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Drudgery and the Narrative Flow

Updated: Oct 29, 2021

Writing, in common with most art forms, is a combination of technique, endless hard work, occasional inspiration, and alchemy. Nobody talks much about the drudgery of tapping away at the keyboard when the ideas either refuse to come or arrive with a use-by date suggesting staleness beyond retrieval. Perhaps the grammar and structure will be unimpeachable, but the words will be colourless and devoid of life, obedient little servants shuffling in a line, dull-eyed and unquestioning of their lot in life.

Just as we know, intuitively, when an actor drops out of character for a brief moment, and our sense of suspended disbelief drops away, so the reader knows when a writer loses her flow. We lose concentration and find ourselves dumped unceremoniously in the everyday world, the story reduced to black print upon the cream or white page, the feeling of the book or tablet in our hands, and we are bereft. The narrative has lost its power and we struggle to re-enter the halls of the magician, cheated and aggrieved.

I continue to write, hoping to uncork the bottle where the capricious genie sulks amongst her satin cushions until the correct obeisances are made, the password is found which springs the lock and she is once more beguiled. A walk in the sunshine, the careful crafting of a phrase, a dream, or an idea emerging during meditation; perhaps one of these will secure her good graces and she will emerge, beaming, scattering phrases from a cornucopia of ideas. Then the words will flow, and it is intoxicating!

Have you ever played tennis? I did, very, very badly. But occasionally I would hit the ball in the dead centre of the racquet –and it was effortless. The ball would sail over the net as though on wings and, for an all-too-brief moment, I would experience joy. Finding the narrative flow provides the same exhilaration, the same feeling of empowerment, the illusion that one could write forever without pause and produce something of value.

That is the wonder of flow. That is what keeps me writing. And for a brief moment today, the genie smiled.

A writing corner in London, 2017

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