Key #4: Focus In

The ability to focus in, or place your attention on your work, is the fourth master key for getting into the easy writing called “flow.”

[If you're just now joining the discussion, you may want to back up and first read Writing in Flow to Make Writing Fun, Key #1: Have a Reason to Write, Key #2: Think Like a Writer, and Key #3: Loosen Up.]

Defining Terms

According to Susan Perry, author of Writing in Flow, “Your whole mind has to get involved in the job of writing, with not a bit of mental energy left over to wander here and there. Only when your attention is fully focused on the task you’re trying to accomplish is flow a likely scenario.”

Before you read more, you might want to jot down a list of things that make your mind wander here and there instead of focusing in on your writing. It might include things you worry about (writing or non-writing related), noise distractions, boredom, too-tight deadlines, and more. Read Perry’s following suggestions, applying the ideas to the items on your list.

Antidotes to Scattered Focus

ONE: Pay close attention. If you are pondering the past or the future, with worry or regret, you’re nowhere near being in flow. Flow writing requires paying attention to the writing that is in front of you right now. Focusing on yourself can lead to anxiety. You must help yourself enter the flow state by “deciding to direct your awareness to a limited stimulus field.” This is what great athletes do to perform well. You may decide to worry about your situation later. (You can even put it on your schedule!) Then, while the situation is on the back burner, focus hard on the writing right in front of you. Picture a horse wearing blinders. Focus like that. [Understand that I'm not talking about true emergencies here. In that case, deal with the emergency. However, very little of what we worry about is an immediate emergency.]

TWO: Complexify! Staying with a writing task (and remaining in a flow state) means you aren’t bored. You aren’t writing the “same old, same old” kind of thing. You must learn, in the author’s words, to “complexify.” Make the story, the characters, and the plot complex enough to hold your interest. (Because let’s face it, if your mind is wandering because this particular spot in the writing is boring to you, it will be boring to your readers as well.) Learn techniques to complexify. What would feel fresh and motivating to you? What would bring novelty to the situation you’re writing about? Could you bring in another character? Could your own worst personal nightmare happen to your main character?

THREE: Shake things up. Your story line may be fine, but your boredom may come from physically being in a rut. You might need to seek out ways to shake up your day-to-day routine, and see how it affects your creativity. If you need strict routine to write in flow, then stay at your desk, but maybe try some background music or candles or do some exercises every half hour to stimulate blood flow. I have a friend who gets bored writing in her office, and she can return to a flow state simply by going to the library or a coffee shop to write. While that scenario wrecks my flow, it helps hers. So don’t dismiss ideas unless you try them. We’re all so different!

FOUR: Find the silent center. “Most writers throughout history have found they need to carve out a sense of solitude for their writing time,” whether that means physically isolating themselves from the activity around them, or mentally withdrawing from noise and commotion. That craving for a “room of one’s own” is a recognition of the need for this solitude.

FIVE: Find your passion. “If you crave more frequent flow experiences, seek out passionate projects whenever you can.” When you’re not passionate about your work–when you don’t care all that much about the project you’re working on–you’re not in flow. Every little interruption and distraction will grab your attention. Do your utmost to work on things you really care about.

SIX: Lower your sights. As popular mystery writer Sue Grafton explained, she couldn’t think about reviewers, or her readers, or any issues that raised her anxiety level. She advises writers to “lower your sights. Quit looking at the end product.” She said her only responsibility was to write the next sentence well. She pulled her focus down to as small a chunk as she could. So break down your project into tiny slices of work–and just concentrate on the next slice. [The best way I've found to do this is to use mini habits.] For a good article on focus, read what this teacher does with his students.


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