Flow & The Dangers of Writing

A funny thing happened recently while I was driving a race car at about 170 MPH, and it was all about flow. As I arced the car through a turn, the sticky slick tires at their limit of grip, the g-forces forcing me to grit my teeth, running just inches from two other cars, a thought popped into my head: this is like writing.

Huh?

Yeah, driving a race car at the limit is like writing. Okay, writing is safer. I’ll give you that. Well, unless you poke yourself in the eye with a pen, get a paper cut or stub a finger on the keyboard. Or you’re writing while racing. That’s just crazy dangerous.

When I’m writing at my best (it could happen!), I don’t think. It just happens. It flows.

When I’m racing at my best, I don’t think. It just happens. It flows.

When I try really, really hard to write something, I get the same results I do when I try really, really hard to drive fast: garbage. The harder I try, the worse it gets. The more I relax and let it happen, the better my performance – racing, writing or whatever.

The challenge is trusting myself. It’s trusting that if I let go and don’t try that the results will come.

I’ve even asked myself, “If I can’t trust myself, how can I expect anyone else to trust me?” That thought usually triggers something. And that something is nothing. Does that make sense? The nothing is me trusting myself to not try, to just let it happen. It’s not getting in the way of a great performance.

Great performance comes from knowing when to push, to try, to work at it… and when to let go, to trust yourself that it will happen, to let it happen, to let it flow.

Have you ever observed someone trying too hard? Trying to impress others? Have you ever done that yourself? I have. Often it’s a lack of self-confidence that drives this behavior. But, when I’ve just said to myself, “Stop – trust yourself. You’ve got nothing to prove that trying harder is going to help. Relax” I begin to let go of focusing on what others will think and… I don’t think.

“Economy of movement” is a term that 3-time World Driving Champion, Jackie Stewart used to describe driving a race car. “The less you do, the faster you’ll be” is how I describe it. Simplicity and efficiency is key to driving a race car fast.

When commenting about a long letter he’d written, Mark Twain said, “I could have written a shorter version, but I didn’t have time.” Simplicity and efficiency. Great writing requires few words. ‘Nuff said.

Great performance is also about simplicity and efficiency. About letting go, about not thinking, about letting it just happen, about being in the flow.

Racing or writing or whatever.

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3 Responses to “Flow & The Dangers of Writing”

  1. Michael Lord says:

    When people find out that I used to make my living as a Record Producer but now spend my time as a High Performance Driving coach the usual comment is; “Wow! That’s completely different!”, or something to that effect. My reply usually goes something like this: Not at all different. My job as a Producer was to help the artist find his or her best performance; to provide an environment that allowed the artist to dig deeper and explore the previously impossible and unimagined. That is exactly my job as a racing coach as well and some of the techniques involved are pretty much the same. I asked a lot of questions. The artist had to come up with the answers.
    Playing music and driving a car at speed are very similar experiences. Being in the groove as a musician is not really any different than being in the zone as a race car driver. This is especially true with musical improvisation wherein one simply reacts and responds to the next moment and the next moment and the next with absolute focus and intention. Driving a race car is like playing Jazz. The minute you start to “think” about playing it all falls apart just as it does in driving. Thought is simply too slow.
    It is my opinion and experience that the essence of creative process, once fully understood, can be applied to almost any endeavor with positive results. It is why many musicians play multiple instruments and may also paint or act. It is why many actors, Meryl Streep for example, are also tremendously talented singers. It is an attitude; a state of being that transcends the usual internal mental chit chat and takes you to the heart of the matter in a more direct, efficient and effective route. Ask around the paddock sometime. You will find that there are a lot of musicians among us.

  2. Jeff Braun says:

    Man this hits home with me….I got a kid doing both activities you talk about here Ross and I get to see how each task are so related.

  3. Adam White says:

    It’s funny you mention this. My first track experience last year was very much a flow inducing experience for me. I has so much fun learning and taking it all in. At the track I learned of your books, picked up a couple of them and started reading about high performance driving.

    At the same time I was reading a book called Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and as well Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life by the same author.

    I was able to draw connections between what the people talked about and what I experienced on the track. That feeling when nothing else matters, everything else goes away, you have intense focus and are pushing the boundaries of your skill level and comfort zone.