This is Step One in what I suppose one might call a Metablog entry on FLOW, and how to achieve it.
FLOW, often mislabled “inspiration”, is when your writing is effortless, easy, and fun, even though what you’re doing requires tremendous focus and concentration. It’s writing without forcing yourself to write. Without stopping after every sentence.Without even thinking very much. FLOW is a gift. When it happens, you’re unstoppable. When it doesn’t happen, writing becomes a chore, or worse. Remember the guy in THE SHINING, whose entire novel consisted of the single sentence All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy? That dude could really have used an influx of FLOW.
The good news is that even though FLOW seems to be a miracle that materializes at the whim of the gods, it can be learned. With a little left-brained organization and routine, you can free your right brain to flow with creativity–at will–so that you won’t feel as if you’re inventing the wheel every time you sit down to write. Your productivity will increase radically, and the quality of your work will also improve. Not to mention that writing will become a lot more fun.
So let’s get started. the first step in achieving voluntary FLOW is to write every day. This is key, the most important thing you can do. It is, alas, also difficult, especially if you’re not accustomed to doing it. But believe me, a daily writing habit is worth cultivating. Think of it the way a musician thinks about practicing scales. They’re not exciting in themselves, but they’re what make it possible to produce great music.
Here’s how you do it:
1. Set aside a certain time every day for writing. Nothing is more guaranteed to fail than telling yourself that you’ll “do it later”. Do it when you say you will, and regard that time as sacred. My time is the first thing in the morning. Frankly, I do have all day to write but, as a morning person, I love the feeling of working before the rest of the world wakes up. You may prefer to work late at night, as Danielle Steele did when her (nine) children were small. Whenever it is, make it a time when you’re not likely to be interrupted. And if you are interrupted, you need to be able to ignore the interruption. Don’t answer the phone. Don’t go out for the mail or do the crossword in the newspaper or read your email or check out Facebook. Tell your kids to go away. If you have an office, put a sign on the door that reads MUST YOU? This is your time.
2.Set a time limit on your work. You don’t have to work all day. Your session doesn’t — and shouldn’t– be longer than you can fill with constant writing. That’s right, I said constant writing. Now, don’t freak out; stay with me here. If you’re not used to writing every day, the first few sessions might feel like turning a massive wheel in desperate need of oil. Your brain will creak and cough and complain. That’s okay. It will get easier before long, I promise. I think 30 minutes is a good session for a beginner. You can do almost anything for 30 minutes. But make those 30 minutes count. Don’t stare at the computer screen trying to come up with the perfect opening sentence. That’s a huge waste of time. Later I’ll go into the value of writing badly, but for now, I’d like you to just take my word for it: Write something for those 30 minutes
3. Trust yourself. You may have difficulty focusing on your work for even this short time. This can be corrected by following an outline (which I’ll cover in the next entry), but for the time being, just write what’s on your mind. Put down the thoughts that come to you, even if they’re not what you’ve planned. This, I’ve found, is a weird but charming surprise that occurs in every novel I write. One day, something simply appears on the page that I haven’t intended at all. It’s usually a small thing– a late-entering character, or a humorous bit of business. When this happens to you, accept it. Let it happen. It’s a gift from your subconscious. Most of us are so self-critical that when the part of our minds that Stephen King calls “the guys in the furnace room” offer up some shining narrative nugget, we reject it automatically. Don’t. Go with it. Remember, if it doesn’t work, you can change it. Everything can be changed. And is, in the world of publishing. (Here’s an interesting aside: I believe that the biggest difference between a professional writer and an amateur is that the professional is willing to do a lot more rewriting.)
One word of caution about listening to the guys in the furnace room, though: Make sure they’re the ones you’re listening to. If what comes to you is a sudden desire to scrap everything you’ve written so far and start over, or to turn your historical romance into a sci-fi saga, what you’re probably hearing is not the guys in the furnace room. It’s the voice of fear making a desperate attempt to keep you from writing, the demon whose name is Procrastination.
Procrastination is not funny. It is not trivial or interesting or harmless. It is fear, and fear will kill you. It will destroy your writing and your dreams, and it happens all the time. Writer’s block is fear, pure and simple. FLOW is the opposite of block, and therefore the opposite of fear. People don’t usually think of writing as a courageous endeavor, but it is. If you have block, you know you’re afraid. And there’s no way around fear–any fear–except through it.
Experts say that it takes 28 days to break an old habit or form a new one, so here’s what I propose: For 30 minutes a day, every day for 28 days, let go of your fear. Allow the secret parts of your mind to find their way into the sunlight through your story. That is Step One to achieving FLOW. It is the key to freedom.
Next up: Writing and using an outline. (More important than you may think!)