Four steps that enable you to write in flow

Photo: Richard Ricciardi via Flickr

I remember editing people at my last job. I would give them the charge on what to do, and then check back two days later. “How much did you write?” I would ask. “One paragraph,” they’d say.

You will never achieve flow that way!

Flow is effortless writing. You know how it feels. You sit down and the words pour out and you produce thousands of words in a day. Those words need revising, but you produce.

What’s stopping you?

You haven’t put yourself in a position to succeed.

You are trying to write without knowing what to say.

To write in flow, don’t start by writing. Instead, divide your writing task into four stages.

1 Research

Writing is made out of facts and arguments. Gather those facts. Dump them into a file. Analyze data; search the Web; interview people. Put the nuggets together.

2 Organize

Figure out the story: beginning, middle and end. Rearrange the facts into a logical flow. If some good turns of phrase come to you, type them in the file. The result of all of this is a logical, if poorly written (don’t worry about that!) fat outline.

3 Write

Turn the fat outline into prose. Make sure you won’t be interrupted; set time and space aside. Go the bathroom beforehand; make sure you’re appropriately fed and caffeinated. Now write for an hour and a half. After a break, write some more. Because you did the research, there’s nothing stopping you. If it’s rough and some of it is crap, don’t worry.

4 Revise

Now you have a draft! Parts of it suck. So go back and polish it. Cut stuff that doesn’t belong. Make it sing.

Steps 1, 2, and 4 are necessary for the success of step 3.

When you get the research done first, you eliminate an obstacle and create the fuel you need to write.

When you organize before starting to write, you make it easier to concentrate on words rather than puzzling out structure.

When you know you will be revising, you have no excuse to go back and polish every word as you write them, instead of continuing to produce.

All of this means you can write in flow. You can produce. It will feel great, and it will read great.

You can ignore my advice and creep forward a paragraph at a time. But when you read the result, it will feel as disjointed as the way you wrote it. And you’ll never get the exhilaration of flow.

Get good at researching, organizing, and revising. Then you’ll be able to give yourself the gift of writing in flow. Your readers deserve it.


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  1. I like the suggestion to write for 90 minutes, which is about the length of a healthy adult attention span. And best of all: the recommendation to “go to the bathroom beforehand.” Always a great excuse to procrastinate.