Wednesday, October 19, 2011

In the flow

The past two weekends, I tore up the keyboard. Last weekend especially, when I added 12k to a story I'd begun more than two years ago. Then, this past weekend, I finished up the novella and with my critique partners' help, sent it out on submission.

Why now? How did I manage to jump into the flow of that story, when more than a dozen await my attention?

For me, stories gel at their own rate. Being a pantser rather than a plotter, I'll start a story and sometimes it will peter out, much like wet kindling resisting attempts to ignite it. I don't force the story; I know it will come at its own rate. Finally it hit me, that I needed to incorporate certain elements I had for another story rather than making them two separate stories. Once I did that, I built on what I already had, and was soon in the flow.

The flow is one of my favorite places to be. Reality falls away. There's no time. No worry. Just me and my characters, in their world. I type as fast as I can to keep up with the story-movie in my head.

The flow fascinates me. I wish I could plug into that mode at will, but it doesn't always come when I want it to. On Sunday, for example, as much as I wanted to dive back in, I only spun my wheels and hardly got any writing done. Oh, a few blog posts, and some other tasks, but not the meat of writing. I was disappointed.

Especially with NaNoWriMo coming up. Although I don't plot, I recognize the value of thinking ahead. Storyfix has had some great posts on tips to ready for NaNoWriMo - if you've signed up, you should check them out.

I know I won't be able to write 2k a day, with my crazy schedule. If I can manage to get back into the flow, I might be able to make some real progress on weekends. Not likely to the full 50k, but what I'm aiming for is a good start on a novel - Book Two of The Goddess Connection.

Apparently some have made a science out of "flow."

I found this chart online - interesting how "flow" is wedged between "boredom" and "panic/anxiety/worry" isn't it?

Here's a video featuring Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi, who founded the Flow Institute.

Essentially, Csíkszentmihályi identifies the following ten factors as accompanying an experience of flow:
  1. Clear goals (expectations and rules are discernible and goals are attainable and align appropriately with one's skill set and abilities). Moreover, the challenge level and skill level should both be high.
  2. Concentrating, a high degree of concentration on a limited field of attention (a person engaged in the activity will have the opportunity to focus and to delve deeply into it).
  3. A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness, the merging of action and awareness.
  4. Distorted sense of time, one's subjective experience of time is altered.
  5. Direct and immediate feedback (successes and failures in the course of the activity are apparent, so that behavior can be adjusted as needed).
  6. Balance between ability level and challenge (the activity is neither too easy nor too difficult).
  7. A sense of personal control over the situation or activity.
  8. The activity is intrinsically rewarding, so there is an effortlessness of action.
  9. A lack of awareness of bodily needs (to the extent that one can reach a point of great hunger or fatigue without realizing it)
  10. Absorption into the activity, narrowing of the focus of awareness down to the activity itself, action awareness merging.
Yep, sounds familiar. Now, how do I add that switch to myself so I can get there right away?

That's where thought comes in. Maybe it's a way of mapping out the brain ahead of time, but I think simply thinking - or daydreaming - (often called navel gazing) is an important part of writing. Characters live in my head while I'm not writing. Prepping the story for me. Helping it to gel into its final form. They know where it needs to go. So I follow them.

What about you? Any tricks for getting into the flow?