Key #5: Balance Between Opposites

We started this series with the goal of learning how to make the writing fun, how to enter into that timeless “flow” state more often.

Five keys are needed, according to Susan Perry in Writing in Flow. Today is Key #5: finding balance among opposites.

Which is it?

I’m sure you’ve noticed contradicting writing advice. One author says you have to “let go and let the story unfold.” Another (just as famous) author advises a detailed outline, scene by scene, so the story doesn’t get away from you.

One person says to just sit down and write on schedule–use that willpower! Others counsel you to establish many rituals and writing practices so “inspiration” will come calling.

One magazine article says, “Know your audience!” Another magazine says, “Write only for yourself.”


How do you find the truth? Which is it in all these opposite situations–one or the other? Actually, it’s both. That’s why Key #5 for getting into flow is finding the balance among all these opposites. Let’s look at four pairs of “writer opposites” now.

A: In control vs. out of control

While most of us would love to have a story or book spring full-blown from our brains and flow out our fingertips, that is rare. There are different feelings at different times of the writing process.

While I’m doing interesting research, doing character studies, thinking up plot twists and turns, I feel more in control of the process. It’s often done “in flow,” and time flies! During rough draft writing–pulling words out of thin air–I feel very out of control (and I don’t like it). It’s harder for me to write in flow during a rough draft, unless I’m writing an exciting or dramatic or emotional scene where I get really involved. During multiple revisions, it’s easier for me to write in flow most of the time and lose all track of time–probably because I feel more in control with a manuscript to work on.

If you’re not a control freak like me, you may find it easier to write in flow during the rough draft stage, as some of my writer friends do.

B: To think vs. suspend thinking

When we’re writing in flow, our thinking feels different. It doesn’t feel like the kind of thinking you do when you’re balancing your checkbook or trying to install new software. Some writers say they make a real effort to “not think” when it’s time to write.

For some time now, it’s been a belief that it’s mostly just the right brain–the creative side–that’s at work when writing. However, Perry says that “brain studies show that those whose brains communicate most richly between the hemispheres are more creative. They are more in touch with their feelings and express them through their creative productions.” Based on brain research then, it might appear that women have an easier time here because of their increased connections between the sides of the brain.

I highly suspect that even though some writers claim that they “suspend thinking” when they’re creating, their thinking is just going on at a different level. Their brains are humming quietly in the background, but they must be thinking!

C: Willpower vs. inspiration

“While you can certainly will yourself to work, it’s not necessarily possible to will yourself to enter flow,” says Perry. I agree. As another writer said, “It’s a kind of grace that comes after long preparation…there’s much mulling over first.”

While Perry’s five keys work to get yourself in the best possible position to experience flow, you can’t grit your teeth and command yourself to write in flow. You prepare yourself, you create the best possible environment, but then you will have to wait for inspiration to arrive on its own. Like flow, it can be invited–even coaxed–but it can’t be forced.

D: Write for audience vs. write for self

If we write and hope to be published, at some point we’ll encounter this one. Most writers prefer not to think of an audience at all when they write. Worrying about critical reviewers, readers who might post one-star reviews on, editors who reject without comment, even parents or critique partners who won’t like it–it can stifle the most inspired writer.

“I just write for myself,” say many writers. I do too–at least in the rough draft. During the revisions, it’s more tyical to consider your audience. “Even then, it’s usually only in the interests of clarity, rather than being concerned about a potentially critical judgment.”

I loved a comment made by popular novelist Michael Connelly, who said his main goal is to write a book that he would like to read himself and that “if I like a book, there’s a good chance a lot of people will like it.”

Most writers agree that you can’t think of the audience if you want to write in flow. If your audience is envisioned as critical, it will yank you right out of flow. Ursula K. Le Guin said, “Consciousness of audience while writing is fatal to the work.” Yes, there comes a time when you need to consider public opinion–but not when you’re first writing your manuscript.

Embrace Both for Balance

Mull over these four issues for yourself, and come to peace with BOTH sides of each equation. Once you do, you’ll find entering the flow state–and staying there–much easier.

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