Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Going with the Flow

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battery_16-512As it usually happens, once I get to the bottom of a story, and I have it packed and delivered – to a publisher, or to Amazon or Gumroad – I basically collapse like an old wreck.

 

It’s not anything extraordinary – it happens to a lot of writers, and I think it can be applied to any creative job, or any job at all, in which you have to keep your brain on constantly.
I actually read and studied what happens during the writing process, and it is a fascinating topic.
Let me tell you about it.

The thing is called Flow Cycle,and in its most basic form it is composed of four phases

  1. Load
  2. Release
  3. Flow
  4. Recovery

Here’s an example with the current story I am writing – the first blunderbuss & sorcery story in my planned series about La Pelerine1.

Phase 1 – Load (aka Struggle Phase)

This is where I do research. I read about the Thirty Years War, about flintlock and matchlock and snaphaunce guns, about 17th century fashion and what else. I also embark in tedious discussions about magic systems and in general I load my brain with bits and pieces of what will become “the Setting”. Some of these I note down, but most are visual elements crammed in my brain. During this phase I am not particularly happy – I have a story to write, and here I am browsing Pinterest for costume details.
I am grumpy and barely human.

Phase 2 – Release

Should I start writing as soon as my load phase is over, I’d write crap. And sometimes it happens – after all it’s all right for a first draft to be rubbish. But to really get going with my story, I need some distraction.
So I read a book, or go for a walk, or I cook or anything else but watching TV, because TV alters our neurological and cognitive patterns. Not good.
So I get distracted, maybe writing a post for Karavansara, and this way I let my brain digest all the load of information I dumped in it.

Phase 3 – Flow

This is where I get hammering at the keyboard. Now I have everything: the story idea, the plot, the bits and pieces of the look and feel of my world… everything’s in place, everything’s been digested. I can start writing. The idea is to get into a state of flow. I am concentrated, focused, and I am having a lot of fun. The biochemistry of my brain is amped up like mad and I am having the time of my life. This is the bit where writing is good and feels good. I guess those that complain about writing being toil and suffering and then you die never got here.

flow-state-benefits

 

This makes it relatively easy to go on for five hours, surfing on hot tea and biscuits, and do a 6000-words story from start to finish, first draft, in a single go.

Phase 4 – Recovery

The system resets. All the extra endorphines are flushed from the system, and the general effect can be crushing. Fatigue crashes on us like a tonne of bricks, and the general mood is depressive.
Which, by the way, is probably the reason why so many writers had a alcohol or substances problem – to contain the depressive mood of the recovery phase, and the equally unpleasant sensations of the load phase.

So here I am, right now, crawling after closing AMARNA episode 5 – and really, I feel pretty spent.
But also, the load phase for the first story of the Pelerine is over. I’ll spend the rest of the evening listening to some jazz music. Tomorrow, hopefully, I’ll get to work properly.


  1. that I hopefully will have ready for the weekend – watch this space. 
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Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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