As writers, wouldn’t it be great if every time you sat down to write, it was an optimal experience?
For the last few years, I’ve been on a journey to optimize my life for flow, specifically around my writing. Today, I wanted to break down some of the ways I think about flow in my daily life. If you remember back to Monday’s video, we talked about how flow requires three different things: clarity of goals, a proper skills-to-difficulty balance, and immediate feedback.
If you can nail those three things, then you can generate flow.
This is an incredibly deep topic and there’s more to talk about than I can cover, but I want to give you some practical ways that I have optimized for flow.
First, let’s talk about clarity of goals. When I sit down, I try to make sure that I’m explicitly clear on what I’m trying to achieve. That might be writing a single chapter, two chapters, or even five chapters, but more often than not, I actually make my explicit goals smaller.
I like to think of goals in two terms. You have macro goals and you have micro goals. A macro goal is my goal for the day. What am I trying to achieve? It might be writing a couple of chapters. My micro goals, on the other hand, are things like I’m going to wake up and not press my snooze button. I’m going to get my coffee and go and sit down at my desk to write, and most importantly, I’m not going to open up YouTube.
The reason that I make those micro goals is because I know that if I open up YouTube, I’m probably going to spend the next hour and a half scrolling through videos because every time I open up YouTube, that’s what ends up happening. This really ties into habit building, and setting these micro goals is one of the best ways that you can do that.
The second thing you need is the skills-to-difficulty balance to be calibrated correctly. This one’s interesting because when I sit down to write, sometimes I find my mind wandering. When I find my mind wandering, I understand that I need to tweak the difficulty of what I’m writing up a notch. One of the things that I’ve recently done is I’ve started listening to music as I write which increases the difficulty because a piece of my mind is processing what I’m hearing, while I’m also writing.
I do have to be careful with this, though, because if I listen to music with lyrics, that’s too difficult for me and I find that my frustration level is increasing too quickly. These are the two levers that you have to pay attention to. If your frustration is increasing, then it means you need to reduce the difficulty of the task. If you are getting bored, it means you need to increase the difficulty of the task.
By paying attention to those two things, I can start to understand whether my writing session is too easy or too hard. I know this sounds a little bit crazy, but it’s incredibly effective. We can increase and decrease the difficulty of what we’re doing as simply as standing to write instead of writing while sitting down or introducing new plot lines or new characters or deciding that you’re going to add a new genre to your book. There are a million ways to increase and decrease the difficulty of what you’re trying to write and in doing so, you can achieve a flow state.
I like to call this active balancing, and I do it all the time. I’m constantly making these micro adjustments to what I’m doing in order to try to get the best state of flow, to trigger a state of flow. And you’ll know it has worked when time just suddenly disappears and you look at your page and you’ve written a few thousand words without even thinking about it.
The final piece that you need for a flow state is immediate feedback and there are a couple of ways to do this. The first is self-editing. As you read back through what you’ve written, your mind is going to be assessing it and is going to be giving you feedback on whether it’s good or whether it’s bad. But I also like to build in other kinds of feedback, feedback from other people. I have a team of people who read through what I’ve written and then give me notes for the next day. This has been unbelievably helpful in creating this sense of flow.
Now, that’s sort of an extreme example, and you might not have people who are willing to do that for you, but that’s okay. Even just reading back through yourself can be enough to give you the feedback you need. Another thing that I would recommend is if you don’t have people who can do this sort of live editing for you, use an app like Grammarly or Hemingway to assess your writing. Don’t take what those two apps say as gospel, as they’re not going to do a good job of preserving your voice in your writing, but they can be a good way to get feedback that you can incorporate into your flow loop.
YouTube Video Link: https://youtu.be/c1zsILCmxAw
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