Components of Writing in Flow: The Bobsled Run

QUOTE: Jeanne Nakamura and Csíkszentmihályi identify the following six factors as encompassing an experience of flow:[2]

Those aspects can appear independently of each other, but only in combination do they constitute a so-called flow experience. Additionally, psychology writer Kendra Cherry has mentioned three other components that Csíkszentmihályi lists as being a part of the flow experience:

  1. “Immediate feedback”
  2. Feeling that you have the potential to succeed
  3. Feeling so engrossed in the experience, that other needs become negligible

Just as with the conditions listed above, these conditions can be independent of one another. Flow is so named because during Csíkszentmihályi’s 1975 interviews several people described their “flow” experiences using the metaphor of a water current carrying them along. [1]

QUOTE: Psychologist and author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has studied the subject extensively. In Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience and subsequent writings, he describes the nine common characteristics of a state of flow:

  • The work is sufficiently challenging, yet within your abilities
  • Your goals are clear; you know what needs to happen
  • The act of working provides clear feedback
  • Your mind is absorbed in the work at hand
  • You are not distracted by anything apart from the work
  • You lack self-consciousness
  • You do not fear failure
  • You do not notice time passing
  • The process is fulfilling or enjoyable

When it happens, being in a state of flow connects you to the joy of writing. [2]

NOTES: The energy for flow is gravity and the source of flow is upstream. Human beings, however,  can ride the current in the channel between the banks.

First, an episode of flow in writing has a beginning, a middle and an end. While a river flows 24/7, writers have episodes of writing. We start, we go and flow down the track, and then we stop for a time.

Second, preparation for a writing episode in flow is a part of it all. Just as the sled is brought uphill with all its parts, the task of prewriting brings everything that is needed for the writing to the top of the hill. There are four basic functions of management:  planning, organization, execution and evaluation. It takes different mental muscles to plan (design) and organize (bring the materials needed together) than it does to execute the plan. Execution is flow. Evaluation happens after flow, when the judges post the scores and we return to planning mode to consider how performance could be improved. But flow is the action, moving forward to the goal.

Execution is aided by being able to focus on the doing of the task without having to stop doing in order think about the task. If a problem comes up that interrupts concentration, forcing us to return to a planning mode, we are no longer in flow. If a lack of a needed element stops forward movement, forcing us to return to organizational mode, we are no longer in flow.

Third, a bobsled runs down a channel with banks, just like a stream. You don’t choose a path; you attempt to maximize speed on the path that has already been created. Flow is a process. Flow happens when the process is clear from the first foot of the journey to the last.

Fourth, there is the bobsled itself. It is a piece of equipment that is used over and over again to navigate the path of the bobsled run. For my writing, I conceive of the bobsled as a writing template. As we journey from top to bottom, the template is filled in and brought to completion. All the materials are present, and the journey puts them into place.

Fifth, flow is guided by a channel with banks. The channel is the process you follow in writing. The banks are the boundaries that keep you on task and in the groove.  Prewriting brings everything to the top of the hill, and a draft is assembled as you flow from start to finish. Ready to go?


In prewriting, how, when and where do you do your planning of what you will write? How does your planning minimize distractions?

How do you organize and assemble your information, the raw material or ingredients of writing, and your tools? Where do you get your material? What tools do you use?

Do you use a basic format or template when you write? Is your form of writing amenable to using templates as a vehicle to move the piece from raw materials to finished draft?

Do you have a process mapped out for when you write? Is the journey familiar and comfortable, such that you can wholly focus on the work of writing as you go from start to finish?


[1] Flow (psychology), From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, at

[2] Finding Flow in the Writing Process by Anne Janzer, March 17, 2016,  at

The photo “Monobob Training” is by  Vegar S Hansen and was taken at Lillehammer. It is from Wikipedia Commons at


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