Lessons on finding flow

18.36, Monday 7 Mar 2016

The following written using The Most Dangerous Writing App which deletes everything unless you type continuously for 5 minutes, on 29 February 2016 at 19:05. You get 5 seconds grace. Discoveries are made. Output follows.

This reminds me of that game on Radio 4 where you have to speak continuously for one minute, with no hesitation, deviation, or repetition. Except here I don’t this repetition matters. It’s all about not stopping.

Which means maybe it’s more like the movie Speed with Keanu Reeves where he couldn’t slow the bus down below whatever it was, 40 mph, or otherwise it would blow up.


Go bang.

Or maybe, it occurs to me, it’s more like that neuroscience experiment where you try to say as many difficult challenges as possible for a whole minute. And the effort of that results in more blood flow to the brain, and because that’s already a large amount of your oxygen usage anyway, that’s detectable, and your head should be warmer, or you end up breathing faster, or something like that.

I don’t remember.

The weird thing with this experiment is that it’s not the paragraphs that are hard to figure out. I have enough time while I’m typing to choose something that comes next.

No. The problem is this:

It’s when I get halfway through a sentence and I don’t know exactly how to phrase what I way to say. So I usually pause for a second, delete, choose a different word. Or pause for longer, and in that gap go back and want to revise the previous sentence.

Which breaks my flow state. When I get lost in a particular word - a stutter if you like - I stop being able to think of what’s happening in the next paragraph.

I feel that there’s a lesson here in how I write usually.

Notes, discovered at this point 4 minutes in, that I need to remember for later, about how to write more fluently without using this app:

  1. I need to slow my writing down, in general, so that I can plan the next paragraph.
  2. I need to keep writing and keep moving forward. Don’t go back, don’t revise as I go. I can revise later, and that’s editing. The point is to write without stopping.
  3. I need to capture this state without the app.

I’ve got to 5 minutes now, which is the stopping point, and already I found I have revised this sentence by deleting its second clause; I have gone back and added point 3 above which wasn’t there before; I am pausing slightly to second guess myself.

So, lessons. Time to stop.

A week later

Looking back on what I wrote a week ago, I boil it down to this:

Writing and editing are separate tasks, and I should approach in different ways and at different times.

I was only able to see this after finding flow for, what, four minutes. And this category of ideas that are only visible after some period of time, or some kind of journey… this is interesting to me.

I’ve been reading about scoring centuries in cricket and there’s something resonant for me in those stories about getting to the magic 100: An individual game, every ball the same as the last but somehow not; a score made run by run. Don’t think about the 100 when you start, just start. Every ball on its merits. Even the greats remind themselves to watch the ball every time one is bowled. You can’t score runs from the pavilion.

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