The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Structure and Flow

In a very real sense, all that exists in any skill is structure: the component pieces of the discipline, the skills which must be internalized, or the knowledge which must be gained, and Flow, the ability to perform these skills under stress.  To immerse oneself in the moment to moment intensity of performance without losing your center.  To not allow stress to become strain.

This is, of course, one of the reasons that Lifewriting is structured as it is.  There are tons of classes to teach you writing structure (heck, there's a whole industry out here in Hollywood), but very very few avenues to teach the second aspect, flow.  So the two things I stress are: the Hero's Journey for structure, because it mirrors our lives and therefore has the very fastest learning curve.  Yes, there are stories that don't conform to it (thank goodness!) but I can think of no structure--and I've seen hundreds--that communicates to a broader, deeper audience.  And I use the chakras to show the NATURAL flow of energy in our lives. 
There are other models of structure, of course.  All I ask is that you choose one, and overlearn it so that if someone awakened you at 4 in the morning and put a gun to yur head, saying "What is a story?" you could instantly answer.  (Remember--the only skills of any use at all are those which can be applied under stress!).  Secondly, I would beg you to find a way to incorporate flow into your life.  There are so many ways--but find one, explore and refine it separate from the specific applications you choose to address.  Believe me, in career, athletics, or relationships, flow is essential.  If you think you can address all of your issues consciously, you are simply kidding yourself.
Let' stake a look at the three most common arenas:
1) Physical.  Tai Chi, Yoga, dance, running, walking, any kind of steady-state rhythmic endurance activity that lasts more than 20 minutes will teach this critical skill.  Frankly, I think it's best to learn it on this level, because flow learned here will also help you mentally--but mental flow doesn't necessarily help your fitness.
2) Emotional.  Heartbeat meditation, just concentrating on the beat of the little muscle in yoru chest for 20 minutes once a day, can be a powerful flow activity, as well as a way of centering emotionally.
3)  Mental.  There is an exercise called "contour drawing" found in a terrific book called Drawing On the Right Side Of Your Brain.  Read it.  basically, the exercise has you  take a sheet of paper and crumple it into a ball.  Then you place it beside a drawing pad.  Without taking your eyes off the crumpled ball OR lifting your pen from the paper, draw the ball. Slowly.  Smoothly.  Move your eyes over the crumpled ball as you move your pen on the paper, one inch at a time.  Soo this for 20 minutes.  Terrific exercise.
Whatever you do, find a way to address each of these concerns, and your writing--and life--will gain in efficiency and pleasure.  Promise.

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