Finding your Flow

beautiful pink lotus in lotus swamp at “Talay-Noi” Pattalung province ,Thaialnd

You can call it a writer’s paradise. Sitting down to write without interpretation, words spill from your fingerprints like rain drops during a summer storm. Steady. Constant. Sure. You lost track of time and for a moment, you forget where you are. You have found your groove. Your sweet spot. You have founded a flow.

When you are there, it’s an awesome place to, but getting there is most writers’ greatest challenge. But what if there was a way that entering a flow wasn’t so hard? What if there was a way that finding your flow was like turning on the water faucet in your bathroom: steady, constant, sure. According to a distinguished psychological researcher, Mihaly Csikszentmihaly flow can be described as concentration “so intense that there is no attention left over to think about anything irrelevant, or to worry about problems.”

Concentration is no longer the multi-lane highway that many of us have when we are trying to write. Instead, we have single lane of traffic headed in one direction. Csikszentmihaly goes on to say in his book Flow that flow is not something accidental, random or happenstance. He explains that in most cases, it happens as a “result either from a structured activity, or from an individual’s ability to make flow occur, or both.”

If you want to learn various structured activities that can increase your writing flow, join me for a free writing workshop May 3 at the Gail Borden Library from 4-5:30 pm in the Grove Room. You can register here. See you there!

Reference: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper Perennial, 1990.

Celebrating National Poetry Month

Earlier this month, I did a reading at Gail Borden Library to commemorate National Poetry Month. I also invited a couple of friends to read alongside. Since the event was held in the River Road, we each read poems inspired by the river. Elgin is one of several cities that are nestled along Fox River.

During the reading, I took questions from the audience about how I write poems and the creative process.

I shared new poems for a collection I am working on about Elgin’s early African American residents.

These photos were taken by James Harvey.

How to Create an Erasure Poem

According to the American Academy of Poets , an erasure is where a poet takes a text and erases portions of the text to create a poem. Erasure poetry is also called blackout poetry. It is considered a found poem. Creating erasures is a strategy you can use to avoid being stuck in your writing. It also can be a tool to expand your vocabulary and engage in creative play with words.

Erasures can created be from a variety of texts. I recommend using texts that won’t get you into trouble with copyright infringement. Be conscious of plagiarism when you are working with the text. Here are some ideas for texts: dictionary, cookbook, hymnals,  song lyrics, religious text, magazine, newspaper articles, poems you have written, vintage books. 

Here’s how you can create one. 

  1. Select a text.

Remember aim for a text that is in public domain.

2. Pick a writing utensil.

I like to use a pencil because I can erase if I feel the urge. But a pencil or a black sharpie can work.

3. Start erasing.

Allow yourself to enter a flow as you do this. Don’t overthink your choices. You are not analyzing the poem or being overly critical. This activity is not about creating the perfect poem. Your goal is to find a poem within the text. Within one text lies several poems. Your goal is to simply find one.

4. Stop

Whenever you feel you have created a poem, cease erasing. 

Now that you know the best method, here are some variations you can try with technique. 

  1. Scrabble

Type of up the words or phrases that remain. Cut a strip of each word of phrase and play around with the order. Glue or tape the strips on a piece of paper. It’s fun if you do a couple of variations and see which one is stronger. 

You also could cut up a erasure poems and put the strips in envelopes to pull out whenever you feel stuck with your writing. It can get you out of your rut.

  1. Haiku

Make a haiku from the words that remain.

2. Rainbow

Pick 3-4 colored pencils or markers.  Highlight words you want to keep. You can be totally random with how you color them or you can create a color code. For example, every verb could be highlighted blue and every noun highlighted in pink. The visual image of your poem will create a different effect and allow you to experience the poem differently. The highlighting may also be soothing. 

3. Combo

Select a few texts that may be related to the poems you are currently working on. Use them to give you inspiration for your new poem or as creative play for when you feel stuck. For example, let’s say you are writing a river in your hometown. You could have dictionary definitions of words related to the river, newspaper articles, encyclopedia entries or lyrics about the river.

4. Digital

If you are not into pen and paper, you can create an erasure online at this website

Learn about other varieties here.

If you want to read a published collection of erasures, check out poet Quenton Baker who created a book about the Creole—the most successful on a U.S. slave ship.

Belmont Spreads the Word

Some of my fondest memories date back to when I was a college student at Belmont University. I loaded my little white Duster and drove nearly 2.5 hours north to Nashville with my CD player blasting an upbeat tune. I was a first generation college student so I had a lot of adjusting to do. Belmont was the place where I learned I had public speaking abilities. There, I met life long friends. My faith grew, and I gained connections with mentors who pushed me to become the person I am today. I traveled the world for the first time and even won my first national award. Belmont holds countless fond memories for me. Recently, they featured me in the alumni news. Check it out.