In the Heat of Flow


As mentioned in my post Finding Flow last week flow – or being in the zone as it is often called – is that inspired freedom of creativity when you lose yourself completely in artistic activities. Time, stress and artist’s block melt away, resulting in a unique voice and fully realizing your creative potential. Being in that state of flow in many ways resembles a trancelike state of mind. As Susan K. Perry writes in her book «Writing in Flow»; «you feel challenged, stimulated, definitely not bored. … [When] in flow, you’re often certain you’re tapping into some creative part of yourself – or of the universe – that you don’t have easy access to when you’re not in this altered state».

«Writing in Flow» – as I mentioned in the post – is based on a scientific study that Susan K. Perry conducted of more than 75 best-selling and award-winning authors. In the book she describes how the writers experience the state of flow; she dwells into five key elements of flow that most intimately affect the creative process and finally she writes about specific techniques writers use to make flow happen.

Although the book is about writing in flow, the general concepts and mechanisms behind creative flow is very much adaptable to any creative activity. I certainly found her ideas and suggestion very useful for my photography. As I am writing, too, I know the feeling of being in flow is similar when I experience it as a writer and when I experience it as a photographer.

It’s not possible to go into depth of her book in a post like this, but I will try to at least give an idea of what Susan K. Perry has found out. First, the five master keys that have an effect on the creative flow are partly a part of whoever you are, your whole self and the way of relating to the world. Partly they are concurrent to the actual creative process itself and come into play very near the time you begin the process as well as throughout the whole process. Having a reason to write – or if taken in a broader view; having a reason to do whatever creative work you do – is Perry’s first master key. On its simplest level it means you need something that motivates you to do whatever it is you are doing. It can be both external and internal reasons, although the latter often works as a stronger incentive. For instance I photograph because I want to tell stories about how people live in various layers of the world and the societies. I want to show both the beauty and the cruelty of human existence, and I so doing maybe be able to change if not the world, hopefully one or two persons along the way.

The second master key is to think like a writer – or an artist in any vocation you are working in. As for me, in all my professional life I have tried to learn and read about other photographers and how they think. The point is it’s possible for you to strengthen and bring to the forefront of your personality those aspects that will contribute to making your creative life more gratifying. It maybe opening up yourself to new experiences, it may be trying to take more risks, it may be trying to get yourself fully absorbed by your work and it’s certainly positive if you are able to build confidence in what you are doing.

The next three master keys are more directly related to the creative process itself and in some ways more self descriptive. Of course there is more to them than that; based on the study that Susan K. Perry did she offers a lot of insights to the hows, but let me just quickly mention the last master keys here. One is loosening up, another is focusing in and the last is balancing between opposites.

Let me end by saying that «Writing in Flow» is a book that inspires and explains. If you are interested in other creatives’ take – and certainly writers’ take – on working in flow, or would like to know how to enter this state more often, this is a must-read.

84 thoughts on “In the Heat of Flow

  1. I am reading your excellent post in a coffee shop where all my good intentions of putting some work together have sadly come to nought. My flow is feeling as dry as Texas in a drought, waiting for the rain to fall! Thank you for the top-up Otto!

  2. Otto … tthank you for this … I find myself writing more and more frequently and taking photographs along the way … I find it a flow as you describe from Perry’s book … amost excellent sounding text which I will be sure to look up 🙂

  3. Sold! I just ordered this book after scanning through the reviews along with your posts. It is one of very many books on the market but it struck me that flow really is one of the most important things to be tapped into while writing. I just completed a stage play that was written through me rather than by me. My best writing is like that but flow is not always readily available. I hope this book will aid with a bit of constant. Thanks Otto!

  4. Thanks, just added the book to my to-read list. There are a number of books on the creative process and how to tap into it, how to get past feeling blocked, but I’m always looking for new fresh takes on the topic. I’ll be giving this one a try.

    1. Like you I am always looking for books on creativity. This one stands out in my view. Would be fun someday to see what you would recommend of books on creativity!

      1. My favorite is Art and Fear, by David Bales & Ted Orland. It’s geared toward visual artists, but I found it relevant for anyone struggling to put their work out there.

  5. Would probably do well to read the book. I’ve experienced this phenomenon, but I have never been able to tap into it or make it happen. Either it’s there or it’s not–I have no control over it. Great when it happens, though!

  6. Many thanks for visiting my blog and I will look forward to enjoying yours further.Your images are beautiful.

  7. Another fascinating article. I’m intrigued – what is balancing between opposites. I hope you write about that soon.

  8. Striking photography!
    I think people experience flow differently. For me it does not depend on end results, what I want to say, or what I want to achieve. It is simply the pleasure of writing and having a story unfold as I do. I find the best way to go with the flow is to dive in – the current takes me and I hardly ever find myself washed back to the side. Eddies and backwaters may happen, but they still add to the narrative!

    1. Looks like you have found a way to enter flow that works for you. And, yes, I think you are right that people experience flow differently. Thanks for the comment!

  9. !Thank you for sharing this with us. It does sound like something I would enjoy reading. I have found myself in that ‘zone’ before, but usually only when I have a huge chunk of time in which I can ‘get lost’. Otherwise, my time limits are always constantly on my mind, and it makes it hard to get lost!

    1. Time is sometimes an issue when trying to get in flow, but it is also a matter of experience. So keep at it, Barbara! Thanks for the comment.

  10. I have to agree with you. I think any type of art, whether that be writing or photography, all follow a flow. Same with video, music, etc. And it’s interesting she mentions loosening up .. that is one of my biggest challenges. I always get stressed and tense when I do shoots for new clients.

    1. Being in flow is a way to connect with another part of yourself you can’t reach otherwise. As for getting stressed and tense when shooting for new clients – I can certainly understand. We want to make a good first impression, no?

  11. It is always interesting to read about people’s experience with creativity. It seems to me that there are more distractions nowadays than there were a few generations ago. But even long ago, at the earliest stages of culture, creative people often stepped out of the action in order to focus on their work.

    1. Maybe you are right, Shimon, that there are more distractions today, but in the end it comes down to leave it all behind – as it always have.

  12. Great to hear about this book and love the image you use to illustration that feeling of flow. I crave that feeling to the extent that when it’s not there…I’m at a loss. I will look for this book today. Thanks as always, Otto!

  13. Always such an insightful perspective coupled with a beautiful photograph. Is this not stream of consciousness less the fear of what others will think and the loss of self judgement? Often I will sit down to write having no idea where it will go but feeling like I have something to say, so I just let it “flow”. You always have such an eloquent way of defining the layers of creativity that lurk just beneath the surface in us creative types Otto.

    1. Thanks for the nice words, Christina. I think in flow is a combination of a conscious and unconscious stream, but yes fear of others take will not help getting into flow. Hope your project is coming well together.

  14. Hmmmm, you are definitely giving us some info here, but if there is some way you could tease out a little bit more in the way the author expresses these “master keys” that would be helpful.

    Thanks Otto!

    1. It’s not easy to make a summary of such an extensive subject in a few teasers, I think. But I will get back to more thoughts about flow. Thanks for the thought, Carol!

      1. Agreed Otto. I think the postings are just a testament to how you made me really want to know more (while still being too lazy to read the book. :-} )

        Thanks 🙂

  15. Lovely photo that speaks of the wonders of a waiting day or the contemplation of one that is ending. Your article deals with a timely subject for me since I am feeling totally out of the flow for the past several weeks. I’m not sure that those times of creativity that flow and mesh like a fine clockwork can be simply conjured up, but certainly having the right mind set opens the door to those times a bit wider. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and this review.

  16. REally impressive post and impressive picture. I see, it takes so much and nothing, to be creative…
    Nice weekend to you and yours♥

  17. Excellent review, Munchow.
    I was losing flow before I went away to Thailand. I was getting stuck. That awful stuck you feel when you know there is more to be said, but can you say it, how can you say it. It’s painful, this constipation.

    This book sounds excellent indeed.

  18. Much sound advice here, but I see the difficulty of shaking loose ways of thinking and behaving that has sat there for a very long time. But one can try …

  19. I think having passion in whatever creative projects we get involved in really puts everything into place…it is the fuel that drives us to create no matter the obstacles. I tried to find the book in our public library system but guess I will need to suggest it in their purchase wish list. 😀
    Thanks for the great mini review.

    1. Passion definitely fuels flow and creativity. And without it not much happens, that’s for sure. Good luck with the library request!

  20. At air is wun matty purdy pitcher, an thish hyar souns lack sum matty fan hadvass. Ah thank ewe is wun smart feller. Hits a plezherr tuh maik yore kwaintence. Ah look forrer tuh raidin moar of yore poasts.

    Yores trooly,

    The Ole Hillbilly

  21. This sounds like a really good book. I think it is possible to acquire some inspiration from other artists. I have experienced the sense of flow in a few isolated instances, but I like the idea of cultivating the essence of flow, in particular the aspect of thinking like an artist. I definitely like the changes you’ve made to express yourself in titling your blog, “In Flow.” I didn’t at first recognize that it was yours, Otto, but it fits you so well.

  22. Another wonderful post, Otto. You’ve been spot on regarding book recommendations so I’ll be getting this one as well. Thanks!

  23. Your image speaks volumes to me as well as your words so true as with artist S. Perry.
    I want to thank you for your kindness in stopping by my blog as well.

    Your have a new follower Im very honored. Have a lovely day.

  24. Thank you for visiting my blog, Here’s to Your Health!
    Do you think writing in the flow also works with editing and
    turning the blog into an e book would be helpful to people?

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