How Writers Break Through the Flow State’s Crusty Outer Layer

One way to think about writing: You’re inputting text.

From this standpoint, if you want to write faster, you need to type faster.

But so much of the actual time it takes to write something doesn’t merely depend on whether you can type fast, but whether you can write seamlessly.

Of course this means not having any hesitancy with the human-computer interface. Things like typing, navigating the document, and all that are an important layer to deal with.

More fundamental to this is the time spent thinking and deliberating. Time spent in self-criticism. Delays due to unclear thinking:

  • What am I really trying to say?
  • What comes next?

So yes, writing fast means you should be able to type fast so that it doesn’t slow you down too much to enter text.

More important than the speed factor, though, is the seamlessness factor.

Are you stopping to think … or for any other reason?

Micro or mini or nano stops are one thing. But stopping to think is actually a very big delay. A macro-stop. A break in the flow state.

To stay in the flow state, it’s important to minimize doing any mental repositioning. And by this I even mean things like fussing with the document, mousing around, navigating the cursor, etc.

Can you be seamless with your text editor or word processor and simply flow?

This sort of thing has been an ongoing pasttime of mine. Tweaking my text editor so that entering and navigating text feels as transparent as possible. For me, it makes a huge difference. Less fussing = more enjoyable for me.

So, the ideal: Focus only on the present moment from the standpoint of the imagination. Feeling the senses, grounded in the body and at the same time transparent to it.

The threshold of flow

It definitely doesn’t always happen this way.

Often, especially when beginning a writing session there is that first crusty layer of attention that just needs to be bridged to get past it into the state where ideas can really flow.

Some writers never really are able to find a bridge past that crusty layer. They stubbornly insist on doing things the hard way. They leave the flow state up to chance. Maybe some especially good idea will come and sweep them off their feet. Maybe not.

For freewriters, it’s generally only a matter of a few minutes’ work to get beyond the crusty outer layer.

This article is about how to ride through the crusty outer layer into the flow state.

Principle 1: Focus on where you want to go

Direct your attention towards where you want to go. Even if you don’t know exactly where you want to take your writing, it makes all the difference to have the intention towards resolution.

What does it mean to focus where you want to go with your writing?

It might be a concept, such as
For this writing session, I want to explore the central factors within the landscape of this 17th century story.

Or a question, such as
What is my main character’s subconscious motivation here?
Or: What will really make my reader happy to see represented in this chapter of my nonfiction book?

Or:
A desire to delve into self discovery. To know more about yourself.
Being willing to present onto the page in text whatever happens to be happening within you right now. Blurts about your agenda, your feelings, your beliefs, ways you try to reconcile with the past and what you want to move towards

To sum up, the first principle here is:

Without closing to new things that come up, focus where you want to go.

It’s about a direction, not a destination

It’s about traveling, not arriving. It’s about going there, engaging, and having direction.

When writing, clarity manifests through having a direction.

The writing process can be about engaging with the things that come up and also taking forks in the road. Think of this as meeting strangers and introducing yourself to them as you journey towards your original intent. In this landscape, there is no harm in being open to those you meet as you pass by. Maybe they will have something helpful to share with you.

If you find your way past this initial crusty phase, you move into a more stable place when it comes to imaginative creation. You are no longer weighed down by the gravity of judgment that clouds everyday thinking.

You have reached escape velocity — you’re out of orbit and in space. You’re in the flow state.

This, of course, is not necessarily an indicator of skill, and it doesn’t guarantee all your writing problems will get solved perfectly, but navigating from here is simply more enjoyable and can be far more efficient.

When you are in the flow state, you can make rapid repositionings with your attention, heading from one idea to another without having to explain to yourself everything you do. You just do it. It all feels natural.

None of the usual logical justifications required by the judgment that naturally attaches itself to everyday experience.

Now you’re flowing, perceiving things with a more nuanced and rapid logic.

When you’re here, stay here. No need to try to go back and do things the hard way. Just flow with the flow for ten minutes, twenty minutes, an hour or longer. And see what emerges.

Do this regularly and you may find that your writing process is forever vitalized by a different way of engaging with the imagination.

No longer insisting on ideas to be set in stone before you begin to write, you are now able to write your way into fresh new material and come out the other end of a twenty minute freewriting session with more material that you might otherwise have through an hour of sitting and fighting with yourself.

When you make it past the initial phase of crusty judgment, you may find that you are able to work out a more fluid means of organizing and structuring your project — whether it’s a blog post, a book chapter, or an entire series of novels.

The secret seems to be in the magic of pure perception — that is, perception unhindered by existing rules as to how things should appear. In other words, judgment and self-criticism.

It can be hard to make the argument for freewriting from the standpoint of everyday logic. Unless you have the experience, the idea of freewriting — writing without stopping even before you know what you are going to say — doesn’t appear to make sense.

That said, there are lots of strategies that can help make your freewriting more effective. One of the main ones is to freewrite in phases.

The first phase — uncrust yourself

To work through the crust and into a state where perception, rather than judgment, is dominant.

This phase is ideal for familiarizing yourself with your project — what would you like to write about? What are the central questions that drive this writing session for you? What do you hope to accomplish?

This phase requires that you pay attention only to your inner creative. Don’t pay any mind to what your inner critical voice has to say. Only creative flow is welcome at this phase.

Second phase — sketch

When an artist makes a large representational painting, it is common for the first layers to be done lightly to simply get the correct proportions and to understand what goes where. How much is going to be fit onto the plane of the canvas?

The same technique is powerful when done by a writer. Sketch out lightly the things you want to cover in this writing session. In order.

Your inner critic is welcome to emerge a bit more in this phase if you’d like to snap things down with a sense of clarity and certainty.

Third phase — draft

Now that you have your sketch, the idea is to flow with it in order as much as possible.

Rather than skipping around, fill in the elements put down in your sketch.

Flesh it out, as they say.

The critic remains in the background during this phase.

Fourth phase – revise/reorder

Once you have the draft, the next thing is to revise, polish, reorder as needed.

This is where your critic can come to the surface and shine. The creative is also welcome, but the critic runs the show in this phase.

So there you have it. A viable means of working past the crusty initial phase of a writing session to dive into the flow state.

Happy writing–!

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