My favorite writing moments are those in which I am no longer sitting in this chair, typing on this keyboard, counting the minutes until I have to move on to the next thing. I am not just writing a story: I am IN the story. I can see events playing out in my head as they are being written. Overall, I’m no longer hungry or emotional or anxious – I’m just working. Nothing else matters.
Productivity experts call these kinds of experiences ‘flow states.’ Entering a flow state is both a mental and physical experience. Just a few minutes of writing without distractions or breaking your concentration can send you into a flow state, during which you will write, probably more than you figured you could in a short amount of time, without feeling the need to break your concentration for any reason.
Flow states are important for fast and focused writing. Some projects work better when completed under flow states than others. Regardless, read on to learn a few ways you can launch yourself into Productivity Extreme, without wasting any writing time.
Set a (very loose) word count goal
Before you start, have in mind a relatively low word count goal – 500 words is what I typically recommend, because for me, by the time I hit 500 words, I’m ‘in the zone.’ Having a goal as you’re sitting down to start writing helps you process that in the time you are going to be sitting here, you are going to write 500 words. If you go over, great. But all that matters is that you get to 500 words.
Usually what happens – depending on a few internal and external factors – is that you enter a flow state a few hundred words before you hit your word count goal. You might even be so into what you’re writing that you fly past it without even noticing. At that point, you might just decide to continue – there is no pressure to get to a certain point beyond your original goal, and if you reach a point where you want to stop, you can. But once you’re in that flow state, you might not stop for awhile, or until you’re done – which is pretty awesome. It feels really good to sit down not knowing whether or not you’re going to be able to do it, and then sit back an hour or so later and realize you’ve done it – and it wasn’t even that hard after all.
Clear your desk, silence your phone and shut off your wifi
I’ve had people argue with me in the past about this advice, especially when it comes to the internet. The idea that you need to be online at all to write – at least the kind of writing in which you’ll generally want to enter a flow state for – does not make sense to me. There are going to be some cases in which you have to look things up, I understand that. But the more you willingly expose yourself to distractions, the more likely you are to be distracted.
When I really need to get into a flow state as quickly as possible, I clear my desk of everything non-essential – meaning my monitor, keyboard, mouse and coffee mug are pretty much the only things within reach. I keep my phone on silent and flip it over – you’re not so important that you need to be reached by phone 24/7, trust me, and if you are, you’re probably not spending your time reading a blog post about flow states. I don’t always turn my internet off, UNLESS I’m working on my book and have blocked out specific time in the evening for it. I sit down to work on my novel, and it is the most important thing in those moments. That is how you get stuff done. For a block of time, you put your work first, before everyone and everything else. It may only be an hour a night – but immersed in a flow state, you can get a LOT done in 60 minutes.
Start writing anything – even if it’s awful
You can’t enter a flow state if you don’t start writing something. Often you probably get too caught up in writing something ‘good’ and that stops you from being able to transition into this seemingly effortless state of productivity. When you’re in that state, you usually stop worrying about whether or not what you’re doing is perfect – that comes later. But you have to get into that mindset first.
Sometimes your mind doesn’t come up with the ideal direction for your prose to go until you’re already writing something else. The way our brains seem to spontaneously create stuff out of nothing is also pretty cool. You don’t have to understand it once you’re in it – you can just let your thoughts drive your writing forward, even if they’re all over the place and don’t make total sense right now. Always remember that writing always comes first; editing always comes second. You can’t edit if you don’t write. You can’t have a good piece of writing until you’ve written something not so good first.
Everyone writes differently – not just in style, but the process itself. Some people don’t like flow states. They don’t want to feel completely separated from the world while writing. That’s fine. Productivity-wise, this might help you – and it might not. Try it out and see. You’re either going to find out you never want to do it intentionally again, or you’re going to want to do it as often as possible. That’s the great thing about being a writer. At the end of the day, you decide how you work. The results of that work – well, that’s up to you.
You might be wondering: did I write this post under the influence of a flow state? Actually, yes, but certainly not intentionally. I lost track of time. That’s the best part, really. If you’ve never experienced this before, you’re going to love it.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.