Michaeline: Mental Space, Flow and Writing

A picture of many colors denoting evolution from ape to man to robot. Butterflies, corals, jungle, houses, cities

Creative flow makes random ideas feel like they have a connection and a progression. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Thursday, Kay talked about Virginia Woolf’s famous essay about how writers find a dedicated physical space and an emotional space for writing very useful – and how women writers often didn’t/don’t have that privilege.

I mentioned that I find it easy to find physical space, but mental space is much more difficult for me to carve out. I got to wondering, what exactly do I mean by that?

For me, I don’t really craft my writing until I go into edit mode. Writing just happens to me; sometimes I feel like a fountain, sometimes I feel like a conduit. I get in that state called “flow”.

And I often fall into flow – when I’m reading an interesting book or article on the internet, when I’m listening to music with a good beat, when I’m making a worksheet for school. Time and space lose their meaning, and I’m riding a mental wave that is going to take me somewhere – I’m not always sure where, even if I’m familiar with the book or the music. It’s so enjoyable, usually, and when someone interrupts me, I feel cranky – sometimes I say, “Just a minute!” and try to grasp the tail-end of whatever thought I was pursuing, but I often feel it slip out of my mind without a trace.

I’ve learned to swallow my rage and put on a neutral face and ask that poor interrupter what they want.

When I’m having fun writing, I’m in that flow. It’s usually preceded by a, “oh, I’d like to write this now.” I can’t regularly predict it or set up the conditions.

Sometimes, I’m swamped (usually with holiday preparations), and something comes up and I feel compelled to drop everything and write it down.

Sometimes I’m bored, and it seems like a good idea to write a little something – often, Elizabeth’s Friday writing sprints come in handy on a Sunday afternoon or Monday after work. They provide a little springboard, and I’m off and running with something short.

Sometimes (rarely) I can start writing and then fall into flow . . . but it often turns into such utter dreck that I get swamped in the mental reeds, and stop.

It’s so frustrating when the flow just won’t come. I need that mental space, broad as a river and just as swift, to write with joy.

What I really like though, is having written. Then putting it away for a little while, and when I read the story, falling back into flow again. I love that.

What triggers flow in you? I wonder if I could start reading one of my favorite books, and then switch, midstream, to writing? I’d probably wind up with fanfic (which is fine, but not what I want to write – I hate following someone else’s rules). Meditation is great, but only rarely leads to a good writing session afterward. Sometimes surfing on the internet will slam two or three ideas together, and then I *have* to write them. I guess that’s my only semi-reliable trigger – to have a morning or afternoon free, and then spend an hour on the internet on my writing computer, and switch over to a Word document when something strikes my fancy.

(-: It is my fervent desire that one of your triggers will work for me! What do you do to get into flow?

9 thoughts on “Michaeline: Mental Space, Flow and Writing

  1. Outside triggers, or external triggers, don’t get me into a flow. What gets me into a flow is sitting down with the manuscript and working on it. If I concentrate and focus, I get caught up in the story, the plot of it, or the mechanics of it, and time flies by and I feel good at the end of it. But anything else—the Internet, music, whatever—just distracts me. Good luck with finding the flow! Sorry I can’t be of more help.

    • That helps for me sometimes, too! I’m glad you said something. Different things work for different people, and it might be just what somebody needed to hear today. “I don’t have time for all these story soundtracks and Pinterest boards and things. Maybe it’s OK just to get to work.”

    • Oh, I need to make clear, too, that book-reading flow is different from music-listening flow and writing-flow. They share commonalities, but also there’s a lot different there. My pleasure music and writing music is often quite different.

  2. I get inspired by reading, but it doesn’t get me into a flow. Elizabeth’s writing sprints help me to keep the momentum going when I’m mostly editing and tweaking, but like Kay, the only thing that really works for me is applying myself to the WIP.

    [A digression: in the previous paragraph I originally typed “Elizabeth’s writing springs.” Wouldn’t that be the perfect place to find flow? Like Regency-era Bath, for writers.]

    I heard an interesting suggestion a couple of years ago at Gollanczfest. One of the authors (I think it was Joe Hill but I can’t be sure) said he’ll take a favorite book by an author he admires, type out a page or scene or whatever word for word, and then rewrite and reinvent it in his own voice. Rinse and repeat the exercise until he’s built up enough momentum to work on his own story. That sounds like a more applied version of the writing sprints game. Might be worth a try?

      • Me three! I guess “g” and “t” are just write there together. (LOL, “write” and “right” are things I often type wrongly and immediately catch — since it’s such a good example, I’m leaving the typo.)

    • This might be a good exercise for me!

      I recently watched something on YouTube from Paley Media Center. They were interviewing some of the women from Seth Meyer’s Late Night writer’s room, and talking about finding their voice.

      Jenny, a lesbian, talked about honing in on the specifics. She went to the zoo with her young son and saw a couple of women pretending to be lesbians in order to get a discount (? I’ll have to go back and rewatch), and was able to write a joke that connected with many people through her specific experience.

      Karen talked about finding herself copying the voice of whoever she was reading (I have that problem too). So, she was told to write a page or so in that voice, and note the places where she diverged from the writer’s voice. Try it with another writer and another writer — and note the common threads of it. That’s YOUR voice.

      They all laughed. Karen depreciatingly said, “I like homework!” and Jenny said, “She gave a wonderful writing exercise, and my advice was ‘go to the zoo!'” I love women writers! It’s so cool to see how they work together writing humor on that show.

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