Life is busy, and full of responsibilities. Sometimes, this means having the flow of your writing interrupted by the daily deeds we all must do: full- or part-time jobs, family obligations, errands, home chores, and the ebb and flow of relationships. These common disruptions can throw writers into a spin if they happen when we’re in that productive, near-fugue state that creatives experience “in the flow.” Don’t worry, though. You can preserve your writing “flow” when real life infringes on your writing time.
First, let’s define that flow state. Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi coined the term “flow” to describe a complete and total absorption with a particular activity back in 1975. In his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Csíkszentmihályi reasons that people are happiest when they are in a state of flow. In this state, people are so involved in an activity that nothing else matters. They go through a period of absorption, engagement, fulfillment, and skill, during which concerns such as time, food, and other obligations are typically ignored.
Sounds like a definition of your best writing days, right?
So, it’s no wonder that having your writing interrupted is a bummer, to say the least. However, there are ways to preserve that flow state so you can step back into it more easily. Here are just two:
First, let’s take a look at the impact of your surroundings on writing flow. I’ve often extolled the virtues of having a specific place for writing, and flow is one of the reasons why. When your flow state gets disturbed, it’s much easier to re-enter it if you can re-create, in detail, your surroundings at the time of your flow experience. This is simple when you’re “flowing” in a space dedicated to writing. And, in fact, a dedicated writing spot can help encourage more episodes of flow, just by association. If, however, you got into a writing groove one morning at the local Starbucks, you can try to regenerate that flow by going back to the same Starbucks, ordering what you ordered when you were in the flow, and sitting at the same table. If you were listening to your favorite tunes, pop your earbuds back in and choose the same (or similar) music.
One of the hallmarks of being in the flow is extreme focus. Focus, and a way to bring about focus, is different for every writer. In general, though, you need to remove all distraction from your writing area. Turn off cellphones and TVs. Tell other people to steer clear. Take care of any extraneous errands or chores that might be weighing on your mind, keeping you from focusing. Then, add in those elements that help you focus. For some, music is critical for focus; for others, it’s a distraction. Some focus well with bright lighting; others with low, ambient light. Time of day can be critical for focus, too. Some writers are night owls, feeling their best and brightest in the wee hours, while others can’t concentrate after 2 pm. Knowing yourself well, and knowing the things that help or detract from your ability to focus, is the key to recovering the flow after an interruption.
So, the next time your flow is disrupted by homework-laden children, a rambunctious pet, or an urgent phone call, don’t despair. Get that magnum opus flowing again with these simple adjustments!
See you on the next page!