This Is My Design: Flow

This is my design: Flow

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[Author note] I will be talking about the concept flow, a state of mind, not the narrative flow. Narrative flow will be discussed in another article.[/aesop_content]There are a few things that I need when I’m writing: a fountain pen, paper, an idea, and flow. I can write even if I have only one of the first three, but the last one is special. Flow can only exist when you’re already doing an activity, it will help you to get into that zone where you know you will perform your best. It’s a state of mind that you can achieve by challenging yourself.

Go with the Flow



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Flow is being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz.
” cite=”Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi” parallax=”off” direction=”left” revealfx=”off”]

This is the definition of flow that I will use. It’s also exactly as I experience it. Following Csikszentmihaly’s example of jazz, it’s improvisation at its best. I was taught jazz improvisation on the bass guitar and while my musical skills might still be lacking, it did teach me something on general improvisation. When you play one note, your mind and body will know what the next one should be on an unconscious level. Turn off your brain and just let it happen. Trust yourself and great things will come to life, because they’re already inside of you.

Getting into the Flow Zone

Some people have mastered flow and know how to trigger it. They create their perfect work environment, play their writing music, face the wall (because windows can be distracting), pour their second (or third or fourth) cup of coffee, and start writing.

I haven’t had the chance yet to create such a space yet and to tweak it so I can force flow. My guest room now has a small desk with just enough space for my pens, ink bottles and a notebook. No laptop, because I know that when I’m writing on paper I will attain flow much faster than when I’m typing. It forces my conscious to focus on the activity- writing. My hand’s movements make the pen dance around the paper, the story has enough time to develop in my brain, and sentences will be more coherent.

That moment when all I’m thinking is my story, the scenes show up in front of my eyes and I can describe what I’m seeing. My hand moves on automatic pilot, it does receive orders, but I’m not consciously moving my hand. It’s like Bob Ross painting. Slowly and steadily the picture will be painted. Mistakes will be made, but I’ll automatically work around that. The fault won’t be noticeable unless you look closely. And that’s not what you do in that state of mind.

The hardest thing I’ve experienced while being in the zone is to not bump into something. If, for some reason, there’s a hiccup in the stream of words coming from my mind, the flow will disappear and there is no way back in. It’s like going for a run, tripping and then trying to keep running with a sprained ankle. Of course, losing the flow sucks for an artist, but it’s not a physical injury. Even with hard work, I can still manage to write after that hiccup, but I know that the words I’ve written while I wasn’t experiencing flow tend to be worse than those I wrote when I was.

Flow isn’t Another Name for Muse

Flow isn’t something that I would compare or group with a muse. Flow supports the activity but doesn’t spark it. It’s not the beginning and rarely should it be the end of your writing session.

A muse will give you an idea, inspiration, for your work of art. It’s not a guarantee that your idea will execute well. I often have a muse visit me with beautiful visuals, except that I can’t draw or paint. It won’t look as nice as what the muse showed me. It might trigger me to start, and my skills (or lack thereof) will tell me I should stop.

This is where flow can help me improve. Should I, despite my lack of skill, reach that state of mind where the drawing is all I’m focused on, I know my abilities will improve. Why? I will keep trying to get the image right. My eraser will work overtime and the white sheet will turn a light shade of gray. I will draw each line at least thirty times before I feel that I can’t improve any more this session. The marathon I’m working on then – namely drawing – will be at a walking pace, while I run lightly when I’m writing.

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Contrary to what we usually believe, moments like these, the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times—although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.
” cite=”Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi” parallax=”off” direction=”left” revealfx=”off”]

When muses and flow are working together, you will be in the mental state to create art at a higher level. The conditions might even be optimal, but you still have to push the buttons. You’re still in control. The work of art inside of you has to come into existence through your physical interaction with the world. These conditions can come up at any time, not just when you’re ready for the magic to happen, so be prepared and take a notebook with you.

I often get brilliant ideas when I’m (half) asleep, which is bad timing. I’m far sighted so I can’t immediately reach for a pen and paper and putting on my glasses will wake me up enough to get out of that state of mind. There is a trick I taught myself to get passed this. I’m lucky to have a good memory, so I’ll try to memorize the idea or dream. Before I open my eyes, I will go over everything I know. I will think of all the details I’ve seen, remember the feelings that I experienced. Only when I’m certain that I’ve remembered everything will I allow the rest of my body to wake up. Sometimes I’ve already written part of the story in my head and I can recall it the moment I have the opportunity to write it down. This will kickstart my writing session and flow will happen sooner rather than later.

Part of the Process

Flow is something I’ll aim for at least once per writing session. Hopefully, it’ll last the entire session, but I’m not counting on it. I know I have to perform even without it. This is where hard work comes in. It’s better to write something than nothing. I can always edit later.

The process of writing by hand is slower than typing, but it’s worth it for the higher quality of writing I’ll get. The moment I start typing it in Scrivener, I’ll do my first edit. I can see my spelling mistakes, missed words, and change sentences when I feel they don’t work. Often I’ll immediately change it, other moments I’ll highlight it in red so I know I have to revisit it and change the section.

What are your experiences with flow? Do you know what works for you? Share your tips below!

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