Good Writing Habits That Will Make Your Writing “Flow.”

Posted: May 2nd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Efficient Work Habits | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

My clients often complain to me about how long it takes them to write their papers. I remind them that good writing takes time and care. But we all want to be faster, cleaner and skinnier—both in writing and in life. So this week we are talking about the discipline of writing. What are the habits that will help us to write more efficiently? Yesterday, we talked about Working On a Big, Clean Screen. Now that you are sitting calmly in front of your giant screen, what’s next?

Find the “Flow”

Writing is a solitary activity. Writers and other creative people are often most productive—and most happy—when all other distractions are shut out so that they become totally immersed in their work. In his groundbreaking work, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, the influential psychologist, Haly Csikszentmihalyi, describes the feeling of “flow” that accompanies total absorption in work:

Concentration is so intense that there is no attention left over to think about anything irrelevant, or to worry about problems. Self-consciousness disappears, and the sense of time becomes distorted. An activity that produces such experiences is so gratifying that people are willing to do it for its own sake, with little concern for what they will get out of it, even when it is difficult or dangerous.

Carve Out Time for Writing

Because writing is so demanding, you must set aside time to make it happen. Shut out the world, if only briefly. The essence of writing is reflection and a single block of uninterrupted time will make you productive and focused.

Try working in 45-minute segments, with a 15-minute break as the hour ends to turn to other tasks. 45/15 works like a charm for me.  I can always focus my wandering mind for 45 minutes and email (and life) lose their hold during those writing minutes, because I know I have 15 minutes coming soon to turn life back on. When the next writing hour starts, I feel refreshed and sharp and I see things that I didn’t see when I stopped writing.

Don’t try to push your writing time much beyond and hour and a half. It’s hard to keep a sustained focus for hours and hours. And, in our busy professional lives, it’s not always wise or professional to expect the world to leave us alone for hours on end.

Avoid Multitasking While You Write. (That means no email.) 

Yes, your colleagues expect you to check your email constantly unless you are Asleep or in a Tunnel and your employment contract prohibits sleeping anyway. But switching between tasks makes you less efficient, particularly with complicated tasks such as writing. A 2005 study, No Task Left Behind? Examining the Nature of Fragmented Work,  found that office workers were interrupted an average of every 11 minutes and that, after each interruption, it took 25 minutes to return to the original task. Twenty-five minutes!

After being interrupted, you may not remember where you were in writing a paragraph or dissecting a case. Do you really have a half hour available to get back in your groove? Are minor interruptions, such as email, worth a half hour of your time? Turn off the incoming sound on e-mail so that you feel less like you are on call. Check email if you must, but limit yourself to once an hour. Try holding your phone calls and shutting the door.

And if you really can’t ignore the juicy little ping of email, use a program that shuts the damn thing down and saves you from yourself.

Stop Surfing

The Internet is irresistible. Resist. Resist. Resist. Disconnect while you write. The world will still be there when you return and no one will have even noticed that you were gone.


In my next posts, I’ll share more tips for whipping your writing life into shape. Stay tuned!

P.S. from the Shameless-Self-Promotion Department: My book is brimming with tips like this.

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One Comment on “Good Writing Habits That Will Make Your Writing “Flow.””

  1. 1 A Lawyer's Guide to Writing » Blog Archive Good Writing Habits said at 9:56 pm on May 9th, 2012:

    […] talked about habits that lead to efficient writing, such as working on a Big Clean Screen and Finding the Flow. Today, let’s dig deeper and focus on the importance of planning before you write and […]

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