Saturday, January 31, 2009

FLOW for writers

I'm guessing that everyone reading this has been in what some people call flow --in that state of total concentration, when you're so absorbed in what you're doing that it seems effortless. Whatever you're doing (even something really hard) seems to be happening without any conscious direction from you. If you're ski-ing, you're flowing down the mountain, your feet making the turns by themselves....if you're writing (painting I bet is the same?), you forget where you are and are surprised when (hours later) you look around and see your room.

It's the most amazing, fun state of being in the world, when you're in it -- and I'm not in it nearly as much as I used to be. I thought if I looked at the book about it I might be able to figure out how to get there more often.

It said that SOMETIMES it happens all by itself (you're traveling and see an amazing view or something) but that usually, you are doing "a task." And usually, you:

1. Believe that you have a chance of completing the task

If "completing the task" means "finish this novel as fast as I can" flow is unlikely. So I made each day's task a specific scene. (Of course, I could write more than one -- but I HAD TO write one.)

2. "Concentrate completely on the task. This is made easier when" (he says and *I* say, when there's no email! Not checking it is so hard!):

3. "The task has a clear goal."

For this week, my goal was pretty simple: write what interests ME, not what I think I "should" write. Next week, I may make specific goals for each scene.

4. "The task provides immediate feedback."

This is where reading it to someone whose judgement you trust RIGHT AWAY would be great. But, I (like most writers) really know when something I"m writing is good and when it isn't. Sometimes I don't WANT to know -- but I do.

The next four (I think) are a result of the first four, so there is nothing I can do to make THEM happen but do the first --so I'll just quote the book. It is FLOW by Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi (YAY! someone with a name harder to pronounce and spell than mine!):

5. "One acts from a deep but effortless involvement that removes from awareness the worries and frustrations of daily life."

6. "Exercise a sense of control over your actions"

....this is a really impossible one for writers, I think, because at least for me, it's when I'm NOT in control that the best things get written - they just sort of pop out. But, I know they are more likely to pop out when I'm at my desk, writing, (or HAVE written and am going for a walk) than if I am, say, at a party.....maybe just sitting down and doing it, the good old "butt in chair" rule (or BIC, as Jane Yolen said in Jarret's video), satisfies this one? I can control THAT.

7. "The sense of self disappears."

8. "Time disappears."

So, after all that, I STILL didn't get into Flow -- I had a lot of unavoidable distractions (job-hunting). I'm going to keep trying. Making a specific, do-able goal for the day did make getting to work easier. And what I read of the book was interesting (I'm not one to read a self-help book all the way through).

Another thing he talked about that really related to freelancing is pressure: how pressure can both increase and inhibit flow, but this post is already long enough. I might post about that next week, especially if I have progress to report.



StoryForce said...


Thank you for this thought provoking post! I have experienced a lot of FLOW this week, for which I am grateful. I have not always had the pleasure. In the past, writing has been extremely painful for me at times.

A few things that help me get in the FLOW:

-Gratitude, especially, gratitude that I have the luxury of taking time to write.
-Freeing myself from the end result and finding joy in the process, whatever part of the process I find myself in now.
-Knowing I have other options. I could be doing something else right now, but I choose to be writing in service of a longer term goal.
-Knowing my heart. That is, knowing that writing is really IT for me. It's what I am meant to be doing.

Go with FLOW!


gael lynch said...


Love your post! Just what the doctor ordered. I will continue to be true to myself...follow the energy of gratitude, and get up before my conscious mind is able to wander into all kinds of other activities of lesser value. I went to NYC for the SCBWI conference today. What a treat to see the Blue Rose Girls up on the screen! One thing that kept running through my mind is that even in these tight times, no one can take our creativity/flow away from us but ourselves!

Anonymous said...

LOVED seeing some of the Blue Rose Girls in Jarrett's oh-so-funny movie!

To you I raise a cupcake. :)

Libby Koponen said...

Thanks! Those are all really good tips. Tomorrow I will try going straight from bed to the keyboard-- you're right, writing BEFORE all those other conscious thoughts intrude is the way to do it.

And I agree about gratitude. Thanks for the reminder.

I'm glad you liked the post -- and the video, too: thanks for sharing that you saw it and liked it. I thought the scenes with Tomie dePaola were hilarious: even the drum music was funny. And those outfits! Jarrett did a great job with all of it; I felt honored to be included.


Christine Tripp said...

Loved the video too, saw it via the link posted on Mishaps and Adventures (as I missed this years SCBWI conference) I thought the highlight was the Agent "Zena", GOD she was hilarious!!!!
Of course, Jarrett stoll his own show, as it should be, ah guys and Guitar Hero, wish I could be so easily distracted during a time of turmoil:)