My writing process can be a somewhat strange now that I think about it. I have a brief to write new text for a redesigned website and I find myself sitting in front of my screens with my handwritten notes to one side, waiting.
It feels almost as if I can only really begin writing when the more abstract concepts and outlines condense into something more tangible and intelligible. At that point the structure becomes clearer and I can start capturing it all in text that flows.
It reminds me a lot of fantasy movies or TV shows when characters stare at some magical text that transforms from some sort of unintelligible script into plain English text, unlocking some ancient secret (or, more commonly, some terrible Evil that becomes the focus of the rest of the show).
Conditions for entering my Flow State
There are a few ingredients that create a better set of conditions for that transition to a Flow State which is where the magic happens. My starting point is my music choice (today, a selection from Steve Jablonsky’s Transformers and Ender’s Game soundtracks seems to work today).
I almost always write better when I listen to movie or TV soundtracks (the instrumentals).
The next key ingredient is a relatively undisturbed space to process my distractions, procrastinate a little and slip into my Flow State. That one is tricky, especially when I am working in an open office and have colleagues talking to me about ongoing projects.
One way to compensate for a lot of background noise in the office and visual distractions (distractions, generally, are not great for me – as it is my attention tends to be fragmented) is to turn up the music until the music overrides the distractions.
Handwritten notes to ground me
Making handwritten notes is a great way for me to lock in the concepts and flow even though I write almost exclusively on my laptop. There is a lot of research into the benefits of writing on paper as opposed to making notes on a digital device. As much as I have an overwhelming preference for digital, handwritten notes and sketches have become crucial and I carry a spiral notebook with me in my bag.
I think handwritten notes also help me break through any blocks I have about what I am writing about. It’s almost as if writing my notes and drawing little sketches that capture concepts for me help me force through the stubborn membrane of a creative block.
Maybe such a physical medium is essential for me to ground myself so I can connect the abstract with the tangible? It feels like something along those lines.
Building in some procrastination
A more recent realisation is that I will very rarely dive straight into the writing part and sustain it till I have that piece of textual brilliance. I almost always procrastinate and distract myself with something.
Rather than fight it, I’m working to channel it. One way I do that is by writing something different. This post is such an exercise. It helps me release some mental mosquito and start the process of clearing my creative pathways for the Real Work.
A frequent side benefit of this indulgence is that some of the concepts cook away in the recesses of my mind while I’m not focused on them so, when I am done with my distraction, I’m closer to the essence of what I want to work with.
It seems to work for me so far.
At some point, just begin
Of course the one challenge is to just begin at some point. I used to wait for the stars and planets to align before starting to write and that very rarely happens. Even when it does, I was too distracted to notice.
Instead, the thing is to give yourself some flexibility but set a limit. When it feels as if you could keep yourself distracted beyond the point of airing out the room and opening the blinds for some fresh air, you have to sit yourself down and begin. Your first words may be utter rubbish but the main thing is to write them.
I find that as I write, clarity emerges from the text and I can always go back to the earlier stuff and edit it (sounds obvious in retrospect).
Sitting down with the expectation that your first draft will be perfect is a great way to block yourself. Besides, it’s unrealistic, certainly for me. My work often takes shape as I am writing so expecting that the first words that spew out will be creative gems is a sign that I am deluding myself.
On that note, I have some work to do. Tell me about your process. You know, while you are waiting for your on-ramp to your Flow State.
Image credit: Picjumbo