For all artists the ultimate creative experience is when you lose yourself in your work, when you immerse yourself so much in some creative activity during which time cease to matter, when you forget yourself and everything else but the task at hand, when the work flows, when you are in flow. I have compared this experience with the feeling of being in a tunnel (se my post Tunnel Vision some time ago), while others call it «being in the zone» or just «in flow». As a matter of fact flow is a term used in psychological studies, of which University of Chicago psychologist and researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was one of the first to examine.
According to the science flow happens because we make it happen when our mind or body is voluntary stretched to its limits, in an effort to accomplish something difficult or worthwhile. The question is – especially for those who have yet to experience flow – how do we make it happen. In workshops I teach I often talk about this feeling of flow, but I always find it hard to give concrete advice how to make it happen. My recommendation has been to work hard; that flow will eventually happen if you do the work. I think that is true, but it’s not necessarily a very satisfying answer. And just doing the work isn’t always enough for everybody who is seeking flow, neither. Last time the question came up for me was in a comment to my post Diving into Unconsciousness, to which more than a mere description of experience itself I really wanted to come up with some thoughts about how to get there.
Imagine my excitement when just afterwards I came across a book investigating in depth what being in flow means. The book «Writing in Flow» by Susan K. Perry is based on a comprehensive study she did on 75 best-selling and award-winning authors for her doctoral dissertation. As indicated by the title of the book, it deals with being in flow while writing, but a lot of what Perry points to is valid for any kind of flow-experience. I certainly recognise her thoughts and recommendations for my own work as a photographer.
I am still in the process of reading the book, but already now I can say «Writing in Flow» is a book that gives an exciting glimpse into the creative process. Even more so it gives concrete input and ideas about how to get into flow. I will get back to the book and quote some of the concrete advices that Perry bring forth in a later post, but for now I just want to mention six requirements she believes is necessary to be able to be in flow.
First your activity must have clear goals and give you some sort of feedback. You need to want to do whatever you do for some reason which can be as simple as wanting to show the beauty of nature if you for instance are a nature-lover. In addition it needs to give you some satisfaction of some form, it could be nothing more than just being able to accomplish the task or being praised by the work afterwards. Secondly for flow to happen sensing that your personal skills are well suited for the challenge is necessary, giving you a sense of potential control. Thirdly you need to be intensely focused on what you are doing. Fourthly when in flow your sense of time is altered, with time seeming to slow, stop or become irrelevant. Lastly the experience needs to become self-rewarding.
As I said I will get back to a deeper review of the book as soon as I have finished it, but already now I can easily recommend «Writing in Flow» – even if you are not a writer.