Monday, 2 July 2012

Preparation 2: Creating the Flow.

There is a secret place that some writers go, a place of wonder and of mystery. It is the place of the Flow. As readers we have all experienced this magical place, where we are unconscious of the words, or even turning the page, the bed we lie on or the world around us. Instead, our minds see only what is happening before them in the story.

Imagine if your writing could be like that. Not focusing on which words to choose, or the key strokes you must take. Instead, all you see is your story unfolding before your mind's eye, and you race to record all that is happening. You feel elated by the rush of inspiration flooding through you, and are so close to your characters, desperately wondering what will happen to them, how will they be saved.
This is the writer's paradise, this is the Flow.

In order to be able to write 10,000 words a day, I will need to be able to enter the flow whenever I sit down. It is the difference between writing 1,000 words an hour and 3,000.
I had experienced this type of writing before, but had never fully identified what it was. Then just a few weeks ago I attended a writers' workshop, and if I had learned nothing else but this secret, it would have been worth it (though I ended up learning a lot of other useful stuff, and meeting some really great people). 

The theory is Kate Forsyth's, so I give all credit to her (I feel it is only fair that since I'm stealing her idea, I put in a plug for her work, check out her website). She's an Australian fantasy writer, and I have to admit to my shame I have not read her work, but after hearing her speak I'm eager to because she was amazing. If you ever get the chance to do a workshop with Kate, do it. That's all I can say.
Kate has published around 25 books so far. She writes full time, and she credits a lot of her success to being able to harness the Flow. In her workshop she very kindly shared with us her fool-proof method of entering into the flow (though, I am hoping not to turn out to be 'the better fool'.) I record for you her words of wisdom.

How to Master the Flow:

  1. Create the perfect workspace.

  2. Do light exercise before you start.

  3. Eat something sensible before you start (she has a banana).

  4. Define a clear goal and make it difficult (such as 'in this session I'm going to write 5,000 words').

  5. Allocate a committed block of time, preferable between 2-4 hours.

  6. Unplug your phone, internet, anything that will distract.

  7. Some people play music with a slow rhythm to encourage alpha waves (Kate has no music).

  8. Approach the work with a sense of anticipation.

And that's it. That is the secret to the Flow.

So I have started to experiment and test this theory. 

Last week I finished work at 6pm, and admittedly felt shocking (bad headache from stress and staring at a screen too much). All the same, I came home and immediately went out to the gym.
Having been a fitness bunny in the past (though the last few months have not reflected that at all), I have come to conclude that for my body, the best way for me to get a runner's high, but not follow it by a crash or chance going to far and exhausting myself, is to stick to cardio heart rate exercise. For me, this means roughly keeping my heart rate between 145-160 bpm, which is reasonably light exercise. I start to sweat and get a bit breathless, but should never be sore or feel pushed. Note that I'm working on heart rate, which might not always equal the same speed on the treadmill if I'm sick or stressed etc. 
30 minutes of this followed by a really good stretching session got out all the kinks from the day and made me feel great. I came back and had a simple dinner and put some washing on, then jumped into a nice hot shower. By 8pm I was in bed with my laptop. (you will be able to tell that I live by myself, and understand that most people can't just jump into bed as soon as they get home. But hey, there has to be some advantage to being an old cat lady, minus the cats.) 
I have a giant four poster bed, with lanterns strung across it, which makes a really nice, calm environment. I had a cup of tea, and plenty of chocolate, so was all ready to write. I had no idea what to write, so just started by describing an image I'd had before drifting off to sleep about one of my characters. 
After half an hour I had to take out the washing and hang it up, but then jumped back into bed and continued. In just over an hour, I had written 3,000 words, and it was an easy, joyful three thousand.

I was super impressed. So tried to copy it a few nights later.

Did my exercise, didn't feel as great but still not bad. Came back had a shower and then ate dinner in bed before starting to write. I did get through 2,500 words, but it wasn't quite the same. I kept stopping, having minor panic attacks about what I was writing, and fighting the constant urge to get up and watch TV.

Honestly, I'm not 100% sure what the difference was. I think not having dinner in bed, and giving it some time to digest while having a shower might have helped. Also, I didn't really have a goal as Kate suggests. The other thing I didn't really work on was building up anticipation. I wasn't looking forward to my writing, I really just wanted to sleep and get the day over and done with. Am going to cover this more when I look at motivation, and will work on practices which help build the anticipation throughout the day.

Having said all that, 2,500 words is still 2,500 words. I know that for a lot of writers if they did that in a day they would be very happy. And I can't complain that sometimes writing is going to feel like work. I'm accepting that this is a job, a job I love, but still there are always going to be times when I'll want to be doing something else.

I also want to test out the music theory. I've downloaded an app for my phone which supposedly has different settings to create different brainwave patterns through using beats underlying music. I'm not totally convinced at the moment, but am prepared to be scientific about it. Will report back.

As always, if anyone has any suggestions on how to improve writing sessions, all advice gratefully received! 

As to my preparations for the challenge, spent Day 2 of Prep week getting a facial (very important), searching through an opp shop for any books that could be useful to me, or I just wanted (7 books for $25, bargain!), and typing up my routine and schedule. I've planned out the first 12 books which will take me to the week before Christmas.

I'm also currently editing my brother's book, which he's going to be self publishing as an e-book. If you like Matthew Reilly type books, where the action speaks louder than the language, I think you will like it. I'm doing my best to fix up the worst of the clich├ęs, but since that never worried Matthew Reilly readers, probably won't worry Dave's readers either. When I get to the end of the book, will give it a better review. Though in general I'm promoting buying it, as it will keep my brother off the streets, and you never know, I might get a royalty for editing it. I'll let you know if/when he releases it. 

That's all for today.



  1. I think anticipation might be the key. Having imagied what might happen next to your characters through out the day and being excited to be able to sit down, let it all unfold and find out.

    Loving your blog BTW. Every time I read it I just want to sit down and start writing my own book.

  2. I think you are right about anticipation. Will work on methods to build it.
    (and thanks for the sweet comments. Am happy to write the blog even if it's just for you!)

  3. What do you mean, just for her? I'm reading it too!