by Kris Maze
Is your writing in a slump? Are you having trouble finding motivation to finish your next project? Have you lost that loving feeling? (Insert cheesy, singing jet pilots here if that works for you!) Fear not, skilled writers, we are in this together and I hope you will soon find your words flowing like Niagara Falls.
Getting into the Zone, or Flow, has been a popular topic for creatives like writers since the 1990s. What do you already know about the theory and its application to writing? Check out your understanding of these studies that clarify the mental process of writing and enhance your satisfaction with life.
The History of "Flow"
In Csikszentmihalyi's first chapter, he warns that the book is not intended to be a "how to be more creative, to get more output, or to be generally more happy" promise, but these perks could be side effects. Knowledge is power, peeps, and the more you understand why and how writers write, the more satisfying your overall career with written words can be.
Another resource that goes into depth: How to Get Into The Flow, by Steven Kotler. That video link describes how writers can reach their potential with Flow. He explains the concepts underpinning Flow to help writers figure out how to tap into their creative juices and why writing feels so good when it is going well.
Flow - the Optimization of Creative Experience Summarized
Of the 8 identified characteristics of Flow, the first 3 are precursors to the mental state of "writing Nirvana." Consider these conditions when trying to get into the groove of writing.
1. Have clear, obtainable goals with a timely feedback loop.
Each time a writer sits at their desk they have the same goal - get words on the paper. One way to increase their productive Flow is to set clear goals. Having daily goals, such as word count or pages edited, gives the brain less to figure out and allows it to focus more exclusively on the task at hand: Writing. The daily goals can add into overarching goals, alleviating more thinking tasks for the brain.
In general, to get into the Flow, we want to limit the other things our brains want to work on. The subconscious mind and constant input from our surroundings can detract from our ability to focus. Can you automate some tasks to free your mind more? Delegate the housework, or cut down the to-do list of unfinished things? Find ways to lessen the burden on your mind and see your productivity rise.
The Feedback Loop could warrant its own post, it is so important. But for brevity sake, feedback as mentioned here is about identifying the quality of the writing you are doing. Perhaps your feedback loop includes your critique group or partner. Some writers use an online editor for quicker feedback. Self editing after a break can also help you determine how well you are hitting your writing goals. This feedback informs your future writing sessions as you iterate your process and make improvements.
2. Have a high level of concentration with a limited field.
We have a lot to consider when examining what is stealing our concentration.
What external distractions infiltrate your writing time? Identity the things that pull you from your creativity and then, protect your writing time from them. Internal influences are mentioned in later bullet points and addressing them can help writers focus as well.
Ask yourself these questions regarding your writing space.
- Do you have a designated place for writing?
- Does the setting help your focus? Perhaps it is quiet that you need. Or background noise to eliminate the distractions.
- Would headphones for silence, or ambient music to limit out unwanted noise interruptions help in your case?
One personal hack that has worked for me, is turning off all notifications for social media and non-work related apps. I also uninstalled the games from my phone (even Sudoku!). When I find myself reaching for a game or to check messages and see none, I give myself metal white space instead. That has helped me have energy to tackle writing tasks and feel less stressed while getting my work done. It seems that when I was “taking a break” I was actually using up critical thinking that I could be pouring into my writing!
3. The writing task is carefully balanced with skill and interest level.
As a language teacher I find this an important characteristic for growth as a writer. Choosing writing that both challenges you and is at your skill level is the caveat of this characteristic. Picking a genre out of your wheel-house or increasing your daily word count, may be a goal to jump start your writing, but be sure it is realistic for you. If you want to show improvement, set your goals and intentions at what you can do and add only a tiny bit of challenge.
Like learning another language, If you push yourself too hard with language that is too fast or over your level, you will end up frustrated and shut down. Likewise, if a language is below your level you may be bored and disengaged.
As a writer, we set ambitious goals, especially at the beginning of the year. Think about the writing goals you have set for yourself. Are they attainable goals and are you comfortable with the work you set for yourself? If your word count or topic is too easy, you’ll get bored and abandon the work. It is worth the time to reflect on your goals and make sure they are SMART:
The psychology of finding Flow depends on this reflection. The better you understand your writing habits and what makes it enjoyable, the better you can honor and improve your skills.
The remaining 5 characteristics of Flow are indicators of when you have found the sweet spot and are writing like mad.
The more complete your Flow experience, the more of these you could claim. We have all been in that state of mind, but in case you haven’t, here’s what it is like:
4. A Strong Sense of Control
Unlike the negative connotations the word “control” can bring, this version is desirable. This version says “I’ve got this!” and isn’t impeded by worry about the past or anxiety about the future. This relaxation and comfortable feeling are control in a centered way and demonstrates a warm stability when writing.
The words flow like melting butter to the page and you have little brain power invested into this endeavor. ALthough the previous efforts of writing drafts and research are just probably paying off, this characteristic of Flow keeps us coming back for more. Like an elusive hole in one in golf, watching one happen seems so easy, but is hard to obtain. If you notice it, enjoy it!
6. Time Has Little Meaning
If you have ever stepped away from the desk and wondered where the last hour went, you understand this litmus test of Flow. The ability to focus on writing alone, can temporarily shut down the writer’s sense of time.
Brain research shows that parts of reasoning that regulate social norms decrease during Flow. So the idea that writers are often late to dinner, forget to call, or skip social functions all together is possibly connected to capturing good Flow moments. It may have merit, but I don’t recommend using that as an excuse!
7. Action melds with Performance
This aspect describes the feeling of being one with the work. It may apply more to dancers, musicians, or athletes that report not feeling control over their body while performing.
The research describes this process of losing self as the lack of self- consciousness, worry, and preoccupation with particular social expectations, which allows the person to solely focus on the art at hand.
I like to call this one the “Get out of your way!” mantra. We sometimes underperform because we allow ourselves to stumble over our own doubts and preconceptions. Identifying this tendency and replacing those thoughts with positive ones can help writers get back into the Flow of writing.
8. Has an Autotelic Quality
Writing that seems to flow on its own without the author. The writing is pouring out and the author is merely a conduit. The feelings of the goals finishing themselves is both pleasant during the experience and after as one accomplishes the task. This is a combination of the other aspects working together.
What tips do you have to get out of your writing slumps? Have you been able to achieve a state of Flow? When do you have to push through and simply get the writing done the most?
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Kris Maze is an author, freelance writer, and teacher. She enjoys writing twisty, speculative fiction with character driven plots. After years of reading classic literature, mysteries, and thrillers, she began to write and publish her own books. She also writes for various publications including a regular post at the award winning Writers in the Storm Blog. When she isn’t spending time with her favorite people and pets, Kris Maze is taking pictures, hiking, or pondering the wisdom of Bob Ross. You can follow her author journey at her website at KrisMazeAuthor.com
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