How to Turn Off Distractions and Turn On Your Creative Flow

    creative flow - waterfall

    There are millions of distractions that the modern day writer has to put up with in order to get their ideas out there. Twitter, Facebook, email, they’re all conspiring to distract you from getting your writing down on the page.

    Did you know, when you’re multitasking between writing and doing something else, it can take up to thirty minutes to get your mind back on track? Flip-flopping between activities is not an option for a writer who’s trying to get some writing done.

    This is why I subscribe to a method of pure writing flow. It’s one of the many ways that I use to counter the background noise bubbling up from every direction.

    What is flow? It’s kind of like a river of writing, it’s an uninterrupted stream of consciousness directly from the source of your creativity through your brain, into your nervous system, out your hands, into your computer. I like to think of it as zen writing meditation.

    There is some important prep work that needs to be done before you’re ready for some serious writing flow time:

    1, Isolate yourself.
    Shut the door to your study, turn off your cell phone, turn off your email program, shutdown your Twitter. Make note of any other things that I haven’t mentioned here that could possibly distract you from entering the flow. Make sure they can’t beep, howl, vibrate or demand anything from you.

    2, Just you and computer.
    I write with a program called WriteRoom, which turns my Mac into a tool for simply writing. A simple text editor will work as well. This way it’s just me and the words I type, nothing more. There’s no jumping dock icons grasping my attention, it’s just me and the writing. This is important, because it’s so easy to open Firefox and get lost in the internet. Sometimes if I find that WriteRoom isn’t enough isolation, I’ll turn off the internet altogether.

    3, Don’t start writing, yet.
    Take a moment and center yourself. I usually do around fifteen minutes of quiet contemplation before I even start touching keys. Focus on the idea that you have, but not too hard, just enough to see a vague outline of what you want to achieve. Why? Because this gives my mind a chance to let everything else in the world go, and just focus on the task at hand: writing.

    And now it’s time to write, let the worlds spill out of you onto the page, and trust that they’re okay. There are moments in every creative’s life when they tap into the source of their creativity and they’re able to ride that creativity unto a finished project. With this writing philosophy I’m trying to get at that creative source.

    Don’t edit yourself.
    While you’re flowing, it’s important not to go back and edit things that you may have screwed up. Accept that you spelled miscellaneous wrong, and realize that you’ll be able to go back and fix that after you’re done. You’ll be able to rearrange paragraphs, after your flow is complete. If you stop and fix these things now, you’ve broken the stream of thought and you’ll have to start from scratch.

    The time to edit yourself, to second guess what you did, is after your flow is over. When your copy has gone the full life-cycle from conception to being fully typed on the page.

    Don’t second guess yourself.
    You might be looking at the words coming out of you, and saying ‘wow, this absolutely crap.’ ignore that little voice. It’s trying to sabotage your writing, if you stop and delete what you’ve put out now, you’ll never get to the next sentence, which will inevitably be more brilliant than the one you’re writing now.

    The important part is to bypass your inner critic and editor, as they’re conspiring to destroy your ability to get your ideas down on the page.

    Keep the pace.
    Imagine flowing like kayaking down stream a moving river, but you’re not the boater, you’re the kayak. No matter what happens, even if the person in control stops paddling for a bit, you’re going to keep going. The words will keep coming out of you and out onto the page, until you’ve reached the place where you pull the boat out of the water.

    There are several other art forms that tap into spontaneous flow.
    MCing is one of these art forms, rappers commonly tap into a stream of consciousness, a process that bypasses any second guessing. The words are moving so quickly out of a rapper’s mouth that they don’t really have time to pre-formulate those words.

    Improv dance is another art form that involves tapping into flow. The dancer simply moves spontaneously to the music without any pre-choreographed movements. One of the goals in improv is to bypass the inner critic and just do the first physical action that drops into
    your mind. This same philosophy can apply to writing.

    Like any skill, flow takes practice to master.
    Some people will be better at it initially than others. Don’t judge yourself if your inner critic is screaming at you to stop writing, just acknowledge that it’s there, and with time you can learn to ignore it and just write with the pure energy of your thoughts. Try flowing for short periods of time initially, maybe twenty minutes? And then gradually build on that time frame.

    Eventually you might be able to do an hour of free flow writing, or imagine being able to flow for six hours straight? You’d be able to write tens of thousands of words, wouldn’t that be amazing?


    Image courtesy of Pixabay

    About the author

      Everett Bogue

      Everett Bogue is a freelance photographer who writes Far Beyond The Stars, a new blog on minimalism and photography. If you found this post helpful to you please support his growing blog by subscribing to his RSS feed.>/a>

    • Thanks so much! I love writing, but often have a hard time getting the character to really come alive.
      Hopefully this should work!

    • Dee Todd says:

      I guess I’m the odd duck out – at least when it comes to the value of isolating myself. I can’t think when I am all by myself. I’m much more creative and focused in a mall food-court, Starbucks, cafeteria, library, airport, airplane, train… anywhere with people, a myriad of background noises and lots of activity — then I can focus and be creative. Must be a weird gene I inherited, or perhaps a brain-virus!!

      Love the post though. Flow part… not editing… great reminders.

    • Gloria Louise says:

      Thanks for this article, also thanks to the person who wrote, edit your blogs 3x. I often look over my blogs once, but only see what I intended to write. When I read the blog after it is posted, it often has typos, and repeats. Take time, do it right, and transfer the message you intend. Give pleasure to the recipient’s eyes.

    • Lena says:

      This so true. I particularly like the metaphor of creativity being like a river and the importance of the flow while creating.

    • This is so exciting – not just all the tips but that now I think my Argentine tango, which is entirely improvisational, and yoga from meditative perspective, can be helpful to my writing. I am an engineer by education and have never had a chance to take a writing class. I love to write, and these set of brilliantly packaged ideas are now with me every time I meet my keys. THANK YOU !!!!!

    • Thank you all for the comments.

      I agree with not editing yourself, while you’re writing the initial copy. I really do stand by this rule, it’s the only way that I write.

      If you’re constantly going back and fixing small mistakes, this can hold back your writing from reaching full potential, and editing white you’re writing can even stop you from finishing.

      But do edit yourself! Once I’m done with a flow, I go back and organize my thoughts better. I fix all of the words I totally spelled wrong. I delete all of the paragraphs that are filled with junk.

      It’s not uncommon for me to go over a blog post at least three times after a flow to finalize my ideas and my writing.

      Don’t edit yourself this while you’re writing initial copy, it’s counterproductive to everything. Edit yourself after you have all your ideas on the computer/paper.

      Let the ideas flow at the beginning, reign them into something that people can actually stomach later.

    • Thanks. I completely agree with your tips, and I needed to “hear”/read them as a reminder. The one idea I love is taking the free flow writing all the way out to six hours. I’ve never been able to get past about 45 minutes, but then I’ve never really tried to build it up either.
      Thank you!

    • Mike Perry says:

      WriteRoom provides a marvelous distraction-free writing environment. There’s even an iPhone/iPod touch version that makes excellent use of the tiny screen by letting you get rid of everything on screen but your text–no bars at the top and bottom. I use it to take on-the-go notes on writing projects. For me, the best form of distraction-free is taking a walk around a nearby lake.

      When you need to work with more complex document like a novel or a non-fiction book, you might want to check out the award-winning Scrivener at:


      It has a full-screen mode and provides powerful organizational tools that WriteRoom lacks. The two developers work together. WriteRoom for the iPhone will sync with a webpage and Scrivener will can import from that webpage.

      I use the following workflow:

      * WriteRoom on an iPod touch for collecting ideas.

      * Scrivener on a MacBook for creating the draft.

      * InDesign on an iMac for formatting as a book or ebook.

    • “Isolate Yourself” is the most important of all the tips you mention. It was when I started meditating and setting up a regular system for myself that my writing started to flow.

      I wrote a post (just posted today, coincidentally) about Meditating and Creativity – you can see it here: http://mariabrophy.com/friday-focus/how-meditation-helps-the-creative-process.html

      Having a routine without distractions is the best way to get the writing to flow.

      PS: Loved Dwayne Phillips comment about Stephen King and one door that closes!

    • Eric C says:

      I agree with the don’t edit yourself. The one thing I would say is that I’ve read that one break every fifty minutes helps to recharge, relieve the mind of distraction. I know I enforce breaks, change projects, so that I can keep going for an eight or more hour day.

    • “isolate yourself” In his book on writing, Stephen King advises that one thing a writer needs is a room with one essential item – a door that closes.

    • Darni says:

      Don’t edit yourself.
      I like the tips.:) Take me as example. When I find I typed something wrong, I always want to edit it imidiately. So I will check it out on the dictionary.It not also wate me a lot of time but break my inspiration as also.

    • Oh yes! And as Luddite as it might sound, why not eschew the ‘puter altogether and just use a pen!? It’s messy sure, and slow, and editing is a bear, but there is something about ink and flow and hand and pulse AND no electricity to interfere with the process that allows me to tap right into my inner wisdom.
      Thanks for this post. Wonderful.

    • Totally agree with this post. It’s better to keep away from the distractions when writing a post

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