Los Angeles Chapter  California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists

Los Angeles Chapter — CAMFT

LA-CAMFT Member Article

05/31/2022 7:00 PM | Mike Johnsen (Administrator)

David Silverman,

How Screenwriters Get Into Flow

Most writers have experienced a period during which writing seems to come easily. For many writers (including myself) it happens late at night, when there are few distractions, no errands, or other tasks to worry about. For others it happens in the ungodly early hours, after getting up at 5 AM.

Some writers call it being “in the zone.” Others call it “flow,” or "a state of flow”—and it involves feeling relaxed, yet productive and highly focused for a prolonged period while writing. Whatever you call it, it’s something every writer welcomes, but can’t always conjure up.

I think it helps to have a pretty good idea about what you’re going to write during these periods, since you don’t want to be stopping to rethink things during the flow. The whole idea is to get started, keep moving forward and let momentum fuel your creativity.

One of the keys to achieving the flow state is being able to deal with distractions. If you’re feeling hungry or thirsty, you’ll want to head to the refrigerator. If you’re tired, you’ll need to get some sleep and start the next day, or take a nap or grab some coffee. Aches and pains may need to be dealt with, in which case a hot bath and some aspirin may solve the problem.

Another factor in creating a state of flow is being able to center yourself so you can fully concentrate. This is the part where relaxation can help. It helps to be able to self-regulate emotions. If you’re stressed, calm down. This is easy to say, but you’d be surprised by how many people have trouble doing it.

If you have a relaxation ritual (which could involve yoga breathing, mindfulness meditation, clearing your mind of random thoughts, physical relaxation, music, lighting, or whatever works)—it can go a long way towards getting you de-stressed and into a flow state.

A relaxation ritual that works for a lot of people involves visualization. You picture yourself in a peaceful environment, say a secluded beach or in a mountain cabin. You focus on how it feels to be there.

You concentrate on the sensory stimulus in your visualization. What do you see, and hear? You let that inform the way you feel physically and psychologically. Hopefully you’ll feel relaxed and energized.

There are all kinds of visualization exercises that can help you cope with stress. Some people visualize their stress in a kind of cloud that they can pick up and transfer to an object. Some people visualize a stream, with comforting sounds to relax them, or a crackling fire to energize them.

Somebody taught me a visualization technique in which I imagined that “my hands and feet were slowly getting warm and heavy.” Then I visualized the blood in my body flowing out to my fingers and down to my toes.

When you’re stressed your muscles tense up all over your body and blood goes to those areas, then your fingers and toes get colder, with less blood flowing out to them. This exercise forces blood to your extremities, your fingers and toes feel warm and heavy; and you feel relaxed.

Another way to get into flow is to do self-hypnosis. You use one of the above-listed relaxation methods, then count backward from 100, picturing yourself walking down 100 steps, sinking into a state of hypnosis.

Along with learning to relax, it’s important to be able to dial down your “inner critic” during the writing process. To oversimplify a bit, your inner critic is the combined voice of all the people who’ve been critical of you throughout your life, almost always going back to an over-critical parent.

While those critical thoughts are there to keep you doing your best work, they can also take a toll. They can eat away at your self-confidence and slow, or stop your train of thought. The idea during the “flow state” is to keep moving forward.

What I recommend writers do is learn a technique they call “thought-stopping” in cognitive psychology. When you catch yourself thinking self-critical thoughts—immediately challenge them. Be aware of them. Expect them. And when you encounter them—stop. Just stop thinking about them.

“Can you really do that?” you might be asking yourself. Yes. People do it every day, all the time, it’s called coping. What you can’t stop is the existence of these thoughts. What you can do is learn to let go.

You’re going to encounter those thoughts when you’re writing. But you don’t have to entertain them or dwell on them or obsess about them. You can decide to move on to more productive thoughts.

If you’re having trouble ignoring self-critical thoughts you might have to challenge them. If you find yourself doubting your abilities, keep an arsenal of challenges ready. When faced with self-doubt, I stop, catch myself, and think, “Wait, I created five TV shows. Of course I can do that.”

Always challenge negative self-talk.

Whatever your major accomplishments are, use them to combat the critical self-talk. Let’s say you’ve published novels, or placed in film festivals or screenwriting contests. Use those facts. Win that imaginary argument.

Use these “mind tricks” or as I call them “reframes,” or just “different ways of thinking,” to stop self-critical thought during the flow period. The more you do it, the easier it gets. Make sure you have a plan, get started and let the flow carry you as far as it can. Criticism comes later, during the rewrite.

David Silverman, LMFT, treats anxiety and depression, especially in highly sensitive individuals in his LA practice. Having experienced the rejection, stress, creative blocks, paralyzing perfectionism, and career reversals over a 25 year career as a Film/TV writer, he’s uniquely suited to work with gifted, creative, and sensitive clients experiencing anxiety, depression, and addiction. David received training at Stanford and Antioch, is fully EMDR certified, and works with programs treating Victims of Crime and Problem Gamblers. Visit www.DavidSilvermanLMFT.com.

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