A lot has been written in the past few years about the state of "flow," in which whatever you're doing seems to come to you effortlessly. I had a rare experience of it yesterday, on a ten-hour flight back to London from Los Angeles.
I wrote about six thousand words during that time, on a new idea for a kids' book. I'm sure the work is rough but it was great to have it pouring out.
THE CONDITIONS FOR FLOW
The conditions seem to be:
- being away from your usual workspace - in this case, an airplane
- being in a place with low external stimulus - this was an overnight flight, the cabin was dark, and most people were sleeping. When we got on the plane I thought there might be a LOT of external stimulus, since the middle row opposite was occupied by two dads, a little girl, and two very young babies. The little girl was well-behaved and, amazingly, the infants didn't cry even once.
- having few interruptions - there were two meal services, one of which I skipped, the rest of the time the flight attendants were rarely seen.
- not stopping to re-read or critique the material
I'm not sure whether having a general idea about where the story is going is important. In this case, the same character is involved in a lot of short stories, which is an easier structure to handle.
That's not to say that flow happens every time those conditions are met. I've made that flight many times, and have been very productive on only one out of five or six.
It's made me wonder to create such conditions without getting on an airplane. Some writers do it by going to a hotel for a few days or weeks, not turning on the TV, not hooking up to the wi-fi, and taking at least some of their meals via room service. That's a fairly drastic approach, though (as well as expensive).
Working in a cafe, ideally without internet access, can be a mini-version of that, although here in the center of London it's hard to find one that doesn't have the distraction of people-watching and the obligation to move on after you've had a couple of cups of coffee. Maybe I just need to look harder for an unpopular place.
Getting on a train (obviously not during peak times) for a couple of hours might do it, although given the price of train travel it could be an expensive option.
If you'd care to share how you get into a flow state, please leave a comment. I'll be experimenting more with this and will let you know how it turns out.