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David Heinemeier Hansson on Flow State

David Heinemeier Hansson

Tim Ferriss recently interviewed David Heinemeier Hansson, the creator of Ruby on Rails and winner of “world’s biggest endurance race: 24 hours of Le Mans.”

Early in the interview, Tim and David had a fascinating discussion about creative flow state that I had to capture and share with you.

DHH: It’s exciting, it’s a loud car and shaking. There’s the element of danger, you could go off course, you could hit something. But just the closed loop system of improvement was absolutely intoxicating. It was kind of like you just had a bottle of flow. You could just go open your fridge and go ‘I’d like some flow, please. Can you get me into the flow state where you lose track of time and where you just have such a great experience learning and getting better—that’s how I felt the first very many times I got into a race car. I could just switch on flow. Which was something I had discovered in programming a fair amount, but I find at least in programming it was a little more elusive. The best programming sessions I’d have flow, but then I’d also have a fair number of other programming sessions where I wouldn’t have flow. When I stepped into the race car, I just felt like, oh, you turned the ignition and flow comes. And that was just magic.

Tim Ferriss: Why do you think it was more elusive in programming and can you identify any common factors for the sessions that had flow or that didn’t have flow?

DHH: I think part of it with racing was just that the intensity level was at 100% right away. As soon as you stepped into a car you had maximum danger—actually you had more danger in the beginning than you will have later on because it’s more dangerous to drive a car in the track when you don’t know what you were doing than it is later on. Versus with programming I didn’t get flow until I was—I mean, I shouldn’t say that. I didn’t get great consistent flow in the quantities that I’d like to enjoy it before I was actually a fairly well-developed programmer. Because that was when I had enough of an eye for the whole scope of programming to really dive into Oh let’s make this beautiful, Oh, let’s make this as simple as possible. When, in the beginning, I was just focused on, Oh, let’s get this to work. Can the PHP page render? Oh no, I get an error, let me try something else. That was fun. There was glimpses of flow. But the real moments of flow I wouldn’t get until I was much better.

Flow state is what I strive for in writing, and I guess it’s just good to hear that other people also find it elusive at times.

Listen to the whole interview at FourHourWorkWeek.com.

Word Count Data for the Rough Draft of My First Novel

I finished the rough draft of my first novel recently, and I thought it would be educational to both myself and other writers if I shared the data I gathered during the process, and what I learned along the way.

1,000 words a day

The one thing that helped me get started—and helped me follow through with—writing this book was the realization that writing a book was a simple equation. Effort over time equals words.

Yes, it’s that simple.

I realized that if I wrote 1,000 words a day, after 30 days I’d have a novel (or a novella, if you want to split hairs.)

From there, it was simple math. I expected my story to be 30,000 – 50,000 words, so it would take me 30-50 days of work.

That took the fear out of it. It made the prospect of writing the story—not just the story, but the novel—much less daunting. Not that I expected it to be easy (and it certainly hasn’t been), but it suddenly seemed achievable.

Keeping track of my word count

To make sure I kept the one-thousand-words-a-day promise to myself, I decided before I began that I would keep track.

Here’s how it works:

It takes me about 2-3 hours of focused effort to write 1,000 words (sometimes less, often more). At the end of each writing session, I write the date and word count in my notebook, with occasional notes (you can see some of the notes below). Some days, I put in multiple sessions of varying lengths. I might write 237 words in the morning and 744 in the afternoon. Not ideal, but they still add up the same.

At the end of the process, I had a bunch of data. Here’s a graph of my progress (click to enlarge):


Word Count for TWO MOONS (Rough Draft)

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