Find Your ‘Flow’

Find Your ‘Flow’

When the great sportswriter “Red” Smith said, “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein,” he was referring to the agony of turning out a daily column. For memoirists, it’s so much easier—you just sit down, sans deadlines and bosses, choose a vein of memories, and begin mining for gold.

As many writers have discovered, putting your thoughts down on paper can put you into the “flow”– the blissful state of effortless concentration in which time and distractions disappear. It’s like the feeling of complete immersion you get while reading a good book. But when you’re writing, it’s your book that you can’t put down.

It typically takes about 15 minutes of uninterrupted focus to get into a state of “flow,” which is why many writing guides recommend free-writing for about five pages just to get started, without concern for what topic you write on or how well you phrase your thoughts.

After your free-writing warm-up, switch to a specific anecdote—some experience from the branching points on your timeline (see my last post)—to begin your memoir-writing session.

The flow state tends to occur when a person has a clear goal, says Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Finding Flow: The Psychology Of Engagement With Everyday Life. Can you set a goal to write for 30 minutes? That should be sufficient to warm up and then compose an anecdote—but in the flow state, you might need to set a timer to bring you back, you’ll be having such a good time.

When you finish your session, congratulate yourself—then move on. Resist reading over what you’ve just written. That’s a good warm-up task for your next writing session. Many authors begin their writing sessions with revising previous work, then move on to writing new stories. Try this technique next time you  “sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”

Sarah White is the founder of First Person Productions.