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How Creative Flow is Like Sex

Consider 4 ways sexuality and creativity share common ground.

Sparkler"Writing is like making love. Don't worry about the orgasm, just concentrate on the process." That useful advice, credited to author Isabel Allende, seems like a good introduction to the idea that how you make love has commonalities with your journey toward creative expression. Consider...

1. In both creative flow and sexual activity, you surrender control.

"When I write, I feel out of control in a lovely way," a writer told me. "The analogy that comes to mind is sex: a heightening of senses, a rush, no concept of time, a dimming of the external world, an altered state in which creation is the unconscious though central intent."

A popular novelist (Carolyn See) said it this way: "When I create, I'm not thinking. In a sense, you're better off not thinking about it. Like sex, you don't want to think, oh now we're in foreplay."

2. Sex and creativity can each feel blocked.

Creative blocks can be compared to sexual dysfunctions in at least one way: the earlier in the process the difficulty kicks in, the more challenging the problem, and possibly the more negative the prognosis. With sex, "blocks" might range from an inability to become aroused to an inability to climax, whereas with creative expression, the range is from not being able to think about writing or working on your goals or project, to an inability to produce work consistently even when you do sit down to work. In my previous post about overcoming blocks by fighting your fears, some of the advice might apply as well to dealing with sexual inhibitions.

3. How you experience sex and how you enter a flow state both relate to your personality.

Methods of entering flow are as idiosyncratic as how you become sexually aroused. For many, whatever worked the first time or two may imprint itself so that they stick with that method for fail-safe success. (Creative rituals are explored in this post.)

An elegant and memorable example was given to me by science fiction author David Gerrold when I asked him some time ago to describe his writing process:

The pattern is. . . Have you ever seen any films of monkeys copulating? Did you ever notice that what the male does is he goes for about four seconds and then pauses and looks around? That's me. I go for about 15 minutes and then I just stop, refill my cup with tea, answer the mail, etcetera, for about five, maybe ten minutes, sometimes even as much as a half hour, then come back and go for another 15 minutes, take a break, then 15 minutes. And over a period of eight hours of work, the spreadsheet will show that I've done three to four hours of actual writing.

4. Creating can itself cause an erotic charge.

A male poet:

It's a kind of Zen sexual energy, because it's permeating things with a kind of tranquility also. It's the Zen paradox of energy and tranquility. But it has to be there, that charge, because of the physicality having to be there. And it may just be that's the way in which, chemically, things are being triggered. But it's not the same sort of sexual energy that happens in a singles bar. I guess things are basically sort of procreative, you're engendering something. It's a rush.

A female poet:

It's erotically engaging to have connected with the unconscious in a way that's gratifying and in a way that you really feel you've achieved something, even if nothing's going to be saved for the day. And I tend to get happy, even to the point of flirtatious with the day, feeling that there's a point to being alive.

Finally, an article in The New Yorker by Daniel Zalewski about Ian McEwan's creative process offers a good summary of the analogy. When McEwan begins writing, states Zalewski "he tries to nudge himself into a state of ecstatic concentration. A passage in Saturday describing Perowne in the operating theatre could also serve as McEwan's testament to his love of sculpting prose":

For the past two hours he's been in a dream of absorption that has dissolved all sense of time, and all awareness of the other parts of his life. Even his awareness of his own existence has vanished. He's been delivered into a pure present, free of the weight of the past or any anxieties about the future. In retrospect, though never at the time, it feels like profound happiness. It's a little like sex, in that he feels himself in another medium, but it's less obviously pleasurable, and clearly not sensual.

Copyright (c) by Susan K. Perry

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