The Polished Paragraph

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Dancing like no one is looking; writing like no one will read

Painters must want to paint above all else. If the artist in front of the canvas begins to wonder how much he will sell it for, or what the critics will think of it, he won’t be able to pursue original avenues. Creative achievements depend on single-minded immersion.
Mihaly Csikszentmihaly

Dancing – or writing – like no one is watching. (Artwork by duchesssa at rgbstock.com.)

Like I said a couple of weeks ago, every now and again I go back into my old story files. Occasionally, what I find in there is BAD, embarrassing even. Don’t email me now about my negative attitude; that it’s bad just tells me how much I’ve improved as a writer. There’s one story in there, though, that I wrote and shared with an old writing group. I read it to the members, and… silence poured forth. No one even bothered with a platitude like “Good try.” I’ll just say that the story involved belly button lint, a hangover, and sex. Maybe the group was mortified for me, thinking it was autobiographical. It wasn’t. I’ll add that it was an honest writing effort on my part, and I had no thoughts of publishing anything at that time.

BTW, I’m one of those people who dances in my house when no one but the dog is watching. During the recent Sochi Olympics, I even did some figure skating in the family room. The family did NOT award me a medal, though my husband said I had enthusiasm. And heart. And that’s what writing or hooking or painting or any passion you have is about.

Csikszentmihaly (the guy quoted above) is known for his flow theory, which he described as:

…being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.

While I was probably using my skills to the utmost when I wrote that belly button lint story, I’m glad that I’ve raised that skill bar a LOT HIGHER in the past several years. Because I practiced, because I wanted to become a better writer. Of course, I hope that I publish more stories, but when I start one, all that’s on my mind is trying to find the best words, the most interesting characters, and a viable plot. Reader shmeader. The only person I’m trying to impress at that point is me. When I do that, I’ll be ready to astonish the world with my dancing. I mean, writing.

…It is when we act freely, for the sake of the action itself rather than for ulterior motives, that we learn to become more than what we were.
–Csikszentmihaly

What activities do you lose yourself in? Where can they take you?

 

 

 

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Author: Laura S

Laura Salamy is a published author. Her essays and short stories have appeared in print and online. As the owner of The Polished Paragraph, she edits and proofreads other writers of all kinds. She is currently an assistant editor for the lit journal Fifth Wednesday, and she blogs on the fourth of every month for get born magazine. In her past life, Laura spent many years in the environmental, health and safety industry. She also worked for a non-profit completing grant applications and doing other "stuff." In her spare time, Laura creates colorful and less-than-traditional hooked rugs and mats. Many are "up-cycled" from old clothes, funky fabrics, and notions. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, a teenager (oh no!), and a very silly dogs.

5 Comments

  1. Oh, the discomfort of reading old stuff! I feel you sister. Also on the joy of dancing around the house. :)

  2. What else can we do but keep dancing and writing? Thanks for commenting!

  3. If I tried to dance (or figure-skate) in my house, damage would ensue. Lamps would perish. Furniture would need emergency trauma services. :P

    But I understand what you’re saying. It seems we live our entire lives for others. What do we have, really have, for ourselves? I’d like to say my writing, but at this stage I’m trying to impress readers and editors for various e-zines and print magazines so they will purchase my stories. And on that score, my batting average, while not .000, will not win me any titles.

    Yet, as you said, when we first start out, we write primarily for ourselves. I may have already mentioned this, but my oldest surviving story, from high school, involves an actual, military war between McDonalds and Burger King, using the food items they served at that time as the names of their weapons. I got a kick out of writing it, and the few kids who read it seemed to like it as well.

    Of course, I was a lot slimmer, and much more nimble, in high school. I could do pirouettes and triple axels like nobody’s business.

    It just may be time to train again. ;)

  4. You’ll have to share the war of the burger joints, Paul. Sounds interesting. Weird. :)

    Any pics of the triple axels?

  5. None that survived. ;)