Years back, I read a book called Writing in Flow by Susan K. Perry. It made me a believer in writing in flow states, probably because I'd done it a few times, but I can't say I did a good job of learning how to do it whenever I wanted. However, writing in flow is something I aspire to.
Well, yesterday it happened.
I had received an essay back from an editor last Wednesday with his suggestions for changes, and I'd been working on it ever since. Yesterday morning I got up and went to the computer in my nightclothes. I changed into workout clothes, as I do every morning that I'm not training in the dojang, but I got distracted...by work...and went back to the computer. Around mid-day I considered cleaning up and getting dressed, but I remembered that I hadn't worked out yet. So I put in a load of wash, fixed something to eat, and took it back to the computer. The essay was in good shape around 2:30, so I got on the treadmill for a while. Then I got off and went back to the computer. Around 4 o'clock, I finished working out, finally took a bath, and got dressed. After dinner I went back to the computer for an hour and a half or so, just to tweek the essay and do things like spellcheck, then I submitted it. I never combed my hair, though I did brush my teeth. I think.
The day of work felt great. If the editor is no longer interested in the essay, it doesn't matter because the writing experience was so terrific, and I learned so much about writing memoir while working on this piece.
How did this flow state come about when it so rarely happens for me?
I think it was the amount of time I put into the essay before Monday, the flow state day. I worked on this thing for a couple of hours Thursday morning and all day Friday. It was not going well. I tried this and I tried that, I moved things here and there. Saturday morning I woke up around 3:30 and was still up at 4:30. So I got up and worked on the essay for 2 hours until going back to bed for a few hours. I think I worked on it some more Saturday afternoon or evening. I definitely worked on it off and on Sunday. I felt I was making progress, and Sunday night just before I went to bed I made a page and a half of freewriting notes in my hardcopy journal for use the next day.
Then I had my flow experience on Monday.
I think to finally get into a flow state you have to achieve a certain level of concentration before getting into the flow. (It's the same thing you need to do to trigger a breakout experience, though in that case you back off for a while after you've been working.) My present schedule of working only Monday, Wednesday, and Friday means that I'm not staying at work long enough to get to that level of concentration and stay there. I remember talking to Computer Guy about the whole flow thing years ago when he was writing code for games he was creating. He said he'd read that the reason you used to hear these stories of people who write code regularly living on caffeine and staying up all night was that they wanted to stay in some kind of work groove once they'd achieved it. That sounds like flow.
A few months ago I started trying to work for a half hour or so every weekday morning, even on the elder care days. It didn't lead to anything like the flow state I experienced yesterday, but it helped. Yesterday's experience confirms my impression that I need to find a way to work more.