Have you ever been so engaged in an activity that you lost track of time or even your surroundings? A bomb could have gone off and you wouldn’t have noticed anything except the task at hand? Wouldn’t it be nice to write this way during your allotted time?
That’s called “flow” – a state of consciousness where we experience a task so deeply that it truly becomes enjoyable and satisfying. For me this usually happens while I’m reading or writing. For you, it could happen during any number of tasks — golfing, cooking, hiking, etc., or any other enthralling activity.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is the architect of Flow. After many decades of researching the characteristics of the “optimal experience” he wrote Flow: The Psychology of the Optimal Experience. A guide that shows us how to add more meaning in our lives by increasing the time we spend in Flow.
Before I discuss the benefits of writing with flow, I want to define how flow can be achieved.
Flow can be achieved by anyone doing any task that we are doing, as long as the conditions are right. I usually get into a state of Flow while writing. I just get into the zone and after a few minutes, I really get into my work and I’m completely oblivious of my surroundings.
I write very fast and keep writing that way for many hours. Other times, I type very slowly and the words don’t come easily. But, either way, I’m in a state of Flow.
How to Bring About Flow in Writing?
Flow occurs when:
• You’re activity has clear goals and gives you some sort of feedback;
• You have the sense that your personal skills are well suited to the challenges of the activity, giving you a sense of potential control;
• You are intensely focused on what you’re doing;
• You lose awareness of yourself, perhaps feel part of something larger;
• Your sense of time is altered, with time seeming to slow, stop or become irrelevant; and
• The experience becomes self-rewarding in itself.
There are four main ways to bring about flow in writing:
1. You should have a reason to write
Writers write because they want to.
You have to feel motivated to write to get fully absorbed in writing, if flow is to follow.
People may write for many different reasons.
Some writers write to get published,
change the world,
to relieve pressure,
because it feels good,
and so on.
None of these things can bring about flow because they are extrinsic motivators–that is they are motivators that are outside of the individual writer.
So, let me quickly explain what an extrinsic motivator is in more detail.
An extrinsic motivator is a motivator that is generated from the outside. So, it can be a motivator that is generated by others or by other things that are mostly outside of your control.
If you want to learn how to write in flow, you have to become more intrinsically motivated to write.
So, here are a few examples of intrinsic motivators:
• You want to write on a particular topic;
• You want to learn more about a topic;
• You have experience in an area and you want to share it with others;
• You want to write a manuscript because you love writing;
• You want to write a manuscript because of how good you feel and whole when you write;
• You want to write a manuscript because the project is inspiring and pulling you in and not because you feel like you have to or because something outside of you is pushing you to write the book.
At these times, you’re not focused on your ego, you’re may feel freer to take creative risks leading to novel solutions and insights because the risks don’t carry any liability to your ego. In other words, you’ve got nothing to lose one way or the other.
The optimal conditions for creativity and thus for flow include a condition of psychological safety from external evaluation. When you feel your efforts are going to be judged, you quickly lose the ability to marshal all your mental and emotional resources in the quest for a new way to express yourself.
So, to write in flow, you should focus on creating intrinsic motivators for your projects.
2. The second way to bring about flow in writing is that You should think like a writer
How you think is a part of your personality.
Your attitudes are under your control. You have to let go and focus.
You should work on becoming more absorbed in your writing, if it matters enough to you.
You have to learn the skills that go into being a more resilient person, and eventually these skills will translate into having greater confidence in yourself as a writer.
Once you move these attitudes in the direction of thinking as a writer you will be taking steps to write in flow.
Therefore, there is a connection between a writer’s personality and the way she experiences flow. A writer’s values also come into play.
What you believe about the rightness of the time you spend writing also impacts flow. Some writers see writing as an expression of the highest humanity and others are troubled by the niggling feeling that taking too much time for their writing is slightly selfish because it’s like stealing time from their family.
If you identify with that second attitude–that is the attitude that you are being selfish when you write, you might find it much more difficult to let go and focus fully when you sit down to write.
You have to be open to experience flow.
Flow occurs when you allow yourself to consider all possibilities rather than shutting any out automatically. It’s a combination of being curious, sensitive to what’s going on in the world around you, and having a certain liberal attitude about life.
Openness moderates the relation between creative ability and creative accomplishments. It’s this openness to experience then that provides you with the impetus to explore avenues and to pursue a career like writing.
You also should not be afraid to take risks in order to write in flow.
Taking risks can be especially challenging to those writers who can’t bear to give up control. If your desire for control is higher than average, you’ll naturally have a tendency to try to structure your world so as to avoid uncontrollable situations and the stress they cause you.
You have to be fully absorbed in order to write.
You are fully absorbed when you are immersed deeply in some activity as to be impervious to distractions and to have an altered sense of yourself and reality. Absorption reflects the degree of your tendency to become deeply engaged in what you are doing.
3. The third way to bring about flow in writing is that You should loosen up
When you loosen up you get involved in the writing itself. This allows you to put aside thoughts about your long and short-term writing goals and your attitudes, and find a way to get fully involved in the writing that you are doing.
Most writers use certain routines and rituals that seem to ease their entry into flow. It’s hard to know whether all of these rituals and routines are crucial in order to be able to write easily and well.
By the habitual nature of these routines, you can make the shift into an alternative consciousness and contribute to your creative process. Such habits may also cause biological changes, just as certain sights, sounds, and odors signal the start of an altered state of consciousness.
This can help writers to access a wide variety of original ideas. You can leap from one idea to the next, and do it freely.
So, what are some ways to loosen up?
Here are a few:
1. Do a Meditation exercise
Before you sit down to write, do a centering exercise. Set an egg timer for 5 minutes.
Then sit down, close your eyes, and take a few deep breaths.
Focus on a pleasant image, such as a waterfall or a rainbow.
Breathe deeply for a few minutes.
When the timer beeps, take a few deep breaths and then open your eyes.
Then start writing.
I do this exercise every morning before I get to my writing and I find that it helps tremendously.
2. Light a candle
3. Have a picture on your wall that takes you to a quiet and serene place
I have a big picture of a sunset off the Avon River above my computer. That takes me to a calm place, and I find that I could get into the zone that way.
Experiment with different things and see what works for you.
4. The fourth way to write with flow is to focus-in
The process of focusing in is one of placing your attention to the work, is another precursor to getting into flow. Your whole mind has to get involved in the job of writing with not a bit of mental energy left over to wander here and there. Only when your attention is fully focused on the task can you try to accomplish flow.
It is possible to learn to concentrate better even if it doesn’t come to you naturally.
Here are a few ways to build your attention muscles.
1. Through meditation
When you meditate you bring your attention back again to a word or phrase or your breathing, no matter how many times your attention wanders off.
2. By planning what you will do the night before
I try to spend a half an hour or so the night before planning what I will work on the next day. I find that this helps me to focus more.
3. Setting a timer and working fully during that time frame can really help a lot. I usually set my timer for an hour. During that hour, I make sure that I do NOTHING BUT WRITE. This can help to focus too.
4. When you sit down to write, do nothing but write. Don’t answer the phone, check email or do anything. Just write.
This can be difficult to do at first. But with practise, you can really focus better if you try to do so day by day for a few weeks.
~ Irene S. Roth