How I Find My Flow

By: Erin Rose Hennessy

I have finally realized something extremely important about my ability to write. I can’t achieve writing flow as easily during the daytime. I have been sitting here for over an hour and have nothing productive to show for it. Part of it may be that I am used to writing cooperatively with one of my good friends, Emily, but I have also noticed an incline in my solo writing as the day progresses and evening approaches.

Right now, I am sitting somewhere very uncomfortable. My bottom hurts sitting here and I hate writing with my legs down. I like them curled under me. I also prefer a blanket and some cozy pillows and something on television. Something I’ve seen before so it doesn’t distract me, but I don’t like listening to other people talk around me.  There are also way too many distractions in this coffee shop. People are talking (not quietly like they would be if I had the television on, but loudly). There is music playing, kitchen noises, and traffic outside. Someone behind me keeps thumping his feet on the floor. People keep passing my chair, which makes me pause every time.

Working cooperatively for 3 hours a night, Emily and I cranked out nine pages in two nights. This is impressive for us – our average is about a page an hour, so three pages in one three-hour writing session. We rarely pause to correct errors and editing and proofreading is for another day. I tend to erase whole sentences, even whole paragraphs, to correct errors when writing solo.

Another big difference is that when writing cooperatively with Emily, we have someone saying “Well? Did you get that?” if we take longer than ten minutes to respond. I think we chose ten minutes because it gives us time to bathroom break or do dishes or do another quick chore, but we also want to be sure the other person actually got our line. We’ll bounce ideas off each other and text each other during the day to compare notes.

Daytime is my “be up and busy” time. I like to take walks, be active. Right now is my body’s usual “quiet time” with a book or my journal while the babies at school are napping. Otherwise I am used to being pretty much constantly moving from the hours of 7:30 AM- 12:30 PM and 3:00-6:00 PM. With so much business and action physically, I don’t think my body has time to think about writing or getting “in flow.” I think once I’ve had dinner, done the dishes and made my lunch for the next day, and am on the couch with my dessert and a TV show, my body is ready for “flow.”

Of course, I am a creature of routine. It’s entirely possible that I am a nighttime writer because of the routine that has been imposed on my body for the past 7-½ years. 6:30-9:30 has been pretty steadily my writing time every single night. Sometimes it’s a touch earlier or later, starting at 6 and going until 10:30 or so, but the point is that it is after dinner, in the evening hours, when things are calm and winding down for the day.

Writing is my “wind down” activity. It’s not something I do well during the day – except I seem to be writing this pretty well. Funny how I wasn’t in flow until I started writing about not being able to find my flow!

Ways I Find my Flow:

1) Write in the evening.

2) Get passionate about the topic. I always have tons to say about a topic I have opinion on. I can’t write about the stock market – I don’t give a flying horse fanny about the stocks.

3) Get comfortable and cozy. I can’t write sitting at a desk or in an uncomfortable chair.

4) Setting a writing limit. I find that I do better when my writing is limited to 3-4 hours per day. Part of me wonders if the fact that I am not able to write anything but this right now is because Emily and I will be writing later.

5) Have a yummy dessert. I have been watching my diet lately – so writing time is pretty much when I get my day’s treat. Two cookies, or some chocolate, or a small bowl of ice cream and I’m good to go!

6) Have something on TV that I have seen before. Not being distracted, but still hearing a loved episode is familiar and comforting. Right now, that would be Gilmore Girls, Charmed, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or NCIS: Los Angeles (unless it’s the new Monday night episode!)

I love children – I do! I work with them all day and invite them into my home. That aside, there is a little girl who keeps gleefully shrieking behind me. I cannot write well with the sounds of children about. To me kids= playtime, work + distraction. Kids /= writing flow.

I also don’t think I write well when hungry. Considering it is almost snack time for me and I normally write right after dinner and dessert, a full belly seems to be one of the necessities for a good writer’s flow.

I am trying some Holiday Spice Tea and enjoying a hummus & pretzel snack. Perhaps this will help my flow – if my flow needs any more help considering this seems to be a very productive topic for me!

Flow is an elusive thing. Finding one’s flow is a very personal choice. What works for one person may not work for another. I’m the kind of person who likes structure, but also has a very, very rich inner life. I create whole stories that only exist inside my head, and I probably only write down 5% of those – some of them are just too personal and private to share.

My best friend, Brianna, has a very different type of flow. She and I are both avid writers and creative thinkers who love television. Brianna, however, writes best in the early morning hours, when she has first rolled out of bed. She likes to have coffee or another drink in hand and write when she first gets up. Brianna has stated that she is at her best in the morning because she is “refreshed and ready to go.” Brianna finds it harder to write in the evenings (my preferred time) because she is just getting home from a long day at work and exercising at the gym. The last thing she wants to do is sit down and write. I need to remember to check with her on this, but I wonder if she and I view writing differently. I view it as something that calms and relaxes me and gets me ready for bed. I wonder if it is the same for Brianna, or if she views it as something that she needs to already be calm to do.

After checking with Brianna and asking her a few questions, I came back to my writing with some answers. She agrees with my statement that a writer’s flow is a very personal choice and routine. Your body becomes used to its own needs and routine – thus, creating your own writing routine almost subconsciously. Brianna also easily finds flow in a coffee shop. She views it like an office space – somewhere you go to work. Her desk at home is only used for writing, so when she sits at it, her body and brain know it is time to write. At a coffee shop, Brianna has easy access to her favorite and prose-necessary drink and is able to easily relax and not be distracted. As I sit across from her, I notice one thing. She is wearing ear buds and I am not. I am thinking that procuring a pair and trying to listen to an episode on my computer while writing at coffee shops might not be a bad idea.

One of my major writing pet peeves is distraction. Actually, I have distraction issues, period. My parents thought I might have ADD. I find it hard to focus in a noisy environment, which is probably why I do my best writing at home on my couch cuddled under a blanket. Here in the coffee shop, even as I am better able to focus (95% owing to the hummus), I am still all too aware of the noises around me and am not easily able to shut them out. I guess I could take off my hearing aid, but something about leaving a very expensive piece of vital technology on the coffee shop table just makes me uneasy.

Ways Writing is Difficult for Me

1) Noise.

2) Distraction.

3) Hunger/Thirst.

4) Uncomfortable positions.

Somehow, and I’m not sure how – sleepiness doesn’t seem to affect my ability to write. It’s happened more than once; actually it happened two nights ago, the climax of the scene occurs just before bedtime. Two nights ago, our beloved family of six characters was in a major car accident just before we signed off for the night. Seriously. We had grand, colorful description, massive chaos, and then it was bedtime for Erin & Emily. This was after I had a mere four hours of sleep the previous night, mind you. I really think the more exhausted I am, the more creative I am able to be.

What also helps is that we sometimes do our brainstorming during the day – little texts to each other with new ideas or supplementary ideas for our current stories. Emily and I do not adhere to the organized, linear style of writing. We don’t use note cards. We don’t have an outline. Our current story began with the one-sentence idea of: “Riccoli family separated in different hospitals after accident.” That’s it. Sometimes we run out of steam. Sometimes we will crank out a good 50-60-page story. Rarely, we get one-hit wonders like one of my all-time favorite gems: Family Bonds. We can get discouraged when we hit a no-finished-story streak and not finish one for three months – but then we feel awesome when we finish six in six months.

I should ask Emily how she achieves flow. Questions for Emily:

1) How do you find your best creative flow?

2) What routines or rituals help you write?

3) What are the best parts of writing cooperatively? Solo?

4) What time of day do you find you do your best writing? What time of day is the worst?

I sent Emily these questions on Facebook and I also sent the questions to another friend and co-worker, Claire. She and I have many TV show fandoms in common and have created our own little AU world surrounding Kensi and Deeks of NCIS: Los Angeles fame.

Emily is much more like me in her responses, which doesn’t surprise me, considering we write together in the evenings. She finds that she writes best in the evenings, when it is quiet. She uses it as wind-down time just like I do. We both view writing as a calming, relaxing activity to unwind from the stress of their day.

Emily is also a creature of routine. She schedules writing time, both solo and with me – because if it is not planned, it doesn’t happen. She views writing cooperatively as a way to let your ideas work from two different viewpoints. Emily writes solo when she has a hard time verbalizing her ideas or opinions. She’ll write any time of day that she knows she won’t be interrupted (or, “distracted” – my term). She prefers evenings, but any other time of day works as well.

Claire best finds her flow when she is relaxed in her chair with the television on or lounging in bed with her laptop. Claire also writes cooperatively with a friend, Mimi. She quotes being able to share ideas and have the other writer’s input as the best parts of writing cooperatively. I find this to be true as well – especially when asking questions that a person unfamiliar with the story wouldn’t be able to answer. Claire likes writing solo when she wants more control over what the characters say and do. Working cooperatively means that your characters will not always do what you, the writer, would have them do, but sometimes what your friend, the co-writer, would have them do.

For the most part, I find that Emily and I agree pretty well on what our characters should do, but there are a few times when we have needed to compromise. I find that the best way to find a solution is to simply state your “No Way” and let them state one “No Way” and then find another way to continue the story that doesn’t incorporate the two most disliked ideas.

Claire is another writer who finds it harder to write the more tired she is. If it’s after 8 pm, she can’t get as much flow as if she was writing earlier.

One of the ways Claire and I are polar opposites is that she writes in bed. I absolutely 100% cannot do anything in bed except read and sleep. Of course, I have my own sleep issues, routine issues, and distraction issues – so the main reason for that is that the bedroom is only for reading and sleeping. Period. Nothing stimulating comes into the bedroom. No computer, no bills, no TV, no DVD player, nothing that makes noise or creates anything but calm and relaxed feelings. Period.

Brianna, Emily, Claire, and I are very different people who bring very different ideas, values, and flow to the writer’s circle. The best thing is that everyone is creative and is capable of finding her or his own creative outlet. Everyone is different, which contributes to different, creative, and rich ideas. A creative mind is a horrible thing to waste. Your mind is full of vast worlds and characters and places and ideas to explore if you’ll only just start looking!

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