It was early on a Saturday morning. The dog had woken me up an hour or so earlier, and even though she had just fallen back asleep for a quick early morning nap, I was still awake. I decided to grab a cup of coffee and start my day off slow — the best way to kick off a weekend, in my opinion.
Coffee at my side, I decided to open my blog and decide what I was going to write about later. The next thing I knew, the coffee was gone, a little over an hour had passed, and I had written two blog posts, neither of which I had planned on completing until that afternoon.
Had time fast-forwarded itself without my permission? Technically, no. But that’s what it felt like to me. Because once I sat down at my desk and let my brain do a little thinking, I had unintentionally entered an often neglected creative “zone” in which everything except those blog posts ceased to exist.
This is something psychologists call a “flow state.” It’s the sort of trance you enter while giving a speech, playing a championship game, or writing a blog post. Nothing else matters. Only the task in front of you. And most people, whether they intend to or not, perform better in this state than they do when they aren’t in it.
Entering into a flow state means that you are completely immersed in whatever project or activity you are actively engaged in. Getting sucked in to a YouTube video doesn’t technically count because you’re not actually doing anything. Spending two straight hours working on your novel without realizing much time has passed does count, though, because you’re completing an action without interruption.
For me personally, being in this state of mind when I’m writing pretty much transports me to a place where time does not exist. I become completely unaware of who I am, where I am, and what’s going on around me. I don’t hear anything, I barely even move. The only thing my mind is able to focus on are the words I am taking from my head and transferring onto “paper.” It usually takes a noise, an alarm, or finishing whatever I’m working on to pull me out of flow.
The best thing about being completely engaged and focused on something like this is that I’ve noticed I’m not only able to write better during that time, but I’m also somehow able to write more.
An hour of unfocused, forced writing time is a lot different than an hour of completely interrupted writing time. I basically don’t stop writing for the entire duration of the session. I don’t look at my phone, I don’t click over to other tabs to check my email or social channels. I stay completely immersed in my book or blog post or whatever it is I happen to be working on at the time, and the writing just gets done.
In general, most writers struggle to get their work done because they never focus completely on the task in front of them. They’re either always trying to do 50 things at once or they don’t think there is room in their life for an uninterrupted writing session.
These are problems that have solutions. The process of entering into a state of flow can act as one of those solutions, as long as a writer puts in the steps necessary to do so.
How do you enter a flow state if you want to write more in less time? It’s not as complicated as you think — if you’re willing to make the effort to make it happen.
- Pick a time and place where you won’t be interrupted. This means finding a spot in your schedule where you can be completely alone in a room with your words without the chance (or less of a chance) that your dog, spouse, or children will disrupt your flow. For me, 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning in my home office is apparently the best time and place. I’ll keep that in mind for next time.
- Get comfortable. I don’t mean snuggle up with a pillow and blanket — creating ideal napping conditions won’t help you get any writing done and you know it. I just mean you should make sure you don’t have any reasons to get up. Have a snack or something to drink nearby. Put on comfy slippers or find a blanket (but not too much snuggling!). Pee before you sit down. No discomfort, fewer reasons you’ll be able to justify getting up in the middle of your writing session.
- Eliminate all distractions. Close out any unnecessary tabs or temporarily disable your Wi-Fi or the internet if you have to. Turn off your phone or, at the very least, leave it facedown just out of your reach. If music or a podcast will distract you, leave it off. If these things will help you stay focused, turn them on.
- Just start writing. Don’t think too hard about what you’re about to dive into or the perfect way to execute the story. Just start making words. A lot of people think just jumping in without thinking through where you’re going is a waste of time, but think of it like this: Would you rather spend 15 minutes of your writing time trying to plan out where the story will go, only to abandon that plan 15 minutes into actually writing for something different? Or could you just save 15 minutes or more by letting the story take you where it wants you to go without worrying about getting it “right”? If the objective is to get more done, there’s very little room for unnecessary planning. Just start writing.
The deeper you get into your writing session, the easier it will be to enter a flow state. It happens seamlessly, and you may not even realize you’re in it until it’s over. This is not a bad thing. You don’t want to be thinking about being in a flow state while you’re trying to get your work done. You want to focus completely on that work without distracting yourself with other thoughts.
It’s not an easy thing to achieve for everyone. Most people have not been taught or have never taken the time to learn how to create the ideal environment for this kind of deep creative focus. That’s okay — no judgment here. But I do hope these suggestions help. And if there’s anything else standing in your way of Making Writing Happen that I haven’t mentioned here, don’t hesitate to let me know. I want to help. Will you let me?
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.