FLOW AND HYPERFOCUS: Superpower and Achilles’ Heel

by | Jun 19, 2024 | Isabella Maldonado, On writing | 3 comments

By Isabella Maldonado
flow can be a matter of mind

Ah, the elusive flow state—that magical realm where words pour out like a perfectly brewed cup of coffee, smooth and invigorating. It’s the writer’s equivalent of a unicorn: often discussed, rarely seen, and when you do catch a glimpse, it’s nothing short of enchanting.

If the flow state could be personified by Thor, then hyperfocus would be Loki, its trickster brother. Hyperfocus feels a bit like being sucked into a vortex with the gravitational pull of a black hole.

For me, Loki is a more frequent visitor than Thor. I take advantage of any opportunity for creativity and productivity throughout the day. When I’m not actively typing, I’m thinking. At times, people have told me I have a far-off look in my eyes. I think that’s because many writers—and other creatives—often have a foot in two worlds, straddling between the here-and-now and the netherworld where the subconscious has free reign.

If I’m folding laundry, doing dishes, or exercising, my mind is a million miles away. Most likely in the company of a heinous villain or a fierce hero, but possibly at an exotic location or a grisly crime scene. My conscious mind fades into the background, disconcerting though it may be at times to those around me.

what does the flow state look like

I recall a situation recently where I was down deep, pounding away on my keyboard as I blasted through a climactic scene filled with drama and action. The bad guy had my heroine on the ground, choking her out. Searching for a plausible way for her to extricate herself from the situation, I put myself in her mind. The killer’s thick fingers were squeezing harder. Blackness began to close in.

“Honey, where is the extra mustard?”

I popped my head up to see my husband standing beside me. Where had he come from?

“Mustard?” I blinked a couple of times, wondering what the hell mustard was.

When I continued to stare at him blankly, he elaborated.

“There’s no more left in the fridge and I didn’t see another bottle in the pantry. Do you know if we have any?”

His mouth was making words, and I heard the sounds, but they were not making sense. He was asking for something and needed a response, but I had trouble switching my brain from a flight of pure fancy to something both mundane and requiring me to search my memory banks for the last time I bought mustard. Or the last time he bought it and I put it in the pantry.

don't know how to get into the flow state

Another meaningless word. “Pantry?”

My long-suffering husband, by now used to this, waited patiently for me to fully migrate from right-brain to left-brain. When the connection finally crossed the synaptic gap, I realized that I’d have to get up and look in the pantry to check. Obviously, my fight scene was doomed from that point. I would have to get back to it later and start again.

If only I had remembered to get a bottle of backup mustard…

On those wonderful days where I can slip into a flow state, however, it’s probably the closest thing to flying that I could experience without wings, a jetpack, or Acme rocket shoes.

a way to get into the flow state

The words seem to appear on the screen through osmosis, which they possibly do. Hours can go by without my notice. I look up and it’s dark, or I’m unaccountably hungry until I realize I haven’t eaten all day. Looking back at the screen, I wonder where the words came from. And they’re not half bad either — even to my rather judgy inner critic.

I would love to tell you I have a secret formula for getting into the flow state, or even hyperfocus in a pinch, because that is very effective in its own way. But I know of no ritual, elixir, charm or incantation that will do the trick. For me, this seems to be pure happenstance.

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  1. Lisa Black

    Nope. Wish I did. Being uninterrupted would help, which I very rarely am, but mostly it has to do more with the scene I’m writing. If it’s one I can see clearly, where I have a clear goal, then the words flow with a lot more ease and speed.

  2. Karna Small Bodman

    About a “flow state” – I suppose that could apply to plot ideas I sometimes get when I’m swimming laps in our pool. Then I completely lose track of how many laps I’ve done (I usually do 50) – and when I get out, I try to remember those ideas and jot them down after I dry off. Thanks for a great blog!!

  3. Tracy Clark

    🤣 Preach, sister! Flow state and hyperfocus are the twin demons that haunt my every writerly step. Do we need to conduct a wellness check on your husband? That mustard thing’s got potential homicide written all over it. Good piece, Isabella, as always. 🤣