The pattern interrupt (and the myth of “flow”)

pace tension Jul 27, 2022

Many of us don't like to be interrupted. And yet, all of us are guilty of interrupting others on occasion. Some people consider interruptions to be profoundly rude, an act of not-listening. Others consider it a normal part of boisterous, engaged conversation. “We finish each other’s sentences” is how we might describe someone with whom we feel especially attuned.  

So is interrupting good, or bad? More importantly, what does it have to do with writing?

The concept of the “pattern interrupt” is well studied in the field of communication. Briefly put, when we shake up people’s expectations by doing something unexpected, we get their attention. And we also make them more open to new experiences. Once one pattern is broken, all the rest become more negotiable, too.

Yet I cannot tell you how many times writers talk to me about seeking “flow” in their writing. They want the language to “flow.” They want the story to “flow.” They seek to remove all ripples from the pond, as if a perfect state of equanimity was the hallmark of good writing. 

Well, it is not. But when earnest writers talk, I listen hard. What do they really mean by flow? What legitimate goal are they pursuing, albeit with the wrong strategy? And what should they be doing instead? That’s the subject of this livestream. 

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