly do the exercise and journal my experience than when I merely think about doing the exercise. There is something about the process of writing that allows those ideas to emerge, as Csíkszentmihály says, in a way that would never happen otherwise.
Often times when I write these posts, I begin with a theme or idea that has been on my mind. But what actually becomes the final blog post never exists until I actually begin to write. The idea is just one or two sentences. The entire post is what happens after I sit down to explore that idea. Certain paragraphs, expressions of ideas, and word pictures never exist until I begin the process of writing them down.
The process of writing has a way of pulling things out of us that didn’t previously exist—even in thought.
Csíkszentmihály elaborates, “First of all, writing gives the mind a disciplined means of expression. It allows one to record events and experiences so that they can be easily recalled, and relived in the future. It is a way to analyze and understand experiences, a self-communication that brings order to them” (131).
To be honest, I don’t always feel like writing posts. It is an act of willful discipline to sit down and write something, but I always walk away feeling so fulfilled—so clear-headed and satisfied. I share the posts with you all because I hope that they might somehow inspire you or prompt you to do or think in a way that you wouldn’t have done previously—but mostly I do it for myself. Writing is a discipline for me. One that always enriches me. And one that forces me to put in concrete words and ideas what I only previously experienced abstractly. It allows me to order my experiences and make sense of what I hold in that enigmatic space inside my head.
So if you are toying with writing, either a blog or in a private journal, I encourage you to do so—not just because your words and ideas might inspire others, that may certainly be a side effect—but primarily because it will draw things out of yourself that you would have never discovered otherwise.
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper & Row, 1990. Print.
Photo Credit: Lance Baker [Loc.] Spring Arbor, MI