Today's post is part 3 in the 'Flow for writers' series, exploring the concept of FLOW and how we can integrate it into our writing lives. In Parts 1 and 2, we have broken down what 'flow' is, and looked at 3 of the 'ingredients' that psychologist Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi identified were conducive to flow. As we go into these ingredients, do remember that you don't have to experience all of these all of the time for flow to be present. In fact, adopting just one or two of these might be the key to a successful writing practice for you. Sound good? Great, let’s get into it. Last time we started to look at the ingredients of FLOW that might be able to help us with our writing lives. To wrap this series up, here are three more of the magic ‘flow ingredients’ - and ideas for applying them to your writing.
Some more ‘ingredients’ of flow + ideas for applying them
INGREDIENT #4: The experience is intrinsically rewarding
Intrinsic motivation is where you do something for the sheer sake of it, just because you enjoy it; i.e. it comes from *within*. This is counter to extrinsic motivation, where you are motivated by the prospect of earning a reward or avoiding some kind of punishment. And so, when it comes to our writing, it's helpful to cultivate a mindset of "I'm going to engage in this practice for the writing itself", even if we're working on a lengthy manuscript or writing project. As cliched as it sounds, "It's about the journey, and not the destination."
How writers can apply this If we can allow ourselves to write, without thinking about what might come with finished the manuscript, showing it to others, publishing our work, and so forth... this will help us. In the writing phase, let yourself focus on the writing. Don't think about fame, or glory, failure, or success. Just let yourself chip away at the manuscript, slowly-but-surely, being as present as you can be without worrying about anything external. Tip: Don't think too much about editing your work during the draft writing stage. Simply focus on the writing and the writing alone.
INGREDIENT #5: There is a balance between challenge and skills
Another interesting 'flow' finding is that, ideally, the challenge- and skill-level will be in balance. If the challenge of the task is high and the skill level too low, it can result in anxiety or stress. If the challenge is low and the skill level is high, it's easier for you to get bored pretty quickly. In other words, we are being encouraged to gently challenge ourselves with our writing; it's a marathon, and not a sprint. Let's look a little closer at how we can apply this ingredient to our writing practice...
How writers can apply this Here are three ideas for putting this into action… Start from where you're at. I've talked previously about why it's helpful with writing not to rate your writing ability (see HERE). - Break your writing down into shorter TIME chunks. For example: If writing continuously for an hour seems overwhelming, instead try setting a timer for 30 minutes. Give yourself a 5-minute break, and then write for another 30 minutes. Tip: A pomodoro timer can be great for this. - Break your writing down into shorter WRITING chunks. If the idea of writing a book seems overwhelming, or you're finding that you keep stop-starting with no end in sight... try writing the pieces of your story to a blog instead. You can think of blog-pieces like mini-chapters of a book. Blogging is publishing, just in shorter-form. It can help you get used to writing and hitting “publish”... if you're someone who is nervous about getting your writing out into the world (a common experience). In other words, it can help overcome the perceived mountainous task of "writing and publishing a book".
INGREDIENT #6: Effortlessness and ease
Flow involves flexibility and ease. When we're watching a tennis match or a performance on stage, things may appear effortful or strenuous. However, for those taking part, their performance will be effortless (if they are in flow), without any strain or deliberate reflection. It just flows... naturally. Many athletes describe performing in their sport as a place of happiness, comfort and even peace.
The game of basketball has been everything to me. My place of refuge, place I've always gone where I needed comfort and peace.
- Michael Jordan (winner of six NBA championships)
Michael Jordan was able to find and access flow time and time again. As writers, we can do the very same thing by understanding how our brains work and setting ourselves up for success.
💡 How writers can apply this The key to applying this ingredients is to make our writing session as comfortable as possible: - Is there a time of day where you feel most refreshed and creative? - Can you put your phone on silent, or keep your door closed whilst you write? - Is your physical space comfortable? If not, is there a way to make it more so?
Where to go from here
So there we have it. There is a vast body of research around this concept of "flow". We have now gone through six elements of flow Czikszentmihalyi identified. (There are a couple more, but there are some overlaps and these are the ones I have identified as most pertinent to us as writers). As mentioned, we don't have to tick every single box for flow to happen... you'll find that overwhelming and, in fact, this can hinder you from finding flow. My suggestion would be to choose just one of these points/ideas, and see if you can try integrating it the next time you sit down to write.
⭐ Which one idea are you the most drawn to?
If you're in doubt, give yourself a container for your writing (this can be timing yourself, or being a part of a writing group), and keep your writing space free of distractions. By doing any go those things, you'll be getting yourself off to a helpful start when it comes to finding that elusive-but-beautiful state of flow with your writing.
“Writing gives the mind a disciplined means of expression.”
- Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi
Jas Hothi is a writer, coach & author. With a Masters in Positive Psychology (MAPP), he loves to help folks begin and make progress on their book projects by discovering and utilising their unique creative rhythms. He is also currently offering a free copy of his book, The Indie Author, to anyone who signs up for his newsletter. SIGN UP HERE to get your free copy.