Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Getting to the Flow

By Steven Pressfield | Published: September 29, 2010

The lady plans to seduce her lover. Her object is to create a night of magic. How does she do it?

First the setting, the lighting, the music. The mood, the wine … the lady orchestrates every detail. Her skin, her hair, her scent. She alters her voice, her walk, she paints on those witchy-woman eyes. Ooh, don’t forget those six-inch Manolos.

But there’s more to the spell.

The finishing touches lie in how she greets her lover; their talk, the rhythm of the evening, the dance between them. Almost imperceptibly the moment steals upon the pair. The lady is caught up too. She has created the moment and now it carries her—and her lover–away.

This is magic. This is flow.

If we could achieve this by taking a pill or reading a self-help manual, we’d all do it. (Some of us have tried.) But the reality is that it takes work.

"Dance Is Work": The famous Harvey Edwards poster

Magic takes work.

Flow takes work.

Art takes work.

The athlete and the warrior, the actor and the dancer all spend hours preparing for their moment under the lights. So do you and I. We’re courting the flow. We’re summoning it; we’re seducing it.

We know we can’t order it up like a pizza. We can’t produce it on an assembly line. But we can prepare the stage and the hour. We can prepare ourselves. And we can begin by action. We can act in anticipation of the goddess’s apparition. We can move as if she is already here.

The lover produces the moment by her need and her passion. But she also creates it with technique and time-in-grade. She works. She studies. She pays.

The warrior advances toward the enemy, the mime steps onto the stage. It looks so easy to us watching from the hilltop or seated in the audience. We weren’t present for the hours and years of training and rehearsal. We haven’t experienced the heartbreak and the rejection and the thousand midnights of crippling self-doubt.

We see only the finished product. We see Kobe. We see Pavarotti.

The professional lives her life behind those scenes. Her days pass in the studio and the rehearsal hall. She has dedicated herself to mastering the how and the when, the with-whom and the by-whom and the for-whom. She has come as close as mortal flesh can come to summoning the goddess at will.

I quoted Somerset Maugham in The War of Art. Someone once asked the great author if he wrote on a schedule or only when inspiration struck him. “I write only when inspiration strikes me,” Maugham replied. “Fortunately it strikes me every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”

The master himself, I’m sure, had a few mornings when the Muse was otherwise occupied. But you can bet he showed up on the dot the next morning, ready to rock and roll.

The professional knows that flow doesn’t happen by magic. But it can be produced by devotion and dedication, by will and by skill. Aphrodite looks down with approval on the seductress scenting her bosom and arranging her curls. Ares, god of war, does likewise when he sees the ranks marshaling for battle.

The Muse does the same for the dancer and for you and me. We can’t fool her.  She has counted the offerings we’ve left on her altar. The ballerina has paid with her sweat and her frayed meniscus and all the late-night forkfuls of cheesecake she would’ve loved to have said yes to, but instead turned away.

That’s how magic happens. That’s how the pro—and the lover—get to the Flow.

[Part Two of our interview with Jen Grisanti on “The ‘All Is Lost’ Moment” will follow in the next week or two.  Things got a little hectic around here–and the editing took longer than we thought.  Thanks for your patience!]

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

14 Responses to “Getting to the Flow”

  1. September 29, 2010 at 5:42 am

    Beautiful post! Time for this artist to get to work.

  2. September 29, 2010 at 11:11 am

    Reminds me that I need another read of your wonderful book. Hope all is well Steven!

  3. September 29, 2010 at 8:59 pm

    I won the weapons competition in a martial arts tournament once. I then competed against the winner of the performance category for the grandmasters trophy. He went first with his toy stick whirling, his music, his flash. The second he finished I had already won. He just hadn’t been good enough. I have never owned anything like I owned that moment.

  4. September 30, 2010 at 4:14 am

    Today I’m walking through treacle, after a period of hard work and great results now it’s calm and I’m trying to find the energy to do it all again.

    This has reminded me that the results I had weren’t by accident, and the reason it’s quiet now is that I’ve been quiet in my output recently. This has inspired me to get moving with thing again.

  5. September 30, 2010 at 9:25 am

    Thanks again for the inspiration. I actually love writing these kinds of scenes but, as you say, you have to carefully choreograph them and put yourself in the character’s skin.

  6. September 30, 2010 at 11:20 am

    Keep your inspiration close to you, we can wait…
    See ya my friend.
    Giorgio

  7. September 30, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    I’ve been telling artists this for years. They ask how I get so much done, and the answer – roll up your sleeves and get to work – is always met with disappointment. They want magic beans. They come up with 75 asinine reasons why the universe conspires to keep them from their work. You’ve summed it up nicely (as usual).

    They’ve got it backwards; it’s not “help me get to work”…

    It’s “Get to work, and the universe will conspire to help you”…

  8. October 1, 2010 at 4:16 am

    Wonderful blog, Steven.

    Yes, people many times wrongly label someone as “over-night success”, for them it seems she has got just lucky, one fine day. But truth is that they don’t see sleepless nights and years of working her butt off in order to become “over-night success.”
    Artists can recognize others passion and talent from miles, they have been there, they have done that…

    Thank you for your presence Steven,it keeps me “shipping” each day.

    i.

  9. October 3, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    I’m a writer who has struggled with various forms of resistance for years. The War of Art and this blog has been such a great kick in my blue jeans. Thank you for doing what you do.

  10. October 3, 2010 at 6:28 pm

    Now that’s a magical post. Makes me want to get a copy of the war of art too. I best get back to it… takes me about 10,000 hours to create my kind of magic.

    Cheers
    Dave Jenyns

  11. October 6, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    That is the magic of blogs!
    Mr. Pressfield you are a general, in whose army I would fight the muse in the front line. Inspirational isn’t the appropriate word for making me pull my helmet strap tighter, it’s beyond that.
    You articulate beyond crystal clear Caribbean water the process in which i whole heartedly immerse myself every time I go into battle with the muse, and it’s such a rewarding feeling being able to explain the process in words.

  12. October 20, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    Reminds me of a quote by William Kay in Spurgeon’s The Treasury of David: “God’s soldiers can only maintain their war by priestly self-consecration. Conversely: God’s priests can only preserve their purity by unintermitted conflict.”

    Latayne C Scott

  13. October 24, 2010 at 8:57 am

    what do you mean by offerings to the muse? and which muse do i use for music?? and what offerings do i get?.

  14. Dania Dunahoo
    September 13, 2011 at 7:33 pm

    Creating the best personal ad – Be proper – Stay away from poor language or sexual innuendo, a lot of people will not be impressed with this and if they’re, do you genuinely need to meet someone like that?