Wattpad Contest Season Crash Course: The Ultimate Guide to Zen Writing
It happened again. You got in the zone and hammered out a whole chapter! Or, did this happen? You sat staring at the computer, rethinking how you worded the last sentence, and you only managed to write a piece of a scene. During contest season, achieving a zen flow-state can help you write faster and feel better, and in this course, I’ll tell you how to do it.
Anyone who says, “The book wrote itself!” knows all about the zone. They’re the people who sit at the laptop in their cluttered office with the music going and just let the words flow like a river. They finish writing books in a month or less, while the rest of us labor for weeks on our opening scene.
Tempted to say they’re not serious about the craft? Don’t be. These writers have hacked into the miracle superpower known as Flow State.
As someone who regularly struggles with getting in the flow but has definitely been in the zone enough times to know the benefits, I break down the details of how to achieve that magical, mystical state. You can master the talent, too. It all starts here:
First, Create the Right Environment...
According to an online survey conducted for Trulia by Harris Poll, 38% of Americans picture a dream house with a home office. Most writers already have a dedicated writing space, but if you don’t or if yours isn’t helping you achieve max productivity, then you need to focus on creating the right environment. Achieving flow state is hard enough without trying to do it in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In his biography, Steve Jobs is quoted as having said, “If a building doesn’t encourage [collaboration], you’ll lose a lot of innovation and the magic that’s sparked by serendipity.” Well, maybe you can’t afford an atrium, like the one Steve Jobs plopped in the middle of his offices and meeting rooms at Apple headquarters. Not yet, anyway. (Stay hungry. Stay foolish.) However, you don’t have to sink major dollars into adding an office or buying a massive writing desk. Here’s all you really need:
Everett Bogue, author of The Art of Being Minimalist, said on zenhabits.net: “The best way to achieve flow is alone. If you’re in a room full of people, your mind will constantly be drawn away from what you’re doing. Shut the door, put on headphones, or find another way to isolate yourself.”
Your home office should ideally be a spacious room away from family members, spouses/significant others, televisions, and phones.
But let’s say you don’t have a dedicated office. At one of my homes in the past, I tried an office in my bedroom, in my living room, and in a spacious hallway. With high-traffic in each, achieving the necessary environment for flow was impossible until I factored in another crucial element to design: Timing.
I discovered I could keep my office in our little-used living room and write when the kids were away at school or in their bedrooms. If you have a room you can keep to yourself for a handful of hours a day, then you’ve got a writing space!
This means log off Twitter and Facebook and turn off your cellphone. Tell your family and friends that you’re unavailable for a while. However, this does not mean you need a blank, bland room of white. External stimuli can and does fuel your flow. I’ll say more on that later.
Lots of Light
“You’ll go blind, trying to read with the light off,” mom always said. Likewise, straining your eyes looking at a computer can wreak havoc with your eye health. A well-lit room is great for bright ideas and for avoiding eyestrain. Nix fluorescent lighting and go for natural sunlight. Then, look away from the computer for two minutes after twenty minutes of work and open the drapes to take a peek out at the world.
A Great Chair
This is a place you can’t afford to skimp. You need a great office chair because most Americans sit “for about 18.8 hours every day.” Sitting puts pressure and stress on your spine, and bad ergonomics have been implicated in health dangers from high blood pressure to high cholesterol. Getting up and moving around more often is the key to optimal health.
“... [A]nother way to help offset the negatives of sitting is by fidgeting. Yes, fidgeting. Jiggling your legs, pacing while you’re on a call, getting up and circling your desk while thinking through a problem — all of these behaviors help over time.” –David DiSalvo, “How to Stop Your Office Chair from Killing You”
But using the right chair can help reduce back strain and bad posture. It’s hard to get into flow when you’re distracted by aches and pains.
Stephanie Vozza on FastCompany.com states, “The final external flow trigger happens when you pay attention with all sensory streams, listening, looking, smelling, tasting, and touching.”
You can incorporate scented candles and oil burners into your design theme for visual appeal as well as sensory appeal, and you can listen to music while you work (if it doesn’t take away from your writing process). You should also have a really great picture facing your desk or writing area so you’re not staring at a blank wall.
Now, the Writing Conditions...
Once you have everything in place to sit down to write, you’re ready to go with the flow. For some of us, this happens without much prep, but for others of us, we may need help getting there. Here are some things to ask yourself.
Do you feel challenged?
Flow is only achieved when the task (writing) presents enough challenge to generate friction between what you can do without much effort and what you have to work to accomplish. In other words, if you’re not challenging yourself, then you won’t reach your flow state.
Can you focus right now?
This is a zone where vague isn’t in vogue. Are you trying to finish an action scene? Are you working on some dialogue? Are you starting a new chapter? Knowing what you intend to accomplish allows you to focus, another key component to flow state. Giving yourself a time limit may also help. With the clock ticking, you’ll be less tempted to ruminate and more likely to get something done.
Should you keep it moving?
When you come to that one tricky sentence you can’t quite figure out how to word, don’t stop typing and stare at it. Keep moving. Stay calm and don’t get flustered because you’re not editing; you’re writing. One of the keys to flow is muscle memory, and the very act of continuing to type will keep the ideas pumping so you can get the words out. You can correct whatever you need to correct later.
Tip: When you’re not in your flow state, practice slowly but purposefully eradicating bad writing habits so you can work faster later.
Do you constantly second-guess yourself?
If you do, then this will be the hardest part for you. In order to flow, you need to give up the self-consciousness and just write. Don’t think about what you’re doing or how you’re doing it. Don’t bother with whether you used the passive voice or heaped a ton of purple prose into the story. You cannot achieve flow by doubling back.
The more you segue into your flow state, the easier it will come. In fact, flow could be the missing link to the old adage “Practice Makes Perfect.” Researchers looking at brain scans of ballet dancers studied the long term effects of learning and discovered “in the learning process, our brain function makes an inverted 'U' learning pattern from a slow pace at the start, accelerating to a peak at the midpoint, before returning to the original pace, once we have mastered the task.”
Flow state might potentially close the loop as you challenge yourself to accomplish greater feats of creativity with every practice run. Instead of returning to the original pace once we’ve mastered our craft, flow allows us to push our limits to go to the next level and continue the cycle—slow learning to accelerated learning to faster mastery! Brava! #TheMiracleFlow
Now, are you ready to get in the flow and sprint your way to success for Wattpad Contest Season? Drop your best zen tips in the comment section and let's share and compare notes!