Flow Like a Pro

Megan Norris Jones

Megan Norris Jones

Have you ever sat down to write and had one of those miraculous work sessions when the words flow from your fingertips? When you recognize problems in your story and how to fix them? When you didn’t check your email, get up to make a cup of tea, or decide to pursue a little online “research”? There’s a word for that kind of work. It’s called flow, and it happens as a result of focused concentration on a single, challenging task. It’s the most effective, efficient and enjoyable way to work. It’s also darned hard to do.
A few months back, I heard an interview with author and professor Cal Newport about his latest book, Deep Work. In it he discusses the value of this flow state of work and methods for achieving it. I immediately put it on my to-read list. Well, folks, I haven’t read it yet.

These days, reading time for me is actually listening time because I rarely find the luxury to sit down and read a book. Instead, I listen to audiobooks while completing mundane household chores like loading the dishwasher and folding clothes. Except, it’s difficult to even listen to an audiobook uninterrupted because “Aack! Baby grabbed a knife from the dishwasher!” or “No, you may not have another snack. No, really, you’ve had enough snacks. Stop asking for snacks.”

When I do get a few minutes to sit down, I make a point of using that time to write. But my writing time rarely exceeds half an hour. The occasions for an hour or more of uninterrupted time are few and far between. So, how can I get into a state of flow?

For now, in this season of my life, I suspect the answer is that I can’t. Does that mean I can’t write? Of course not. It just means that I must take my writing time in the little bits and chunks I can squirrel away. And snatching bits of time throughout the day can be quite effective in keeping my head in my story. There’s nothing worse for my writing progress than taking a week off. Not only do I lose a week’s worth of accumulated writing time, but when I finally come back to the story, I can’t remember where I was going with a particular scene, or I’ve lost the emotion that the cumulative narrative had built. You can check out my post on the topic, Keep Your Head in the Game, here.

I’ve heard examples of published writers using the stolen moments method of writing, such as Lauren Oliver writing entire books on her blackberry while traveling on a book tour, Brandon Sanderson cranking out novellas while traveling, or one anecdote about Neil Gaiman squeezing in writing time during the non-English portions of an interpreted lecture. (Check out this episode of Writing Excuses to hear a discussion on this very topic at around the 20 minute mark)

I’m not entirely sure how to go about writing a novel on my phone, but one thing I’ve begun doing is syncing the scenes I’m currently working on between the Scrivener document on my computer and the Simplenote app on my iPad and phone. I’m anxiously awaiting the day Scrivener releases its own mobile app (Scrivener, are you listening?), but until then, this patch gives me an easy way to work away from my computer when I have a few moments in the carpool lane or a doctor’s waiting room.

Last week, my husband asked me how my book was coming.
Me: “It’s glacial.”
Him: “Oh, good. You can’t stop a glacier.”

In fact, glaciers, sometimes described as rivers of ice, flow steadily over the years. Maybe I’ve figured out how to reach that state of flow after all.

How do you cobble together time to write? Are you able to reach that coveted state of flow?

Leave a comment. Your name and email address are not required.