Flow. It’s something all writers are after, whether it comes to the cadence of our sentences or the positive state of mind where every idea seems to fall neatly into place.
I’ve been studying flow on the sentence level while I’m in the midst of a heavy round of edits. There’s been a lot of studying the rhythm of my pages, making sure that each one is balanced in both active and rest phases. I’m watching for periods of external observation, dialogue, and movement (the active stuff) and then making sure the story swings back to internal observation, pondering, and asking bigger questions (the resting).
Creating with flow is a lot like taking a full breath: in and out. Start again.
Which got me thinking about the rest of my day, the stuff that’s happening outside of my writing practice. You know, like paying bills, calling the cable company, potty-training your toddler (literally just shuddered typing that). If our goal is to work toward being physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually healthy so that we can be clear conductors of our best ideas, then our day should resemble a state of flow too, right? From morning to night, we should be able to take a full breath, in and out. And then start again tomorrow.
But let’s face it: periods of rest aren’t really valued in our society. “You can sleep when you’re dead” and all that. But that’s just not feasible—not for anyone—but it’s downright impossible for anyone who makes art on the regular. Rest periods are essential for our brains to process what we’re trying to say and how to say it. So it’s time we make them an active part of our daily lives. Here’s how to do it:
Step One: Start Listing
Take a sheet of paper and divide it into two columns. Label one “Active” and the other “Rest.” Now think of everything that nourishes you, that you love to do, and write each activity into one of the columns. You’ll know instinctively whether something is active or restful for you depending on how much energy you use to participate in each one. Some things that fall on my active list are: running, hiking, hot yoga, planning road trips, working on my novels, blogging, painting, and otherwise actively creating. My rest list includes: meditation, naps (they count!), reading, short walks in nature, cross-stitching (because it takes zero brain space), coloring, and journaling. You can put anything on these lists as long as it’s something that fills you up.
Step Two: Break It Down
Here’s where it helps to keep an analog planner. If you don’t, you can still do this by scheduling your active and rest periods in your digital calendar as appointments. Break down every day into three sections and label them Active, Rest, and Stuff. When you schedule in the day’s events, start by putting anything that has to get done but is not what you’d call nourishing under the Stuff category. For me, these are usually the nitty gritty details of life: mailing that letter, making that call, scheduling that appointment. For you, it might be something else entirely. Just pay attention to how you feel about each task as you’re planning your day. Once you have all your stuff in place for the day, schedule in your active and rest things to finish out the full breath.
This might look different everyday, and that’s okay. Let’s say you have a crazy-making Monday ahead of you that involves a whole lot of…well, stuff in the stuff category and you know you’ll be running low on energy. Go ahead and schedule a couple of rest activities to recharge your battery. If you find you don’t have that many absolutely-have-tos, try scheduling both active and rest activities to balance out your day. The only hard-and-fast rule is that for every item you have in the stuff category, you should shoot to have an equal number of either active or rest activities to nourish you and bring you back into flow. And when you’re in flow, you can bring your ideas into flow, too. For more information on how to get stuff done, check out this post.