4 thoughtful ways to help writers get into creative flow
This is what writing blog content looks like for me. In spring and summer, I leave my desk to set up a writing space outdoors. During the winter I find a comfy corner indoors. It is just one of the ways that help me to get into creative flow.
Have you ever been so immersed in a task that you lost all sense of time? You may have experienced the flow state doing something you love, e.g., playing an instrument, practising your favourite sport, gardening or painting. When in flow, the level of concentration can be so intense that some people describe it as being “in the zone”.
Unfortunately achieving this wonderful state isn’t always a given, especially in writing. Unlike most hobbies, we may not write online purely for our own pleasure. There are readers involved. It’s not so easy to get into creative flow when you worry about what readers will think of your writing. It may only be a fleeting thought but all the “what ifs” along with a million other distractions can put a real dampener on the enjoyment of writing.
I’ve compiled the following 5 tips to help you prepare for creative flow with a positive and open mindset. Because flow is such a wonderful thing when it happens!
1. The right creative space can make a difference
What is your writing space like? Is it where you feel most energised?
Energy tends to flow better in the right space. When you work from home at your desk, as I do, a change of scene may help to get you into a different thinking space. A space that feels more conducive to being creative. It’s just one of the reasons I enjoy writing outdoors. Or at least somewhere where I can see or hear the sounds of nature. In fact, I started writing this post in my campervan by the coast where I could hear the waves in the distance.
You may well be different. Perhaps you love sitting at your normal desk or the kitchen table. Or at a window seat in your favourite cafe. Some writers prefer being amongst people and hear music playing in the background. (Did you know that, according to a Dutch study, listening to happy music leads to greater creativity?)
Of course, once in flow, you may be so absorbed by your task that you don’t notice any sights and sounds.
But when you struggle to get into creative flow, you want to identify what helps or hinders.
- Switching off your phone or leaving it out of sight in silent mode will reduce distractions.
- If you prefer to see nothing on the screen other than the page you’re working on, downloading a distraction free writing programme will help.
- You may like some sounds but not others. When sounds are distracting and there is nothing you can do about them, a noise cancelling headset could be the perfect solution.
- Are you OK with being surrounded by creative ‘mess’? That’s great. If not, keeping your desk or study tidy could make quite a difference.
2. A simple ritual can help you get into creative flow
I stumbled across an old Instagram post recently about drinking tea, which (in a roundabout way) sparked the idea for this blog post.
“Evening light. Days are getting longer. My 90-year-old mother-in-law is staying with us and we observe the changes every evening. We also seem to be drinking lots of tea. She likes hers with just the right amount of milk in a small flute shaped China mug. Which is great, as it means the ones at the back of the cupboard get used when she is here. Everyone in my family seems to be quite particular about the amount of milk they like in their tea or the size of mug … although I can’t always remember what they are!… “
Reading this again made me realise how conducive drinking tea (always Earl Grey!) is to my writing. My little ritual starts with boiling freshly drawn and filtered water and choosing a large China mug. Size matters here as I enjoy the soft fragrance carried by the hot steam.
It’s like having my own magical wake-up potion that triggers creative thinking. And before I know it, I am putting the world to rights in my blog or social media!
Of course, my tea of choice may be your coffee especially if you adore the distinct aroma of freshly brewed coffee.
Or perhaps you have a completely different ritual altogether. I know some writers use meditation to clear their mind, others take a walk round the block, write in their gratitude journal, read a poem or a few pages of a favourite book.
I am always amazed by how well a simple ritual can support your mindset and your creativity.
3. Making time to write – at the right time for you
When do you feel most creative? Is this influenced by the time of day? Or certain conditions?
My creative energy always feels strongest before I get dressed, have breakfast and think about my work. Right brain (imaginative/ intuitive) thinking feels easier when separate from my other left brain (analytical/ logical) activities.
I have another creative window at night when my thinking brain has relaxed. It doesn’t happen often, but I have been known to write the first draft of a blog post in bed – on my phone or iPad!
I am careful not to do any editing during the creative phase because it’s so much better to look at your writing later. This helps you to look at it from the outside in which is always easier when in logical thinking mode.
Of course we can’t always separate the different ways our brains work. But, for now, it could be worth thinking about your own best times of day when it feels most natural to be creative. You’re bound to find that it is much easier then to get into creative flow.
4. Writing mindfully – my favourite way to achieve a relaxed mind
OK, let’s imagine you have tried my previous tips. You sit down to write, you know what you want to write about and there seem to be no distractions. Yet still, you’re struggling to get into flow.
Could your thoughts be getting in the way?
The answer is to take a mindful approach to writing. According to Ellen Langer, Psychology Professor at Harvard, “mindfulness is a state of mind that is available to everybody”… “and confers many of the same benefits as flow.”
I can confirm that. Having discovered mindfulness and mindful photography years ago, I realised one day, that it was affecting my writing too. Almost subconsciously I had started to write with a more open, more present, and more relaxed mindset. I was writing mindfully!
The key principle of mindfulness is to pay attention to the present moment, to be intentional and observant without judgment. To accept thoughts and feelings without necessarily dwelling on them. Applied to writing mindfulness helps you to enter a slower and calmer space. There is no reader. You are free to make mistakes and let negative thoughts fade into the background.
But, like any new skill, mindfulness can take some time to learn.
If you’re new to mindfulness this writing tip may help!
- When you’re ready to start writing, take a few gentle breaths and focus on where you are sitting. Are you comfortable? Is your body relaxed? Remember there is only this moment. Keep breathing gently and when you’re ready, start writing.
- You may notice lots of random thoughts trying to pull you into a different direction. It is quite normal for our minds to do this. Try to let them pass without judgement. If that feels too hard, just open a separate page and write down what bothers you. Taking any distracting or negative thoughts and feelings out of your head, so to speak, helps to calm down your overactive mind.
- Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to start (or get back to) writing your original piece.
Whether it is true in my case, I do not know. But the fact is, my ideas, insights and words flow so much more freely. And I enjoy the process more, regardless of whether I get into creative flow or my mindful place!
What helps you to get into creative flow? A ritual, a specific environment, or time of day? Anything else? I’d love to know!