When it comes to writing, every college student has struggled with the nemesis known as distraction. Being 36 years old, I am a married father of two sons and my distractions are probably far more different than the average college student. When 18-year-old Ricky is feeling the pressure of peers to choose a keg party over writing, I feel the pressure of my children to build wooden train track layouts. Tasks like changing diapers takes precedence over typing when my child is sitting in his own excrement. The sounds of wooden blocks crashing against my hardwood floor, Big Bird’s nasally voice, my dachshund’s incessant barking, my pug flapping her ears, and my sons’ screaming as they fight over a wooden train are just a few examples of the auditory interruptions that inhibit my ability to write. I don’t necessarily need silence, but low volume is tolerable.
I believe I have the ability to become a better writer because I want to. I am open to other’s suggestions and positive criticism. I also believe that becoming a good writer takes practice, like riding a bike. To become a good writer, one must learn to manifest and ride the flow.
For me, writing isn’t a task when I get in the flow; in fact it is more of an escape from reality. When all the right elements are present to allow its manifestation, the flow comes like a wave. The motive is to:
(1) catch the wave,
(2) ride the wave to the beach,
(3) dive back into the water,
(4) catch the next wave, and
(5) repeat steps 1-5.
Sometimes I go for a marathon by spending hours catching and riding waves. Other times I shoot for short sessions, spending break times by sun bathing in between wave runs. However, when the right elements aren’t present, the flow can be discouraging as it pulls me under the water and brutally drags my face against the ocean floor. When I get caught up in a rip tide, instead of repeating steps 1-5, I get swept off into the abyss of distraction by focusing far too much on one idea. Yes, my writing can actually distract me, which indicates that it’s probably a good time to sun bathe. Being raked against the granular remains of mollusk, crustacean, and echinoderms or being swept off to live on a deserted island with a volleyball named Wilson, is no where near as exhilarating as catching and riding gnarly wave after gnarly wave. There’s nothing wrong with taking a break when writing. Breaks help us ground ourselves. Time away from the laptop or pen and pad, can allow us to better organize and gather the thoughts that we discovered while riding the wave. Breaks can be used as moments of reflection to realize what revisions we can make to better paint the picture we are trying to convey.
The flow, in my personal definitive term, is the continuous action of focused thinking and writing. Just as a plant requires certain elements to manifest (such as soil, light, nutrients, minerals, water, gases, temperature control, etc.), the flow’s manifestation also relies on its own specific elements.
Ernest Hemingway knew exactly what elements he needed to manifest the flow. Drake Baer describes Hemingway’s 6 required elements for evoking the flow in his article, 6 Ways To Be A Hemingway-Level Productive Badass. My list differs from Hemingway’s but everyone has his or her own quirks.
My Flow’s 6 Essential Elements for Manifestation
During daylight hours I prefer to be near a window or even outside when I write. Considering that I live in a densely populated neighborhood, things can get pretty noisy. Sit me next to a window please. After the sun has set, I am comfortable with my laptop screen illuminating a dimly lit room. If I am dealing with distractions, such as my screaming offspring or barking dogs, I can look away from the computer and focus out the window. Maybe I will gaze at the crystal blue sky. Maybe there are dark clouds moving in to drench us. Regardless of the weather, the conditions outside of my window can be a distraction from my distractions. The windows also give the impression of not being confined. The window is a required element for manifesting the flow, unless I am outside, in nature.
2. Pen Discrimination
If I am writing with a pen, it has to be the same pen every time until the ink is gone. I don’t know why, but it has always been this way. I don’t have a funeral for the pen when it’s gone. I prefer to write with a gel pen because it feels smoother on paper. If I can feel any pressure in my wrists while writing, I lose focus. Gel pens are a required element for manifesting the flow, but not always. I suppose if I conjured up an idea so profound, I would write it down in my own blood if need be.
3. The Bank won’t lend time, spend it wisely
Allotted time is a necessity. With time devoted and set aside specifically for the purpose of writing, I tend to use my time more wisely. The smart phone is not hanging out with the laptop. When it comes to the flow, Facebook notifications are likely to cause wipe outs. All social media is avoided when I write, unless I am sun bathing on a break time. However, sometimes inspiration can be found on social media. Allotted time is a required element for the manifestation of the flow, however, that doesn’t mean that my mind is only focused on writing during its allotted times. If I come up with an idea on the go, I will pull out the smart phone and jot down the idea in my notepad app. Time is the only thing we can spend that we cannot get back. If you come in to my hair salon to purchase a hair product and
decide when you get home that you don’t particularly care for it, you can bring it back and your money will be refunded. Time doesn’t work that way.
Spend time wisely.
4. Comfort Zone
I can’t come home from a long shift at the hair salon, fire up the laptop and immediately begin cranking out texts. I have to cleanse the stresses of the day from my soul by stripping my body out of my hair laced clothing, and taking a hot shower. Comfort includes cozy garments like gym shorts and T-shirts. I suppose element number 2 (the wrist/pen debacle) could also be included in element 4. I can’t be hungry or thirsty, unless the subject matter of my writing is so intense that I ignore these instincts of survival. If I am stressed, a glass of merlot isn’t out of the question. Comfort is usually only sought after in the evening, when I return home from a day’s work. In the morning, I wake up and start typing in whatever I wore to bed the previous night. The Keurig machine works its magic. A cup of Joe is required in the morning. The shower can wait till after I’ve jotted some thoughts on the blue lines. Comfort is a required element for manifesting the flow.
5. Work Hard Today, Party Hard Tomorrow
Like Hemingway, I quantify my progress. If I write 1,500 words per writing session on average, and only write 1,000 words on Tuesday, I will write 2,000 words on Wednesday. If I know that tomorrow I will have very little time to write, or I will be opting to engage in other activities such as taking my kids to the pool, I am going to bust my ass to get tomorrow's work done today.
6. Find Inspiration in My Everyday Life, and Exploit My 5 Senses
The other night, while writing these 4 pages, I hit a roadblock. I was envisioning a message that I was trying to deliver, but I couldn’t find the correct words to paint the picture I was seeing in my mind. How can I explain my thoughts in a way that will engage an audience? Surely, I cannot digress back to my first grade journal writing style: “I like Transformers. Robert Bacon likes transformers too.”
I hit a roadblock and logged off of my computer. It was the best thing I could do at the moment as I imagined my head exploding like an egg in the microwave if I were to continue to stare at the screen. The next day I pondered ideas as to how I could describe my flow in a more creative way, but I came up with nothing. Around 6 o’clock that night, Mark came into the shop for a haircut. “Art, you are a hard guy to find”, said Mark, “I called two weeks ago and they said you were on vacation. Then I called every day this week and they said you were all booked up”. I explained myself, “Yeah, we took the boys down the shore for a week, so of coarse everyone who couldn’t get their hair cut while I was away booked appointments for the week I got back… plus we are headed towards back to school. The whole shop is busy in general.”
Mark asked how my vacation was. I mentioned my relief in not being acquainted with a shark, as this summer experienced an abnormal amount of shark attacks. Mark spent Fourth of July week down Ocean City, New Jersey. He mentioned the strong rip tides he and his family witnessed while down the shore. He mentioned a couple restaurants where they dined. He had a nice week down the shore. Mark and I talked about boogie boarding in the ocean and at that moment: KAPLOW!! I WAS PAINTING A DESCRIPTION OF MY FLOW! That night I took the boogie board narrative and molded it by using my 5 senses of perception. When trying to paint a picture with words, it is crucial for me to focus on the senses by describing touch, taste, smell, visuals, and sound. I like to exploit what I have experienced. And speaking of experience, of coarse Mark’s hair looked amazing, I mean, I’ve been cutting hair for almost half my life. I wish I were as confident with my writing as I am with cutting hair.