Have you ever sat down to write for an hour and looked at the clock to find that, somehow, four hours have passed? Have you felt the thrill of ending a chapter on an incredible hook, or of somehow capturing on the page an emotion you weren't sure you could?
That's flow. And it's what we writers crave.
According to Wikipedia, flow is "the mental state of operation in which the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing by a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity." The idea was proposed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, a Hungarian psychology professor. He identified nine factors which you may experience during flow.
- Clear goals
- Concentrating and focusing
- A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness
- Distorted sense of time
- Direct and immediate feedback
- Balance between ability level and challenge
- A sense of personal control
- The activity is intrinsically rewarding
- People become absorbed in their activity
When I'm working on a draft, I really want to get into a flow. (With edits and revisions, it's not so important.) I find that the more I write, the easier it is for me to slip into that state--it becomes almost a habit.
To get started, I try to think in very simple terms. How will I get my characters from point A to point B? (That's my goal--#1 from the list above.) For example, my heroine is going to a dinner party hosted by the earl she hopes to marry, but the hero distracts her. I have to physically get her to the party and also show how the hero is able to fluster her and make her forget all about the old earl.
Next, I make sure that neither I nor the minivan is needed for a minimum of one hour and that no one in the household is on the brink of starvation. (#2 from our list.)
Finally, I give myself permission to write crap. (That's #3 on the list.) Because masterful writing on the first pass (or the second or third) is really too much pressure.
And usually . . . it works. I'm in a flow until real life intervenes once more.
What tricks do you have for getting into a writing flow? Or any other type of flow, for that matter?