Saturday, June 20, 2009

Getting into the Flow

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.

  1. Clear goals

  2. Concentrating and focusing

  3. A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness

  4. Distorted sense of time

  5. Direct and immediate feedback

  6. Balance between ability level and challenge

  7. A sense of personal control

  8. The activity is intrinsically rewarding

  9. 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?


Keli Gwyn said...

Great post, Anne.

I get into the flow by listening to music. I have a special file in iTunes just for my wip. Since I write historicals and am distracted by lyrics, I've found the works of the classical composers to be just the thing. As soon as the first strains of Vivaldi begin, I'm transported back in time into the lives of my characters.

sherrinda said...

I hear about writers who snatch 15 minutes here and there and write and I am just amazed! I have to have at least a good hour to get my groove on and get in the zone. Like you, I have to make sure everyone is taken care of first, so I can have minimal interruptions!

Anne Barton said...

Hi, Keli--I remember you saying that you listen to music when you write. It seems like the music is like a cue or trigger for you. Cool!

Sherrinda, I'm like you. Fifteen minutes is how long it takes me to figure out where I am and where the heck I was going. :)

Have a great weekend, ladies!