Review of "Writing in Flow"

By Susan K. Perry
Writers Digest Books, 1999
Review by Margo McPhillips on May 12th 2002
Writing in Flow

This is a very helpful and encouraging book for those writers wishing to enter flow, "the exhilarating part of creativity," more easily or often. The author, a social psychologist and writing teacher offers five, "Master Keys to Flow Entry in Writing," which are:

  1. Have a Reason to Write
  2. Think Like a Writer
  3. Loosen Up
  4. Focus In
  5. Balance Among Opposites

Flow was brought to light by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who wrote the Forward to this book. Csikszentmihalyi is the psychology professor at the University of Chicago, who has been studying human enjoyment since 1963. Flow is that state where one is most "involved" in what they are doing such that time and everything around one "disappears". I think of it as ultimate focus. Csikszentmihalyi argues in his books that one is "happiest" when in flow.

There are three sections to the book; Section 1, "What Flow in Writing Feels Like" sets up for Section 2, the five Master Keys, which explore, in a very balanced fashion, issues central to writers and interviews writers for their experience. Section 3 rounds out the book with specific exercises to help make flow happen.

There are many helps throughout the book, not just in Section 3. At the end of each chapter covering each master key, there's a section of questions and exercises to try called "Turning Key" (and then the key number). Within all the chapters of the book are gray shadowed aside section with questions that are answered by different writers. There are literally hundreds of quotes and comments by nearly that many writers.

I found this to be an exciting, almost magical book. I enjoy the topic and have read all of Csikszentmihalyi's books. It was fun to compare one's own experience of flow with those of famous writers but ultimately one has to agree with Ursula Le Guin:

Fiction is made out of experience, your whole life from infancy on, everything you've thought and done and seen and read and dreamed. But experience isn't something you go and get--it's a gift, and the only prerequisite for receiving it is that you be open to it.

In the end, only your own experiences count. This is a book about other people's experiences and what has worked for them. But it makes a nice, interesting reference book that is applicable to other areas besides writing.

© 2002 Margo McPhillips

Margo McPhillips is a 1972 graduate of the University of Maryland with a Bachelors degree in Sociology. She is currently interested in the use of books on the Web, bibliotherapy, genealogy as an online family/generational activity, and and is enrolled in the UserActive program to earn a Certificate of Professional Development in Web Programming from the University of Illinois to help her with her seven Web sites. Visit her new UserActive site under development at


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