Have you ever experienced “flow”? It’s the zone in which you are totally engrossed in a creative activity and lose all sense of time. The concept of the flow state was first developed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (pronounced “chick-sent-me-high-ee”) of the University of Chicago.
Even if you have never heard of the flow state, you have probably experienced it when you completed a creative project with effortless ease. Paradoxically, the state of creative flow is characterized by a still and relaxed mind.
The Tibetan poet Ngodup Paljor must have been in flow when he penned the following lines:
Exhausted by jogging
I stopped near a creek
And took a flowing lesson
From the water
And a sitting lesson
From the rock.
Working in a state of flow is the perfect antidote to writer’s block. If you are blocked and find writing an uphill struggle, try the F.L.O.W. system to maximize your creative productivity:
- F: Focus
- L: Love what you do and do what you love
- O: Overcome your inner critic
- W: Work smart and practice regularly
1. F: Focus
Before you travel, you have to decide where you want to go. Before you can flow, you have to focus. Therefore, the first step in any creative project is to define a clear purpose. Write down the specific goal that you want to achieve and keep it in front of you. For example, “I want to write an article describing five ways to boost creativity.” Equally important is to give yourself a time limit to complete the project.
Once you have defined your purpose and set aside sufficient time, get rid of all distractions and diversions. Clear your table, turn off your phone and internet, close all other computer programs, and ask your family not to disturb you so that you can focus all your attention on your present task.
2. L: Love what you do and do what you love
Before you start the actual writing, make sure you find the project enjoyable as well as challenging. You won’t experience flow if your project is too easy or too difficult. If a task is too easy, find ways to make it more challenging. For example, if you are writing an article, you could write it in a different style or use unusual sub-headings. On the other hand, if the task seems too daunting, break it down into smaller chunks or write an outline first.
3. O: Overcome your inner critic
This is the key step in the flow process. To be in flow means to be in continuous forward motion like a fast-flowing river. If you are blocked, it’s because of the voice of the inner editor criticizing every word you write. The most effective way to beat writer’s block is to ignore the inner critic while you are writing your first draft. Therefore, write your first draft as fast as you can without stopping to edit or correct what you have written.
Use techniques such as brainstorming, mind mapping, free writing and outlining to jumpstart the flow state. If you write fast and nonstop, you’ll soon find you have overcome the initial inertia and are beginning to enjoy the task. When the writing becomes effortless and time seems to fly, you are in flow.
Once you have completed your first draft, you can always edit it later. Ideally, you should set your work aside and revise it after a few hours or days so that you can view it with fresh eyes.
4. W: Work smart and practice regularly
Like other valuable skills, you need to practice regularly if you want to master flow. Whenever you sit down to write, follow the F.L.O.W. process to maximize your chances of entering flow. Eventually, you will be able to enter a state of effortless flow whenever you want.
The ability to enter flow at will is crucial if you want to be a successful writer. So far, you may have experienced flow as a fluke or a happy accident. Using the F.L.O.W. process, you can enter flow whenever you want and reach the peak of your creative ability.
(4 March 2013)
Rohi Shetty is a medical doctor, Vipassana meditator, writer, editor, translator and blogger. His short stories and articles have been published online and in print.