When it comes to writing, productivity can sometimes feel like the search for the Holy Grail. So one of the greatest feelings that any type of writer (and even the average creative worker) can have is achieving a state of flow. It’s where time might feel distorted, yet what you’re doing does not feel like work but rather like creating something.
Achieving flow as a full-time writer can be accomplished, provided you develop a process that works for you and that you’re comfortable with. Creativity cannot always be “on”, nor can productivity, but if you prepare the right conditions for flow, it’ll come.
Some Necessary Conditions for Writing Flow
Create your own flow by priming and preparing your mind for it. Achieving flow does require work, but when you have it, writing seems almost effortless. You can then capture creativity when it comes. This works for other types of creative work, including design, coding, and more, but seems particularly suited to writing.
1. Schedule work but not your writing. That is, set aside time for all the tasks that are a part of writing: determining scope, producing an outline, brainstorming, research, writing a rough draft, editing and polish, applying hyperlinks (if you’re writing for the online medium), adding images, publishing (for example to a content management system), and communicating with your editor. (Depending on your situation, you may not have to do all of these things.)
Now within that schedule, don’t try to force all your writing into any particular timeslot. Do what you can first, then work on other tasks. If you do all the prepping of the tasks mentioned above, just allow flexibility to write when the creativity comes. I find that my best writing comes on weekends, but never just because “it’s 11 am and I need to write.” Scheduling you writing might work, but that writing will rarely be in the flow.
Instead, be systematic in completing all the non-creative tasks you need to do. Leverage your work day to get done what needs to be done, but leave flexibility for creative flow.
2. Write what you know. This can be interpreted in two ways. Firstly, it could mean write only about what you know right now – something that leads to stagnation and boredom. Or it could mean learn something new and then write about it. The point is that when you write about something you know, it’s easier to be passionate about it and far easier to write fast. Of course, it’s not always possible to control what you have to write about, but do your best.
3. Have inspiration. To get in the flow and find time after time, you need regular inspiration. Some writers claim that they never like to read other writers’ work. They might be able to pull that off, but most of us can’t. Get your inspiration by consuming content through various mediums:
- TV, movies.
- RSS readers and news feeds, text msgs from feeds.
- Email alerts.
By consuming from different sources and of different topics, you create an “intersection of ideas” effect as described in the book The Medici Effect. (You can get a free PDF version of this book at the main website.)
5 Steps for Achieving Writing Flow
Once you’ve set the conditions for flow, here are some steps for achieving it.
- Scope your projects. Spend a few minutes per project determining exactly what needs to get done. What are the deliverables? What do you need to do/ learn to produce them? Which is the most critical project? What is the most effective way to get through your current task list? Know what you want to write about, at least in essence.
- Outline each project. Either use a list or a basic mind map with minimal structure. This helps to prep your mind for this project.
- Write down what you know. For each project, note down what you know, in point form, either in your list or mind map. Brainstorm if you have to. This helps you to consciously realize where you’re at.
- Decide what you don’t know. Determine what you still have to find out, to complete a project.
- Get started. Work on a single project, A, until you run out of steam. What you should do now is first research further but don’t go back to project A right away. Your mind needs time to absorb the information you’ve just found through research. Provided that you’ve made notes from your research, you’ve prepared your “background” thinking processes to take over. You can now do some work on project B. When you run out of steam on B, you can go to C or back to A.
Now within the scope of the last step, there are a few things to consider:
- Write down vague ideas as is, in point form, and let them incubate in your mind.
- Flesh out point-form ideas as you’re inspired.
- Switch niches. If your work means that you write for different, unrelated topics, it’s actually a good idea to switch topics in step 5 above. At the least, switch to an as unrelated topic as possible. This approach seems better suited to taking advantage of “background” processes in our brains. You can solve one problem subconsciously while working consciously on an unrelated problem. A manifestation of this those “Eureka!” moments that we sometimes experience.
- Don’t waste time “staring” at any given project. If you’re not getting anywhere, do research on another project. Always leave some brain time between research and trying to write or work.
If you can achieve a balance between creative and non-creative tasks and between projects, you create the conditions for writing flow.