go with the flow: creating a sense of flow in your writing process

I’m currently in the thick of Nanowrimo (I hit 39,000 words today) and the past couple of days I’ve hit that state of creative “flow” where my words come so easily and fast that I’m surprised by my final word count.

Hitting that flow is crucial to the creative process. It’s the fun part of writing! I don’t often hit flow outside of Nanowrimo, because there are a lot of different factors that go into it. When it hits, though, watch out!

Artistic flow is something I first experienced in art class (or, more often, after school art club or my own free art time). Hours could pass with music on in the background, where all I thought about was what I was creating. This state was probably easier to come by in the days before cell phones and internet, when distractions were fewer and my brain hadn’t changed due to all the virtual noise. And before adult responsibilities, where a sink full of dishes or a dirty bathroom might derail my creative flow.

It is still possible to find that flow, thanks to a few tips I’ve picked up along the way:

Time

This is a tough one for a lot of people. I need to have about a three-hour block of free time to really get in the flow. (When I don’t have time, I lean toward techniques like using a timer to get my word count). Having a full day free, which has become more common now during the pandemic, is the best-cast scenario for me to find flow. In particular, I like to have the time block at a point in the day where I don’t have anything else to do at the end, because I can’t keep my mind from wandering to what I need to do before I need to do this other thing.

Scene Idea

Before you say, Hey I thought you were a pantser, know that even as a pantser I do have some idea of where my novel is headed.

I’m talking about having a scene in mind, especially one that you’re excited to write. For example, in my current WIP, The Last Time We Met, I left off where the main character is heading into a flashback. I knew exactly what I wanted to happen in this flashback, both in terms of action and in terms of character development. I knew how I wanted that scene to end. Once I hit a flow (after dithering about with some historical research), things happened that I didn’t precisely expect, which is the best part of flow. Words just came to me. I wrote the scene and realized I’d just been engrossed in this scene and in writing for about an hour, and I’d written over 1,000 words.

It’s not a huge amount of words given the time I spent, but considering I did pause in the actual writing to do little bits of research, it’s a lot more than I expected. But the research was essential to capturing the scene, which takes place at a Pride parade in 1989.

Sometimes I struggle with finding “scene” and end up writing so much transition it’s painful. Those scenes are true gems and essential for finding flow.

Music

Not only does music occupy that restless part of your brain that wants to be multitasking, music can also help you find the right tone for your novel. Listening to dark, ominous music can help you create that feel in your story. When writing historical fiction, music of that time period can bring that time period closer.

If you consistently listen to the same playlist when writing your novel, the music can also start to become a stimulus for the conditioned response of writing.

Most of the pages for my novels include playlists that inspired me while writing. Currently I’m listening to a mostly 80s playlist for The Last Time We Met, this creepy playlist for Into the Mist (the novel I’m working on concurrently with TLTWM for Nanowrimo), and Spotify’s Deep Focus playlist which I use for general writing.

Take Care of Bodily Needs

Nothing interrupts flow more than needing to go to the bathroom or your stomach rumbling. Make sure your bladder is empty, and that you’ve eaten in the past few hours. Snacking while writing has never worked for me, especially if the food is likely to get all over your fingers. But a beverage, preferably hot, is good to have on hand. (Don’t drink too fast, though, or you’ll have to use the bathroom!)

Get Your Writing Space Ready

Here’s a mini checklist of things you might want to create a welcoming space for writing and creating flow:

  • Comfy clothing
  • A blanket, warm socks, and a sweatshirt if you’re a cold person like me
  • Turn off the TV
  • Neaten up your desk or writing space – maybe even vacuum or dust if you know you’ll get distracted by the fact that you haven’t done either of those things in a few days (or weeks…)
  • Beverage near at hand
  • Turn on music

And now you are prepared to get in the flow!

What do you do when you want to get deep in writing mode? Tell me in the comments!

2 thoughts on “go with the flow: creating a sense of flow in your writing process

  1. SabrinaV625 says:

    I definitely have to have the house in order, and usually a hot drink like tea or coffee. However lately, I’ve been changing it up to water to be healthier.
    I haven’t gotten in that zone this year for NaNo, unfortunately! Writing has been tough this year.

    • Kate says:

      Yeah, this year has definitely been tough! For a while I was using my 20-minute writing sprints, but eventually I needed to slow that pace. Also, aren’t you almost at 50K?? 😉

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