Flow. It’s something that I find interesting. In productivity circles, flow seems to sometimes be given an almost mystical status. I keep reading about achieving flow or flow being a state that you enter into.
But for me, flow doesn’t have any mystical qualities. It’s what happens when I can work smoothly and when no superfluous keystrokes get in my way.
As with judo, flow is a matter of maximum efficiency with minimum effort. Nothing less, nothing more.
Flow is a useful state for writers to enter. It allows you to get more done, faster and with less stress. But how do you get into a state of flow? It’s easy and its not. I try to break flow into four steps. Let’s take a look at those steps.
Calm your mind
When I was a student of Shotokan karate in the early 1980, my instructor often talked about having a mind like water. That’s when your mind is calm and clear.
If you try writing when you’re frustrated or stressed, you won’t get much done. In fact, you’ll wind up with something that needs heavy editing or rewriting.
You need to calm your mind. And there are many ways to do that. Meditate for a few minutes. Take 10 minutes to sit back, relax, breathe slowly, and loosen your body. Take a quick nap.
Eliminate physical distractions
Any number of things in your environment can pull you away from your writing. Those don’t need to be big distractions, either.
Start by clearing off your desk. Make sure that the only thing on it is your computer or mobile device, your keyboard, and maybe a notebook and pen.
Block out sound with earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones.
Turn off your phone.
Lock yourself in a room away from family or roommates.
Eliminate digital distractions
These are the ones that really get us when we write. If you’re writing in your web browser, only keep on tab or window open: the one you’re writing in. Shut down any other software — whether it’s an email client, an instant messaging application, or even a reading app.
If you really want to get work done, try turning off your wireless or unplugging your network cable.
Think about using a distraction-free editor or running your web browser in full-screen mode (you can usually do this by pressing F11 on your keyboard).
At first, you probably won’t write as much as you hope to. That’s often because your initial expectations are too high or because your mind is in some small way resisting your efforts to enter a state of flow.
But as you progress, as you mindfully and deliberately practice, you’ll find it easier to get into a flow. Your words will come out and will come together.
Remember to edit
While what you write will (I hope) be better than the results of freewriting or doing a brain dump, it probably won’t be perfect or even publishable. It’ll be close in many cases, but close doesn’t count. As William Zinnser pointed out when talking about a lot of younger writers today:
Just because they’re writing fluently doesn’t mean they’re writing well.
So, take the time to edit and rewrite. As I keep pointing out, editing is the secret to good writing.
Thoughts? As always, your comments are welcome.
Photo credit: dlockeretz