One of the most important skills that any writers learns is to simply sit down and write. For some
people, this is as easy as sitting in a chair and typing. For others who are burdened with stresses,
distractions, or indecision, writing can be more of a challenge.
Learning to write every day is a skill that one develops. Just as a monk can learn to meditate for
hours, reaching a state where he controls his heartbeat and respiration, writers learn by practice how
to reach a meditative “flow state,” where words come out effortlessly and quickly.
There are other names for the “flow state.” If you’re writing and you are in a light meditative state, it
is sometimes called the “Alpha” state, but as you write for a couple of hours and get into a much
deeper meditative trance, it’s called the “Theta” state. It’s when you’re in this flow state that your
images, word choice, and plotting goals all mesh together seamlessly so that you hit the “writer’s
Here is how to do it:
1) Prepare to write. For me to write, I need to know what scene I’m going to work on. That
means I need to know who the protagonist is, where and when the setting is, who else is in
the scene, what the major conflict is, what conversations will occur, and what the mood and
purpose of the scene will be.
Will my protagonist dare try to kiss the boy she’s attracted to, or will my hero fall off a horse
and break her neck? Will my scene consist mainly of an argument that elicits some disturbing
revelations? I find it helpful to have this information sketched out the night before, but I’m
perfectly capable of imagining a scene and writing it well on a moment’s inspiration.
2) Find a time and place where you have no distractions.
About Time: Most people discover that going to work at the same time every day helps them
reach a flow state quickly. Many writers like to work late at night or early in the morning. I
also like to have decent blocks of time. Since it takes me a bit to get into a deep trance, I want
something close to two hours as a minimum.
About Place: Create your “Sacred Writing Space.” Your writing space may be a special chair
in an office where you like to write, or perhaps it is in a coffee shop. Some writers seek out a
secluded cabin in the woods or a beach. I find that for some weird reason, I write very well
and easily in airports. I find that I can’t write in chairs that hurt my back, or in a room where
the air isn’t fresh. Having gorgeous scenery can also be a distraction. This technique is used in a variety of fields; whether you are studying for a test or learning an instrument, your environment is a breeding ground for productivity.
Some people like a little mood music in the background. Others might find that they want
their “writing cat” sitting next to them. Others want to have a cup of coffee or a soft drink
handy. Others want a blanket on their lap on a cold winter day, or want to make sure that
their bladder is empty. Whatever it takes for you to feel comfortable, great.
About Distractions: Distractions include any chores that need to be done or other nagging
worries. For example, I find it hard to compose if I have my wife or friends talking in the
room. (It makes me feel I should be paying attention to them.) Nor can I write when I have
someone staring at my computer screen over my back.
Some people can compose with light distractions—for example a spouse stopping in to ask
what you want for dinner—but I prefer to minimize distractions.
Here’s a simple rule: To avoid distractions while writing, don’t try communicating in any
form. Don’t read news articles. Don’t open your email. Don’t answer Facebook or talk on the
phone. I even avoid listening to music that has lyrics. Instead, I focus on communicating
verbally only through my written text.
3) Begin building the flow. This means you start writing. For most people, when they are
starting cold on a project, they’ve already outlined the opening scene.
If you’re in the middle of a project, say a novel, sometimes it is helpful to back up and edit
your writing for the previous two days. You don’t want to start at the beginning necessarily,
but you might simply review your last two days so that you can recall where you are and what
you planned to do. This helps you get re-grounded in the story so that you can effortlessly
4) When you’re ready to start a scene, imagine who the protagonist is for that scene, the
viewpoint character. Usually this will be the person who has the most to win or lose in the
situation, the character in the greatest pain—or maybe the character who has the most
potential to put others in pain.
a) Now envision where that character is. What is in the background—a rising sun,
mountains, a dragon circling the castle? Imagine yourself inhabiting the viewpoint
b) Tell what the protagonist is doing—riding a horse, butchering a hog, flirting with a
c) Let us know how the character feels emotionally. You may not need to say it, but you will
probably need to hint at it through tone. Sometimes the action in the story arouses the
emotions naturally. For example, if you’ve got a character being chased by a serial killer,
the reader knows she’s going to be scared witless, so you don’t need to tell us.
d) Now let us know what the character hears—birds singing, tires screeching, someone
speaking to her?
e) At this point you describe what your character sees. Paint a picture with words. Does she
see the sun rising over the castle, troops riding up the road to gain entrance to the castle
gates, her cat leaping up on windowsill?
f) As you’re setting up this scene, you might notice that you’re focusing on three primary
senses—the character’s emotions, auditory sensations, and sight. But a lot more can go
into it. As needed, I will want to tell what the character feels as far as tactile
sensations—the morning sun shining on her back—along with what she smells, perhaps
fresh pennyroyal flowers on the castle floor. I also want to get into her direct thoughts,
and relate her immediate goals and plans.
By the time that you get this done, you should have begun typing. In fact, you’re probably written a
page or three. Unwittingly, you will have done two things: First, you will have transported yourself
into the setting so completely that you’re probably deep into the alpha state. Second, your readers
will be mirroring what your protagonist experiences so well that they will also have reached the alpha
Here is what is fascinating to me. As a new writer, it used to take me an hour of work to drop into a
light trance and “transport” myself into a story. Now I can do it in as little as sixty seconds. In fact, I
like to say that being “spacey” is a career hazard for science fiction writers. I can drop into a novel
while I’m driving or shopping or brushing my teeth. Sometimes when I’m gazing off into space at the
breakfast table, my wife will ask, “What planet are you on today?” That’s her way of asking if I’m in
her world or another. She likes it when I’m on other worlds. That’s how I make money.
So with practice you’ll get better at meditating, at building your flow. As you keep writing and weave
your overall plot into the work, you should reach a deeper trance, the Theta, or “flow” state.
You do this by learning to focus solely on your work. You’ll know when you hit the flow state because
you will suddenly find that the words come quickly and easily. You’ll actually begin drawing on parts
of your brain that often aren’t used together, so that you can construct an artificial reality. I find that hitting the flow state can take as little as ten minutes or as long as 45. It’s a deep state of
consciousness where I’m so fully focused on relaying a story, the characters come alive in my
imagination and the words gush out, and I suddenly speed up in my writing. Getting a page written
might take as little as ten minutes instead of an agonizing thirty. I may average 15 to 20 pages for a
session of four hours, and when I reach this state I’ve written as many as 70 pages in a day.
But here is an added benefit: When I reach that flow state and give the pages to my writing group or
an editor for a critique, I typically find that the edits are either very light or nonexistent. The reader
tends to get transported so fully that the story “comes alive” for them, and their comments are
basically reduced to “Wow, how did you do that?”
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