Other than a “book deal”, there is nothing writers long for more than the experience of creative flow. For many writers, it is the veritable end of the rainbow that feels as if it can never be found, only wished for. And even though I am a Writer’s Coach and a published author, it can be the very same for me sometimes.
I’ll never forget one of the first times I experienced writing flow. I was up early writing, as was my custom when my children were small. One coffee in, typing away in the basement, still a bit bleary eyed and sleep deprived. I was working on a particular flashback scene in my novel that had come up out of nowhere while I toiled away at a different scene. I didn’t think about it too much, I just gave myself over to it the flashback, curious where it would go and what I would learn about my characters. The flashback began to get intensely real and terrible; the main character was descending into her basement where she would find her lecherous stepdad about to prey on her younger brother.
I was experiencing the scene from inside my character, I was descending with her into hell, both wishing we could stop but knowing we must go on.
By the end of writing the scene less than an hour later, I was crying, steady streams of shock and empathy on my cheeks. I didn’t know my character had experienced something so terrible until I wrote that she had. I realized after that this trauma was essential to her motivation and way of acting in other parts of the book; this was a core memory for my main character.
I also knew that my goal-oriented, rational writer’s mind couldn’t have created it. This scene came from somewhere else inside me. Somewhere deeper than consciousness, looser than knowledge, freer than language. It came from a place within that cannot be controlled, held tightly or commanded.
It came from inspiration and being in flow.
A creative flow experience, while it cannot be constructed, can be invited, and supported.
Through years of writing, studying, and coaching, I have learned many ways of getting out of a creative desert and back into the land of plentiful inspiration. Before we dive into those, let’s define what writing flow is.
Flow state, of which writing flow is one expression, according to a very popular academic theory established by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is a change from conscious writing effort to out-of-time unconscious creation that seems to come through the writer more than it comes from them. Writing flow can result in things like
- out-of-the-box ideas,
- plot lines and characters seeming to take on a life of their own and
- the exquisite experience of being “inside” the words and your created world.
This is in direct contrast from what writers know to be the much more laborious writing experience when there is no flow, only effort and persistence and a desperate wish to get inside the work. A famous quote by Margaret Fuller, a feminist writer of the mid 1800’s, says it well-
“Drudgery is as necessary to call out the treasures of the mind, as harrowing and planting those of the earth.”
Hard work, toil and struggle are a necessary part of good writing that is worked to completion, but it must not be the whole experience. If it was, hardly anyone would finish writing a book and surely wouldn’t attempt a second. In fact, this is exactly what happens to countless writers. They get bogged down by a deadly combination of inner negativity, overwhelming writing struggle and the lack of support and community. They start, they struggle, they stop. The pages go into a drawer to be thought of forever, but never finished.
Building the muscle of connecting to writing flow will bring lightness, inspiration, and entertainment to your hours of effort. It is the writer’s version of a running high, flowing ideas are a writer’s endorphins. It is also an incredibly powerful tool for overcoming the inner negativity that can silence and undermine your creative voice.
Strategies for Inviting Writing Flow:
- Build fun into your writing routine.
You heard me – F.U.N. Silliness, goofiness, light, makes you laugh out loud fun. It may be easier than you think. Anytime you’re stuck in your writing, throw in a few minutes of fun. Give yourself the task of writing the world’s worst sentence. Write what your 8-year-old self would have said about your life. Imagine you suddenly have the power to read minds and write the thoughts of the first person you think of. Anything to loosen and lighten your relationship to words and ideas. My goal when I use this tool is to make myself guffaw. If I can do that, then I know my real writing can begin to flow.
- Hold your writing like a baby bird.
Imagine a freshly hatched baby chicken, all yellow fluff and peeping sounds. Now imagine that that chick is your writing, your project. It is delicate and precious, and it needs to be given time, care, and space to grow. When you are forcing yourself to write, to meet a word count or a deadline, berating your work for not being good enough or fast enough, you are squeezing that baby chick and instead of thriving and growing, all it can do is squeak. Loosen your grip on your writing, let it breathe and flutter and surprise you. Let it wander a little, let it stretch its wings.
- Learn your rhythms.
There are a thousand books and lectures telling you what “successful” writers do to write, and that you MUST do the same to get there yourself. Write every day without fail. One thousand words per day minimum. Never stop until the scene is complete. Writing before the sun rises is best. Writing before sleep is best. Write while sitting in a full lotus position on a stool of Himalayan salt, while sipping a hundred-day old, fermented yogi sweat. (See what I did right there? I kept letting the ideas flow until I made myself laugh 🙂 )
The key to connecting to your own writing flow is to NOTICE YOUR RHYTHMS. When do the best writing moments happen for you? When are your inner critics the least in charge? When do you get into writing and lose time? When are your ideas flowing faster than your pen or fingers? Start to track this and then set up writing systems to replicate your creative rhythms with some consistency.
As an example, here’s my creative rhythm system:
- Morning coffee is writing time. I naturally get up very early while my inner critics seem to sleep in.
- No expectation on word count or scene completion, I just dive in and stay in as long as I can.
- On days where there are open windows of time, I invite writing into one half-hour block of that time. Again, no expectations because that tends to block me immediately.
- I (strangely) can also work well with a deadline and have accepted that I will do a lot of thinking and researching right up until a few days before, then will blast through the writing to meet the deadline. The quality of my writing is better this way than if I finish it early.
- Physical movement in nature is my sure-fire creativity igniter. If I am feeling blocked, I go for a ramble and come back ready to try again.
Creative flow will bring energy and positivity to your writing life. Just as importantly, it will bring aliveness and the unexpected to your writing. To be part of an ongoing supportive writing community where we dive deeper into topics like this and share our work, reach out to me to take your spot at the table.