Monday, July 16, 2018

Writing and "The Flow"

I am currently in reading a great book called, THE RISE OF SUPERMAN: DECODING THE
SCIENCE OF ULTIMATE HUMAN PERFORMANCE by Steven Kotler. The book spends the time focusing in on what makes those super athletes do things that most humans would never think of doing, or for that matter, even thinking possible to do. As Amazon describes it:

Drawing on over a decade of research and first-hand reporting with dozens of top action and adventure sports athletes like big wave legend Laird Hamilton, big mountain snowboarder Jeremy Jones, and skateboarding pioneer Danny Way, Kotler explores the frontier science of “flow,” an optimal state of consciousness in which we perform and feel our best.

As I was reading this, I really spent time thinking about how this relates to writers. It seems to be something I have talked about a lot here on the blog.

Kotler describes this state as "The Flow" or for some of you, it might be closely related to that statement some of you say about "being I the zone." The scientists who have been looking at this phenomenon for some time have noted clear changes in brain wave activity for these athletes when they are doing these super human feats. But I do believe a lot of this can account for why so many newer writers and even experienced writers struggle to get the words on the page.

According to the scientists, many of these athletes shift from a critical thinking mode to an intuitive thinking mode. When this happens, thinking and all of those reflexes move at a much higher rate.

Think of playing an instrument. When you first learn to play, your brain has to do everything in a step by step process.
  1. Look at black dots on page.
  2. Identify black do as a B-flat
  3. Look down at keyboard (for you piano people)
  4. Find center C
  5. Adjust to find B-flat
  6. Push note
But, as you begin to really learn to play, you move closer into doing things naturally. You look at the note on the page and your fingers instinctively hit the right note. 

Now, as you get into "The Flow" your brain knows exactly how hard to hit that note and how long to hold it. It is all intuition.

So, what does this have to do with writing? Simple enough. If you quit thinking about the writing. If you quit obsessing over small things such as passive voice or the right phrasing, your writing will flow out of your brain faster and produce a higher quality of product.

Now, let me state, I am in no way supporting being a "pantster" and not planning the writing out. All of these athletes take hours and months planning what they are going to do. What I am supporting is getting your mind in the game when it is time to write and "just writer". Let the words do what they need to do. Let the characters do what they need to know. Intuitively, you will know the right words to say when the time comes.

This also supports what I have been saying here for some time. Being a successful writer takes time. If you have written one book and are wondering why that book is not a #1 Best Seller immediately, it is probably due the fact that you were not in the flow when you were writing. Oh, you may have written it fast, but the strength of the book, the ability of that book being the height of human performance is still not there. You are still writing it like those early piano players.

As you write, learn to trust your words. Let it go and see how things work out for you.


  1. Nice! BTW, I ordered (and received) Diana Hacker's A Writer's Reference after reading your post about it. It looks good!

  2. I took a book that I wrote as a pantster and redid it. My work began about three months ago. The idea was pretty good but the protagonist was not. I strengthened the story line, characters and so on.

    These last three months were all about preparation. I'm nearing the end. The switch is close to being turned on and when it's on it's all about the story and the characters telling me what to do.

    My work is done.