Your Last Five Minutes of Writing

There’s an essential task in your last five minutes of writing each day that will save time and increase your productivity. Five minutes before you stop writing, make a list of your next steps and ideas for continuing your writing at your next session.
I discovered this recently when I returned to something I’d written a few weeks earlier. My last sentence has been, “There are at least three ways to explain this phenomenon.” I had stopped writing at that point…and subsequently could not recall the three ways I had intended to describe next. When I finally did complete that section of my manuscript, I wasn’t sure I had written about the same three I had originally identified. Maybe there were really six good ways. We’ll never know.
Recall from the first posting that we use different cognitive processes when we write about our topic than when we just think about it. So once you get in the flow of writing, your mind is working in ways that often lead you in the direction you need to go. You can’t always know when you sit down to write what you will write. The process of writing brings you there. So at the end of your scheduled writing time, when you must stop, make a list or an outline or use stream-of-consciousness writing* with the ideas that are your likely next steps. The next day when you start writing, use this list to help you get started again more quickly.
To write more productively, the term “flow” as Csikszentmihalyi  (1990) described it is relevant. “The task at hand draws one in with its complexity to such an extent that one becomes completely involved in it” (2003, p. 40). Can you recall a time when you have been writing and you’ve gotten “in the flow?” Csikszentmihalyi reports that this flow is accompanied by up to eight conditions. And although he was not specifically describing the experience of writing, most of these eight are clearly what we strive for when we write:
·         Goals are clear
·         Feedback is immediate
·         Balance occurs between opportunity and capacity
·         Concentration deepens
·         The present is what matters
·         You feel in control
·         Sense of time is altered
·         Experience of loss of ego

How different would your writing experience be if most of these eight conditions were present during your writing sessions? For example, when Csikszentmihalyi described the third one, the balance between opportunity and capacity, he writes: “It is easier to be completely involved in a task if we believe it is doable. If it appears to be out of our capacity, we tend to respond to it by feeling anxious….Attention shifts from what needs to be accomplished – the anxious person is distracted by worries about the outcome….The ideal condition can be expressed by the simple formula: Flow occurs when both challenges and skills are high and equal to each other” (2003, p. 44).
If you’ve been writing for at least 90 minutes each day since we started break-writing, I hope you have experienced this flow one or more times already. In this flow, you’ve likely overcome the obstacles of fear and anxiety and been able to continue to write better and for longer periods of time. I encourage you to write each day until you experience flow – that feeling of being totally engaged in all the complexity of your task, fully involved and enjoying your writing – and then keep writing. If it hasn’t happened yet, it will. I promise.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: HarperCollins.
Csikszentmihalyi. M. (2003). Good business: Leadership, flow, and the making of meaning. New York: Penguin.
* Stream-of-consciousness writing is simply writing down as quickly as you can all the thoughts you have about your subject. Don’t worry about spelling or punctuation or format. Just write down, even as an outline or bullet points, what you think comes next…and next and next…enough to be able to continue your train of thought and ideas the next time you start to write.

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Some of the information in the BreakWriting postings is drawn from previously published work, and I have tried to properly attribute the ideas and work of others. If I fail to do so, please tell me so I can clarify and correct (Graduate Mentor).