Writing in Flow

Guest post by Vicki Hunt Budge.

Vicki Hunt Budge grew up in southern Idaho with a mother who read to her and a father who taught her how to golf and swim. She attended Idaho State University and the University of Utah. Vicki began writing for the Friend magazine when her children were young and she’s published many stories and articles for LDS church magazines since that time. She is the author of three LDS Women’s Fiction in the Hope & Healing Series: Intercession, Renewal, and the newly released, Deliverance. Her books explore the miracle of addiction recovery, and are available on Amazon.

What is flow?

According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, flow is “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake.” He claims that flow begins when you are working on an activity that you really like and that your challenges and skills are higher than average.

Writers recognize this experience when they are so absorbed in their work that they don’t feel tired or hungry, and they lose track of time. For me, I first experienced this complete immersion in writing when I worked on Intercession. The feeling of working in flow increased with each book as I became so engrossed with my characters and their story that I forgot about dinner, or didn’t realize the sun had gone down. It is a time of pure contentment.

So how do we find this state of flow in our day-to-day writing?

Here are some things that have worked for me.I improved my skills by reading books and blogs on the fundamentals of plot, characterization, point of view, and motivation. I watched Dan Wells’ Seven Plot Points online and studied the fundamentals of the Hero’s Journey. I joined Indie Author Hub and other online writing groups, gleaning everything I could from other authors. I attended workshops.

Many times when I learned something new and important from my studies, I went back to my manuscript and rewrote what I had written. After hearing Jeff Savage talk about first chapters in a writing class, I went home and rewrote the first chapter of Intercession. The following week, as a follow-up, he critiqued several students’ first chapters. I went home and rewrote the first chapter—again. It took nearly four years to complete Intercession and publish it. The more I learned and the more I wrote, the more I experienced flow.

Several years ago I served as a Cub Scout den mother. I learned an important concept in the initial training. No matter how much fun the boys were having, stop after one hour. I was told that the boys might whine because they were having so much fun, but they would remain excited to come back next week if we ended on time. The same principle works with writing for me. I try to stop with a scene that I’m looking forward to writing. When it’s time to work on the story again, I’m excited to start. Writer’s block is eliminated.

Don’t waste time finding the perfect word for a scene.

I’ve heard that a lot, but it’s hard to do because I’m in love with words. Words are one of the things I love most about writing. Now I’ve trained myself to type xxx when I’m not sure what word or thought I need at that point in the manuscript. I keep writing and viola! When I later go back to reread and edit, the elusive word or phrase almost always flows into my thoughts.

I also don’t stress over how many times I use certain words—like was or that. It breaks the flow. Once again, when I’m rewriting, I love to spot It breaks the flow. Once again, when I’m rewriting, I love to spot problem or repetitive words and enjoy the challenge of making the writing better. Tighter.

Elmore Leonard advises writers to “leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” I’ve found this to be true. Too much description and too many unimportant details cause me to skip ahead when I’m reading. After my first book, I found it easier to spot and avoid unnecessary parts to my second and third books. The writing became more natural—allowing me to get into the flow of things without having so much to cut in the revisions.

As writers, we’ve all heard of “show, don’t tell.” Sometimes, when I’m stuck with what to write next, I tell instead of show. I place the computer on all caps and write myself a note right there in the middle of the manuscript. I don’t have to struggle with how to begin the scene or who says what. I simply tell myself about the scene as I envision it. Those notes to myself are the jumpstart I need the next day or the next week to fully write that scene and show instead of tell. Because I have a blueprint in front of me, it enables me to get right into flow. Naturally, I delete the note from my manuscript.
Often when I start these notes to myself, and I’m not at a stopping point for the day, the storyteller in me takes over. I’m able to drop the all caps and continue the story with dialogue and action.

Several years ago our family had a small farm. Every spring we flushed the irrigation pipes by pumping water through each of our three lines. We almost always flushed a rock chuck or two out of those pipes. Sometimes writers struggle with brain fog that, like a rock chuck in a pipe, causes blockage. I’ve found that cutting sugar and dairy out of my diet flushes brain fog right out of my head. I can think and imagine scenes clearly. Writing flows just like water in a pipe.

In high school, my friend, Jeanie, taught me to play table tennis. She was far above my skill level. When I got discouraged because of the disparity in our abilities, she encouraged me by saying I would improve faster by playing against someone better. I found this principle to be true with writing too. To improve my writing skills, I have read hundreds of books by best-selling and polished writers. And like table tennis or any activity, I’ve found that my writing improves by the number of good books I’ve read. To quote Stephen King, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.

Not every writing day is fun and full of flow. Writing is hard work and sometimes frustrating. But we can set ourselves up with opportunities where flow occurs. When we are completely involved in our writing, and our challenges and skills are higher than average, we find true immersion possible, and can truly enjoy the process of writing.

Jennifer Bennett

About Jennifer Bennett

Jennifer J. Bennett was born in Southern California as the youngest of six children. Her imagination began to develop as a child creating worlds in her backyard. Books have always played a big role in her life; favorites growing up were “The Country Bunny” by Dubose Heyward, “The Light in the Attic”by Shel Silverstein, and “Island of the Blue Dolphins” by Scott O’ Dell among many, many others. She also enjoys music, theater, travel, and cooking.

Jennifer moved from Southern California in 1989 and finished high school in Southern Utah where she met her husband Matthew Bennett who currently works in educational administration. They reside in St. George, Utah with four amazing kids: Haylee, Chase, Conner, and Libby. After her father was diagnosed with cancer, she began writing her first novel, “The Path”. Her father encouraged her to move forward with her writing and she has continued since. He passed away in 2009.

Jen, as her friends call her; can be found buzzing around California from time to time in search of magical elements from the past. She tries to balance fun, being a mom, and trying to be a grownup (which she really isn’t sure she ever wants to be).

Visit Jen’s blog at: http://www.jjbennett.com/