Writing for Flow, Not Perfection

Original image by George Yanakiev

You’re ready to start drafting something — a blog post, report, short story, or chapter of a nonfiction book. Do you write swiftly and efficiently? Or do you spend time struggling over word choice and sentence structure?

The best possible case is to achieve a state of flow when writing. Flow is that ideal state when you’re totally absorbed in what you’re doing, losing track of time. When you’re writing in this state, the words just, well, flow.

The previous tips in this blog series have been about what to do before you write the first draft, to accelerate the writing process. (See Write What You Don’t Know Yet for thoughts on preparing.)

But even with preparation, writing isn’t always fast and easy. Writers often slow ourselves down. We hear an inner voice telling us that the writing isn’t good enough, even as we struggle to put words down on paper.

This inner editor may sound like an English teacher from the past, admonishing us about passive voice or split infinitives. Or perhaps it’s a friend or relative that jumps on grammar mistakes with relish.

(A great uncle of mine regularly returned letters he received, marking and correcting any spelling and grammatical errors. Family members, strangers — no one was exempt from his mighty pen. It’s not a good strategy if you enjoy receiving letters.)

To be a crazy-productive writer, you need to politely show the inner editor to the door while writing the first draft, because that voice is slowing you down.

One Driver At a Time, Please

You may imagine you’re saving time by creating a first draft so wonderful that it doesn’t need a revisions.

Good luck with that.

Editing while writing compromises both productivity and the quality of your output.

Writing, critiquing, and editing are different skills. When you edit and revise as you write, you’re switching back and forth between those ways of thinking and different regions of the brain. You’re muti-tasking.

Cognitive science tells us that multi-tasking exacts a cost. We fatigue our brains and increase the production of stress hormones. None of this is good for creativity and writing fluency.

If you try to write perfect prose in the first pass, you’re likely to smother the creative part of your brain as well. The inner critic is great at quashing ideas and inspiration.

That’s Why It’s Called a First Draft

Do one thing at a time when writing. While creating the first draft, focus on getting the ideas down on paper. Even if the phrasing sounds stilted, or you cannot think of that perfect word, make a note of it in the draft and keep going. You can fix the words later once the ideas are in place. There will be a second draft.

As Ann Handley says in her excellent book Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content, embrace the Ugly First Draft. Brilliance and humor come in the rewrite.

There will be time to fix that mistake you always make with principle and principal, or compliment and complement. Really. You’ll do it in revision.

Over time, you may reach a point at which the inner editor can make minor corrections as you go, much like the autocorrect feature in your word processor. But to tap into a state of flow as you write, you’ll need to quiet that editor.

Just remember to invite the inner editor back to revise.

This is part of an ongoing series of weekly writing productivity tips. If you sign up here, I’ll send you the weekly tip by email. And I’m always interested in hearing from other writers what works for them

Author, Writing Coach: Writing about Marketing, Technology, and Writing Itself (very meta). AnneJanzer.com

Author, Writing Coach: Writing about Marketing, Technology, and Writing Itself (very meta). AnneJanzer.com