“Exhausted by jogging
I stopped near a creek
And took a flowing lesson
From the water
And a sitting lesson
From the rock.”
~ Ngodup Paljor

Have you ever experienced the flow state while writing? Flow was first described by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (pronounced “chick-sent-me-high-ee”). According to him, you experience flow when you are completely immersed in a creative task that is challenging but not overwhelming.

When you are in flow, you become so absorbed in writing that time seems to slow or stop and hours pass by like minutes. Also, you no longer notice distractions, both internal and external.

According to Csikszentmihalyi, flow is usually accompanied by the following factors:

  • Clear and attainable goals
  • A high degree of focused concentration
  • Balance between challenge and ability
  • Immediate feedback (When you are in flow, you know how well you are doing)
  • Loss of self-consciousness
  • Altered sense of time
  • Personal mastery over the situation
  • Lack of awareness of fatigue and hunger
  • No anxiety or worry of failure
  • Feeling of effortlessness because the activity is done for its own sake

Csikszentmihalyi says “In many ways, the secret to a happy life is to learn to get flow from as many activities as possible.” Strangely, we don’t experience happiness in a flow state because flow is characterized by total absorption in the task at hand. Later however, we can look back on the experience with intense satisfaction.

The two main obstacles to a state of flow are:

  • Anxiety: If you become anxious about your ability to finish the job or are stressed about an impending deadline, you won’t be able to experience flow.
  • Impatience: If you don’t focus and allow yourself to be constantly distracted, you won’t be able to get into a state of flow. Csikszentmihalyi explains that you have to eliminate distractions and focus on your present writing project for a while before you can experience flow.

Four simple ways to experience flow during writing:

  • Perform a warm up ritual or routine before your writing session. For example, observe your breath for a few minutes, go for a jog or play music before you start to write.
  • Minimize distractions during your writing session. For instance, unplug your internet connection and turn off your phone.
  • Select a writing task that is neither boring nor too difficult. If you are working on a novel, break it down into chapters or even individual scenes.
  • Choose a specific writing task and complete it first. Don’t work on anything else until you have completed your present project.

The best way to develop flow in writing is to do it consistently. Nothing can take the place of regular practice. Steve Pavlina, a top blogger, explains his process:  “I don’t waste time thinking about writing because I’m too busy writing. This is probably why I’ve been able to write hundreds of original articles very easily.”

How about you? Do you get into a state of flow during writing? And what do you do to experience flow?

18 May 2011

Rohi Shetty is a medical doctor, Vipassana meditator, writer, editor, translator and blogger. His short stories and articles have been published online and in print.

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