Horns of the Dilemma

The past few weeks have been extra-hectic, and have once again reminded me of one of my own particular pet dilemmas. Consider this an appeal for help, suggestions, ideas, and so forth.

The first horn is actually a good one, in most regards. My best work tends to occur when I’m in the state that has been described as flow, where the world goes away and all that is left is The Job in Hand. Please notice I don’t say art or creation here; after thirty-five years of marriage, I’m well aware that my husband can fall into that state almost at will, whether he’s fixing an alternator or installing a hard drive or simply reading a book he later dismisses as “not very good.” He calls it tunnel vision, and it leaves him deaf and blind to outside input. (The fact that he is getting physically hard of hearing gives him an excuse, but one that doesn’t always work with me…after all, I have thirty-five years experience of often needing a club to get his attention.)

Hitting this enviable state of productivity is much harder for me. I stand in awe of those writers who can produce good coherent stories even when working in ten or fifteen minute bites between other tasks. Normally it takes me that long just to find the groove again, let alone get back into it. By the way, this also applies to composing. It’s not such a problem when I’m simply practicing the organ, although there too I do best when I get into flow-state. But if I’m in creation-mode, I gotta flow. (Insert your own Peter-Pan-style crow if you remember that song.)

When I do, I achieve an almost Bill-like state of tunnel-vision, becoming oblivious of time or (most) outside disturbances. (A bit ironic, perhaps, as I love clocks and love knowing mine are all set to world-standard time to within a tenth-second. At the same time, I’m also quite capable of forgetting which day of the week it is.) But my best work, and the novels I’ve written, were all produced mostly in chunks produced after I’d spun my wheels for a bit while my mind got down to the business of writing.

Naturally, this leads to the second horn on my dilemma, and so far it has me stumped. I’ve mentioned that I have fibromyalgia. It may be due to the fibro, it may just be due to the fact that I’m now sixty. But I’ve discovered that if I sit for too long at a stretch, I start to freeze into that position. This is a very ungood thing, since it leads to exacerbated aches in muscles and such that I really don’t need. Add in the additional hours I’ve spent in the last three weeks on the organ bench—it’s got a pad, but that sucker is still very hard on my tender tush—and I can easily get to the point where sitting down at all is painful, from the small of my back through my butt and on down the backs of both thighs, all the way to my heels.

Maybe I’m a wimp, but pain is one of those things that can make it hard for me to get into flow-mode. It won’t necessarily knock me out of it if I can get there, but getting there becomes the trick.

To keep from turning into a statue, I use a program that will ring a bell and flash on my screen at intervals. It’s currently set for fifteen minutes, in effect a clock with a chime on the quarter hour. I try very hard to get up when it goes off and do the stretching routines, move around a bit, walk into the other room and back to get the circulation restarted in my legs, and so forth. But—you guessed it!—at that point I’m back to square one in terms of establishing flow. When I ignore the alarm and keep working, sometimes I manage to actually get some writing done. But I pay in pain. Did I mention that I’m a wimp?

I can’t be the only person in the world with this problem. So I am appealing to the Book View community mind. For those of you who are able to work in tiny bites, how do you manage it? For those of you who need to get to flow state, how do you keep from turning into a solid unmoving lump?

I’ve written nine books; I know how many hours that requires of butt-in-chair. But my butt and the chair no longer like each other very much, even though I’ve now got a very good ergonomic office chair that fits me. All suggestions and comments welcome. I’m treating this lightly, as that’s the easiest way to handle it, but it really is a problem.

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Horns of the Dilemma — 1 Comment

  1. Hi Kate

    I’m only 41 but I’ve had increasing issues with my back for years. Now I can sit in the chair for an hour or two tops before I must move or resign myself to no sleep and intense pain.

    And the time in the chair gets shorter as the day wears on.

    I get a couple of hours at the keyboard in the morning, dwindling down to 30 minutes or so of an evening (I work in IT so I’m on the computer all day).

    I’ve tried changing chairs. I’ve tried getting up each hour and going for a short walk. I’ve mastered the stretches. Nothing works for long.

    But the fact we can work through the initial period do to being in the flow has led me to staying in the flow and moving away from chair. Now I write for an hour or so, and then when I feel the first pangs of pain, I stand and go for a short walk to get things circulating again. While I’m moving about, I’m thinking of what is going to happen in the future pages, and what I need to get there. I keep working in my head with the same single mindedness I use when at the keyboard.

    Obvious – yes, but the trick is in making this a normal way for you to write. If you have to stop and think, “the pain is getting to me, time to move” – you’re already out of the flow. You need to find your tolerance levels, time how long it takes to get there, and build in the writing/brainstorming/thinking routine. Then you never actually break out of the flow once you’re there – or at least I’ve found I don’t tend to stray too far from it and it’s easier to dive back in.

    This may not be of any help what so ever to you, but I thought you’d appreciate the fact you’re not alone with the pain.