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Productive Writer No. 13


More Flow

Reading in The New York Times this week that one can attend a five-day retreat to learn how to "optimize performance through flow" (for $5,000)

prompts me to return to the topic of flow and writing productivity (for free).


Recall from posting No. 8 that "flow," as described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1990), characterizes activity in which our goals are clear, our

concentration deepens, our feelings of control increase, and our anxiety decreases while our belief that we are capable of the task increases.


Is this what happens when you write? I hope so! You likely won't start at flow. (If you do, I applaud and envy you.) Usually after writing for 30

minutes or so, you realize you're "in the flow," or "in the zone." It has become easier to produce new words, sentences, and paragraphs, to fill

the page.


It's tempting to stop writing when it's not going well. Don't. Please keep writing so you meet your goal (even if your goal is a really bad first draft).

To increase your chance of getting to flow:

  • Post or place your goal nearby for each writing session as a reminder to stay on track. If you use the "think ahead and plan backwards" strategy
  • (described in the next posting), then today's goal is clear, especially in the context of your schedule and deadlines for project completion.
  • Remove or avoid distractions, including the tendency to self-interrupt (by focusing on tasks other than writing during your scheduled writing time).
  • Take a moment (of meditation or deep, slow breathing) to picture yourself being focused. Picture yourself feeling excited about your writing. Imagine
  • yourself producing many new words and pages. Picture yourself attaining, or surpassing, your goal. (Then imagine celebrating after successfully
  • completing your writing project.)

So start writing and expect to experience flow. You can do this!


Jan Allen, Associate Dean

Academic and Student Affairs

Cornell Graduate School