Finding My Flow

Write Every DayIt’s 9:00 pm on the third day of my write every day challenge.

So far, the challenge is actually going pretty well.

My first day, I wrote for two and a half hours, which was probably a new record for me.

The second day, I woke up early and wrote for another two hours. I was feeling pretty great, but it was Friday and I had a lot of work to do. So, I went into my office and got a late start on my “real” work day.

I was catching up on email when something weird happened.

I got an idea for a blog post.

This is not unusual. I get a lot of ideas for posts, and my standard procedure is to jot a little note in my “posts to write” file, or send myself an email with a couple of notes. My hope is to revisit the idea at a later time, but I never do. I just end up with a longer list of incomplete ideas.

But yesterday, I did something a little lot different, and it was kind of amazing.

It started out the same as usual. I jotted down a few notes about my idea. I was about to go back to my work, but then, I had a few more thoughts, so I wrote those down too. Those thoughts led to more thoughts and more words, and I just started writing them down. Well, typing.

Suddenly words were flowing out of me at a pace my fingers could barely keep up with. There was no time for editing, or reading, or even thinking. There was barely time to write everything down. The words and ideas were effortless, and the pace was unrelenting. It just kept coming, like it never has before.

And it was actually good stuff! Really good stuff. I don’t say that to brag. It’s just that… I usually think my writing is crap. So, it was a huge surprise when it suddenly, effortlessly, wasn’t.

I sat and wrote for 4 and a half hours. More than two thousand words of non-crap writing just poured out of me. 

When I finished, it wasn’t because I had run out of ideas. It was because my idea was finished.

Finally Finished

For about two months, I’d been trying to piece together a certain idea.

I sort of had it figured out, but not really. There were fuzzy concepts that kept me up at night, little incomplete pieces that sort of made sense on their own, but not completely. I could never put it all together. It all seemed so complicated. I desperately wanted it to be simple. I wanted it to be simple so I could really grasp it, and so others could grasp it too.

I sat and read what I’d written.

And Then I Could See It

This concept that I’d struggled to grasp finally made sense to me. In fact, it was simple.

I’d written more than two thousand words, but the most important words were just a couple of sentences. A couple sentences that were the distillation of all these little fuzzy bits and pieces.

(I’m going to publish that post soon, but I can’t say what the concept is yet.)

I got such a sense of satisfaction from putting the pieces in place. I was so happy. I still am. I’m smiling like an idiot right now.

The Weird Part

Here’s the weird thing: I didn’t actually feel like I was the one figuring anything out.

When I said it was effortless, I don’t mean that it was easy. I mean it felt like I wasn’t even the one responsible for writing it.

Perhaps better or more experienced writers will know what I’m on about?

It was as though my subconscious mind had understood the big picture all along. It was toying with me, torturing me by feeding me little bits and pieces of this idea. Enough to make me salivate, but not enough to end my hunger.

And somehow, when I made that decision to jot down my ideas, my subconscious just said, “Hey John, I need to borrow your hands for a few hours. Get the hell out of the way.”

The idea just wrote itself. I was merely a witness. It happened like magic.

I’ve Seen This Magic Before

It reminded me of something that happens, rarely, while I’m climbing.

When I’m climbing, I’m usually in a state of intense focus. Focus on my hands. Focus on my feet, my rope, my pack, my breathing, my partner, the weather, the rock or ice. There are a lot of things to think about. Lots of considerations and little problems to solve. I usually think about all of them, or at least I try to. It’s a lot to think about. It makes me feel anxious just writing about it.

But every once in a while, something weird happens.

The thinking just sort of stops. 

I’m still climbing, still going through all the motions, but I’m not thinking about them anymore.

I’m no longer operating on a conscious level. It feels like autopilot.

Dozens of tiny little decisions and problems just get worked out without me being fully aware.

I know that might sound foolish or dangerous, but those are the rare moments when I’m climbing at my best. It’s effortless, and wonderful and simple.

Unfortunately, it’s usually very brief. A few minutes of magic and then I snap out of it. Back to reality.

I wish I knew how it happened, how to make it happen, but I don’t. I’ve tried to force it, but it doesn’t seem to work that way.

The only thing I know is that it happens more often when I’m climbing more often. Maybe it’s that simple.

I think that’s why it happened yesterday with my writing. I had written two days in a row, which is more often than I usually write. So, when I went to jot down a little note, a big idea came out instead.

It Happened Again Tonight

It’s now 10:30 pm, which means I met my goal of writing for an hour today.

I didn’t expect to do that. In fact, I was certain I wouldn’t meet my goal, even as I sat down to write this post.

I just planned to jot down a few things and call it a night. I was going to write some excuses about how I “didn’t have time to write today”. I was going to write a few sentences about how it’s ok to fail (which is completely true) and that I learned a lesson (which probably isn’t true). I had accepted the “fact” that I had failed to meet my hour-a-day rule.

Oddly, that’s not what happened.

I wrote the first sentence of this post, stopped thinking , and now I’m clicking publish on 1150 words of writing that just sort of happened.

It’s not the most brilliant piece of writing, but it did happen like magic.

Tonight, that matters more.

I learned exactly what I needed to learn.

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  1. John, I know what you mean.

    When I was writing my book, I would often go to bed and still think about the concepts in the book. New ideas would come to me that would actually made me get out of bed. I would jot down the concept just so that I did not forget.

    Then, I would try to sleep. Yet my mind kept elaborating on the idea and I loved it (but hated the fact that I was still not sleeping).

    The following day I would actually write about the idea, and yes I would experience that state of flow. I would write and write, and it felt good. I was happy.

    I believe that when you hit that state of flow then you are really onto something. Something that needs to be said and is very important.

    • Thanks for the awesome comment, Maria!

      It’s so cool you were able to experience that flow again and again. I’m looking forward to seeing whether the frequency increases during this experiment.

      I also have to give a shout out about your book. You and I are on the same page with so many things, especially the idea of habits. I encourage anyone who wants to make fitness a habit to check out your book.


  2. Hey John, after putting over a dozen ebooks together, I can tell you the best thing I ever did for my writing, besides consuming everything I could about writing, is my purchase of Dragon Speech Recognition Software.

    It lets me focus on my ideas. It also makes my writing sound much more conversational.

    The latest version (12) is very accurate up to 160 WPM and even supports Bluetooth.

    I found you via Corbin Barr’s latest site Fizzle. See you there.

    • Hey Will,

      I recognized you from Fizzle. It’s good to see you over here. Thanks for the comment and the suggestion. I haven’t ever tried any dictation software, but I think I will. I try to write conversationally, and it makes perfect sense that it would be easier to do that while speaking.


  3. Hey John,
    Cool to read your blog and experiments. Keep it going!
    Like Will mentioned, I often use some kind of device to ‘talk to’ as well. For my site I mostly interview people but I have started to create blog posts as well. On the most interesting moments (during my hikes e.g.) thoughts come up and I open my ‘notes’ on my iPhone and use the ‘talk button’ so that I can add whatever I want.
    Good luck John

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