Go with the flow. It’s advice someone might give you if you’re resisting change or feeling troubled about a matter you can’t control. Just go with the flow.
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, ‘going with the flow’ can mean doing what everyone else does. But to me, the concept of going with the flow is about feeling relaxed and carefree; unbothered by the drama that life throws our way. Sounds like a great way to live.
So, how can we apply this way of thinking to our writing?
Going with the flow when your writing career hits a snag
You’re a little leaf in a big river full of other, talented leaves (i.e. other writers). You’re hurtling down the river: entering writing competitions, submitting your work to publishers, having some wins and moving in the right direction. But then suddenly, you hit a snag. You get stuck on a rock. The rock of rejection. What do you do? How can you go with the flow, when you’re stuck?
Going with the flow doesn’t necessarily mean being passive. It can mean acknowledging you’ve hit an obstacle and thinking of creative ways to overcome it.
Which plan sounds best? Sitting on the rock and feeling cranky? Or accepting the rejection, learning from the experience and moving onto the next opportunity? Personally, I’d pick option two. (Although, I’ll admit that I feel cranky and upset for at least a day following a rejection– sometimes longer.)
Going with the flow when your writing goes in a different direction
Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, sometimes you’ll hit a writing road block. The story you mapped out has taken an unexpected turn. Or you find that after months of pantsing-it, you’ve written yourself into a ditch. I meticulously plotted my whole story and it still didn’t turn out the way I expected. Now I’m rewriting it in an entirely different genre!
In this situation, going with the flow might mean recognising you’re stuck, trying something new and seeing if it works. I think my manuscript works much better as a psychological thriller instead of as a cosy mystery.
In her blog post Writing a crime novel – should you plan or go with the flow?, Louise Harnby quotes author Sophie Hannah, who says a plan needn’t thwart spontaneity. You might have a firmly plotted first draft but still feel like you need to make changes to characters, endings or plot strands. When Lee Child finds his character in an impossible situation, he will find a way for his character to get out of that situation and keep writing, rather than deleting the chapters that came before.
However, sometimes no matter how ‘zen’ you try to be, there will be days the words just don’t flow. And that’s okay. We all need to take a break every now and then. On those days, going with the flow might mean having a nap, going for a walk or meeting a friend for a coffee. The writing will still be there waiting for you when you’re ready to pick it up again.