Creating in Flow

The world of creativity—with a twist of rationality

The Art of Perseverance (Interview with Wanda Coleman)

You may not know this about Wanda Coleman’s creative process.

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Poet and novelist Wanda Coleman just died (read an obituary). She earned 3000 rejections before beginning to be published in small magazines in the mid-70s, and then breaking through with an indie publisher.

She has since published 20 books, including the prize-winning autobiographical book of poems, Bathwater Wine. I can tell you that this is a very high number of rejections for a writer to get past, to keep writing and submitting in spite of.

I interviewed Coleman by letter 18 years ago for Writing in Flow: Keys to Enhanced Creativity. Here is what she wrote to me about her experiences of flow:

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EASY FLOW

Here is what she wrote to me about her experiences of flow:

My name for this altered state is "zoning" and/or "being in touch with the Muse," and/or "being on automatic." The pattern is non-specific. It happens when it happens. I have no writing blocks. I have regenerative lapses when I require rest and stimulation. I read, go to movies, watch TV, write letters to friends and don't worry about writing. The only thing that seems to kill my creativity is when I have to teach writing or edit text.

I have always been able to enter this kind of state, as early as I can remember. Since I have accepted it as a one of a number of "gifts" I possess, I don't pay particular attention to it when it occurs, except to enjoy its having happened. (Such altered states used to frighten me when they occurred, and I kept a mental diary of them. Most of them no longer frighten me.)

Flow seems to occur when I am most relaxed, and under ordinary circumstances. I need no drugs or alcohol, no chanting or meditation in order to enter the state—although deep concentration may be a factor. Smoking marijuana, when I did, and on those rare occasions when I could afford it, seemed to make no difference. Amphetamines don't seem to matter, either. Red wine, particularly Merlot, does seem to be a facilitator because it relaxes me almost immediately. Also, I'm able to do this under virtually any circumstances—even while the TV is on. It can happen while I'm writing by hand, but it happens more swiftly when I'm on the typewriter, word processor or computer.

THOUGHTS OF AUDIENCE

I block out any thoughts about my audience because they inhibit me. If I feel I need an audience, I imagine it as an understanding intelligence responsive to what I have to say.

I usually zone only when I'm being creative—working on poems and essays or writing letters to friends. When writing essays and articles, it doesn't seem to happen.

I usually start zoning 20-30 minutes into working. Occasionally it comes on me unexpected and initiates my working through it for hours. After a few days of particularly arduous work, I may suddenly slip into it and produce a nearly flawless piece.

I feel "plugged in" and whatever is in my head flows out effortlessly without my having to think about it. I also describe it in this way to my students: "As if it's writing me instead of me writing it."

Copyright (2013) by Susan K. Perry, author of Kylie’s Heel

Susan K. Perry, Ph.D., is a social psychologist and author. Her current focus is on the creative aspects of rationality and atheism.

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