Lisa L. Owens, Author of the Month: That Flow (and How to Get It)

Spend time talking craft with a fellow writer or a hundred, and sooner or later the topic of creative flow will come up. It’s that sense of being completely immersed in what you’re writing. Deep in the throes of flow, I’m rendered spellbound by the process. (Charmed, I’m sure.) I feel one with the story — and maybe even the universe. Everything else falls away.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I’ll posit that the gist of most writers’ feelings about that zone is . . .

FLOW: GOOD!

NO FLOW: BAD! GET ME MORE FLOW!

It’s a heady drug. We want it. We gotta have it. And once we’ve blown our minds on it, we’re willing to chase after more of the same, even if that means we end up chasing our own tails.

For me, flow comes easily at times. It might last an hour or an afternoon. The stars align and my fingers fly over the keyboard. My spewed-forth words take shape and make sense. Or, just as likely, they don’t, but the text shows me enough clues about how to clean up my mess.

On a few occasions, I’ve written whole first manuscript drafts in flow, including the books pictured below (I wrote Pilgrims in America in one marathon sitting and Frenemies: Dealing with Friend Drama in three consecutive daily spurts). This happened again recently, when — up against a publisher’s deadline — I discovered a bit of faulty research that affected the content of the book I’d just completed. The manuscript had to be revised, and I spent one full day trying to spot-fix only certain parts of it. I wanted to preserve as much as I could. The next morning, though, it became obvious I couldn’t properly address the problem without a full rewrite. Ouch. But I soon saw my way forward, and I banged out a new “angry draft” with unusual speed and a serene ease, proving the line between love and hate is awfully thin. (Side note: The rewrite turned out better than the original, so I’ve since forgiven it.)

Now, please don’t misunderstand: I am not cruising through this writer’s life luxuriating in a blissful state of All Flow, All the Time. Au contraire, mes amis! I slog through my fair share of crummy writing days. I can get bogged down in the business and the busyness of writing as thoroughly as anyone. I can inexplicably feel uninspired while writing something I’m genuinely excited about. I can also do all the so-called right things to organize my approach or my day, yet still manage to stare at the screen for who-knows-how-long, struggling to even start or just picking a fight with a single random sentence.

The good news is that warring with and blankly staring at your text is normal. (Is TOO!) Plus, you don’t always need to feel creative flow to produce good writing. Some of my best works have been untouched by the flow phenomenon; and some writings that seemed fun and breezy and smart as they gushed onto the page have turned out to be objectively awful enough to be pronounced DOA.

The even better news? You can help creative flow find YOU. I say “help,” because much like you can’t pencil in finding love or happiness and expect real results, you can’t force flow. You can, however, make yourself emotionally available for it to wash over you while also taking concrete steps to further your chances that it will. The payoff is totally worth it. All you have to do to open yourself up to letting flow organically happen is . . .

(1) WRITE!

Show up for your writing work, early and often. Write what you know, write to learn what you want to know, write what you don’t know but can imagine. Write a story, write a poem. Write a letter, write a journal entry, write a to-do list. Write something every day.

Do you work better with goals in mind? Great! Set a daily word-count or timed writing goal and honor it. Forgive yourself when you don’t hit your mark, and start fresh the next day. If you find that you’re consistently unable to meet your writing goals, experiment to identify more realistic ones.

(2) CULTIVATE THE PARTS OF YOUR WRITING LIFE THAT DON’T INVOLVE THE ACT OF WRITING.

Put yourself out there. Becoming part of the writing community helps you find supportive colleagues with whom to discuss this flow thing, as well as all the other writing things. Your people congregate at conferences, classes, and bookstore and other literary events. They belong to writers’ organizations, critique groups, and numerous online forums. You need them! They need you!

Read books and take classes on the craft of writing. Stay current on industry news and the market you write for.

paia
A soul-feeding day at this beach in Paia, Maui, helped attract that creative flow.

And don’t forget to feed the rest of your inner artist. Ideas: Read widely, see a play, take in a concert, make your own music, enjoy time in nature, spend time with your friends, pursue your hobbies, play some games, support a cause, try something you’ve never done before, and make time to get away from it all (writing included) once in a while.

Proactive moves like these naturally boost knowledge, confidence, and inspiration — flow magnets, all.

(3) KEEP WRITING.

Rack. Up. Those. Words.

One thing I know for sure about all this: The more I write, the more I write. For me, the act of writing brings more new book and story ideas bubbling up to the surface than any other activity. It fuels my imagination, strengthens my facility with language and structure, and vastly increases my odds of, oh by the way, just slipping into that joyful state of absorption I crave.

Keep writing, and before you know it, you, too, will find yourself basking in the glow of that flow, and then doing everything in your power to get more.

 

 

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6 thoughts on “Lisa L. Owens, Author of the Month: That Flow (and How to Get It)”

  1. Excellent article, Lisa. You describe the Flow state beautifully and how, as nice as it may feel, it may or may not result in better writing than the kind produced more painstakingly. I defintely feel like I fall into the “slow and steady” category as a writer, btw. Sometimes that can be frustrating and I have to remind myself to enjoy the process and not be impatient.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Suzanne! I’d have guessed you were fast, but I love knowing you consider yourself slow and steady. It is further proof that committing to showing up gets the job done. The “steady” is really the key for all of us, I think.

      Like

  2. Great advice, Lisa! My flow is slow, so to speak. I am not a speedy writer and it’s pretty rare for me to bang out more than a few pages, even on a good day. I used to beat myself up for not hitting a certain word count I thought I was supposed to achieve. I realized I needed to stop trying to be something I wasn’t. I think that’s part of figuring out who you are as a writer. And the more you write, the more you figure out what works for you. And what doesn’t. Thanks for the tips! Now back to work … I’m in the flow …

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Wow, Lisa. I like “angry draft” with unusual speed and a serene ease. Writing can be all of that…and at the same time!
      Trudi, I find I’m not as speedy of a writer as I used to be. And for a while that bothered me. It made me wonder what was happening to me. But I try and take a more mindful approach to writing now and just be where I am each day. It’s a better path to the flow.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. That first reply was for Trudi! Dori, I’ve definitely been there, bothered about changes to the way I do things. It feels like you’re supposed to be able to always keep doing what you have done in the past. But we change! No doubt we’ve grown as writers over the years. And I love your describing your approach as being more mindful. A writing goal can be whatever truly works for you. I stopped doing word counts as daily goals a while ago and now favor paying close attention to that “showing up” for whatever I’m able to give to the writing that day.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Well, you know what they say about “slow and steady!” So true that we all need to pay attention to who we are as writers. There’s no such thing as the right way or right speed, except for doing right by your own pace and process. I used to write everything at a pretty good clip. (Youth.) Now some things still tumble out quickly, but others require MUCH more percolation. I’ll write in fits and starts but be thinking about it and trying to write for a long time with little visible forward motion. Then everything will gel. The prep and frustration will come to a head and I’ll write quickly. All of it balances out to what I’m guessing is AVERAGE.

      Liked by 1 person

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