Friday, January 23, 2015

Red Ink - The Pros and Cons of "Flow Writing"

Red Ink is Indi's author blog that she maintains at goodreads.com. 

I've mentioned in the past that my favorite days are the days I sit down to the dreaded blank white screen, and open my head, and stories seem to write themselves on the screen before me. Sometimes it feels like I'm reading them instead of writing them, following the words as they appear on the screen, somehow unconnected from my fingers sliding across the keys.

Those are great days.

I call it "flow writing." I don't know if that's a widely-used or acceptable term or not, it's just what I call it. It feels like the words rush out of me in bursts. Then, it stops. I read a bit of what I wrote and have to engage my mind to at least start the next sentence - and then more often than not, I'm off again for the next page, or chapter, or at least a few paragraphs before the cycle starts anew. It's a weird process, writing. 

Some days aren't so great. They consist of me being unable to visualize the next steps, the next action, the next chapters. Sometimes I'll get around that by skipping ahead, but rarely - that seems to always cause problems for me in integration with the larger story down the line. Regardless, this post isn't about the bad days, the blocked days. It's about the pros and cons of being in the flow.

The pros are pretty simple. I get a lot of writing done and the quality is higher than when I'm forcing the words to comply.

"How could there be drawbacks to the beautiful feeling that comes with flow writing?" you may be asking yourself, and it's a valid question. None of these cons are enough to tip the scales, certainly. I'll take a lifetime of flow writing days, even with the oddities that I'll be sharing, over the days where the blank screen taunts and laughs. No question.

The first day back into flow writing is lovely. I may notice that several albums have gone by on my playlist without me having heard them, but otherwise, nothing too extreme. I still act like a capable human being, for the most part, though my non-writing actions are in auto mode. My walk to the kitchen or the bathroom are robotic, my mind not registering my surroundings but still intent on whatever sentence or stub I'm on. I bump into things. My path is erratic. But I'm still mostly human.

Fast forward a day or two and the side effects start to really show. I have trouble following conversations if I've just finished writing for the day - I need at least an hour to do nothing and wind down. Anyone trying to talk to me is going to have a bad time, not an angry time, just a frustrating one where they probably have to repeat themselves a few times. I am trying to keep up at this point, but my focus is soft.

I may realize that I have forgotten to eat or drink or go to the bathroom for extended periods of time. This is ridiculously common, and I have to concentrate to prevent from becoming very dehydrated during extended writing sessions. If I remember to eat, I've learned that I need to make a sandwich, or something that requires little preparation. If I set something in the oven to cook - well, that's just a bad idea. I can't honestly tell you the amount of times I've glanced up at the clock after a good chapter and felt that electric current of terror - oh shit! There's a pot pie upstairs in the oven! How long has it been? HOW LONG?

I thought I had trained myself to automatically set timers, but the other day proved that even if I leave the kitchen repeating "SET A TIMER!" in my mind, the walk from the oven to my computer is apparently enough to erase that. The characters and storylines filter back in and take over the parts of my brain that regular people use to do basic things.

My memory also gets bad - and for me, that's saying something, since I don't have the greatest memory for events or conversations to begin with. But the further I get, the less real life seems to stick. It takes a great deal of patience for people to be around me at this point, because I'm really only half here, and half may be a bit optimistic. After a week or two of being immersed in the novel, I have a hard time being social without feeling like an alien. Real people feel a little less real than my characters. That feeling persists until I've finished.

I'm trying to offset the most controllable of these drawbacks by taking a short break at the end of every chapter to down a bottle of water (I have to finish it, because if it sits there and I start typing again, it's forgotten for a few more hours) and move. I'll do some crunches or some yoga or just dance about randomly for a while - anything to get me out of the chair and off my rump for a little while. But if you happen to see me socially for the next few months, please try to be kind if it takes me longer than normal to answer or I look like a foreign anthropologist studying the way people interact at a party. It's a side effect. 

But it's worth it.

- Indi


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