THE BLOG

Using Flow to Conquer Writer's Block

08/06/2015 12:53 BST | Updated 08/06/2016 10:59 BST

Writing is hard. We've all heard it a million times over. When I first started writing I was 7, scribbling at the back of my maths notebook. It was a tale about a gleeful frog that leapt out of a banal pond and into some much more interesting disco juice (I wish I had this kind of imagination nowadays). I wrote for escapism, I wrote for anger, I wrote for joy, I wrote because *queue Hemingway reference* I could just sit "at my typewriter and bleed". But most of all I wrote for myself.

The concept that writing could be hard did not resonate with me. I just assumed the people saying that were just not natural writers, had no ideas, or were evil wrong doers who were trying to grab the gold man out of my hand before I even knew what it was. So it was, on my 17th attempt at writing the first sentence of my treatment, I thought I had lost it.

Last year I started an MA Course in Writing for Stage and Broadcast Media at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and finally found that yes, writing is hard. It's hard because you start to realise that there are people as hungry as you, that everyone else has good, maybe even better ideas than you and that everyone knows about those websites which you thought made you a geek. Oh and that baby of an idea you've been brewing in your head for years, is now something riddled with holes and problems that feel like bullet wounds in your chest.

And that's when I started reading about Flow. "Flow" is a concept in positive psychology coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. It can be recognised in popular idioms such as "in the zone" and "in the flow'. It is the mental state in which a person is fully immersed in the activity they are doing and therefore often feel a sense of enjoyment or fulfillment. But here comes the interesting science part- brain scans find that engaging in self-critical thoughts activates areas in the brain which process error detection. The activity in these areas of the brain actually decreases when you're in flow. Flow makes you confident.

Mihaly says that we can only process 110 bits worth of data per second. That means when you are writing or creating something new, you need those 110bps to create it. Using 110bps of data solely on one thing, means that even the awareness of your identity disappears from your consciousness because you simply don't have any more brain power to deal with it. If your brain is ruminating in self-criticism however, then you're not giving yourself the space (or bits) to write fully.

When you start writing with the goal of showing people, instead of just doing it for yourself, it's inevitable you may start tailoring your work for others, taking yourself away from you. In some cases writing for other people can be positive. I am writing a play at the moment about gentrification because I am interested in it. But it just happens to be at the tip of many tongues at the moment, which means I am prone to self-critical thoughts. I feel the need to present an objective view on the subject. It is important to create a piece of fiction which is not dogmatic in it's views. But I have to be careful not to lose my confidence in self-criticism that may come with writing with the goal of showing an audience, thoughts that tell me I am not good enough, that my play will never be put on or any other thoughts that take myself out of Flow. I am aware of the danger of wasting my precious bits per second on not creating when writing.

This is the science behind one of the reasons why you should write in Flow, put it in a drawer till you've almost forgotten about it, and then edit edit edit.

So this branch of writer's block I like to call "Flow Block", stunting the flow of writing due to the influx of self-deprecating thoughts by being heedful of a potential audience.

Being conscious of one of the reasons why we experience writer's block can help us overcome it. I try actively to not self-criticize until the first draft is complete, at least!

So if you want to write a tale about a frog who jumped into a pot of disco juice, do it, indulge yourself, and think about other people later. Write for yourself. Write in 'Flow'.