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Creative Process – How to get In the Flow

In the Flow is the second step in the creative process (Sponge Work, In the Flow, Insight & Inspiration, Make it Real).

Like Sponge Work, it’s a critical “work” step. It’s the point in the process where the creator begins to “play with” all the fodder they have collected from being sponge and make connections, shape ideas, expand thinking and even judge ideas – keeping some, eliminating others.

In the Flow is critical because from this step comes: THE BIG IDEA (inspiration and insight).

What tends to shut down the creative process and also what causes many people to scream, “I can’t do this. I’m not creative,” is that they skip the In the Flow step completely (or spend very little in it) and try to force the big idea either right away or far too early in the process. 

It can seem like “creative types” just magically get the big idea – that they pull the big idea from nowhere. But where they are pulling it from is both the Sponge Work they’ve done and their time In the Flow.

So, what is the “how-to” of In the Flow?

One of the tricks to In the Flow is simply endurance. Playing with thoughts, words, chords, clay, whatever long enough that the big idea is able to develop.

Following are a few more In the Flow tricks – ways of getting and staying in the flow. What I’d love is for you to share yours in a comment to this post.

Tricks & Tips for Getting and Staying In the Flow

Trick #1: Environment

One of the most often overlooked tricks to In the Flow is making sure your environment is supportive of creating and sustaining the flow. For me, music is a valuable tool for getting in the flow and I use certain mixes to support certain kinds of creative energy depending on the project I’m working on. I don’t use music while I’m actually doing the work of In the Flow. I use it to prepare. To get in the mood.

The physical space you are in can also either support or distract from being and staying In the Flow. In fact, distractions like people, noise, clutter, a visible “to-do” list, can all prevent the creator from being able to tune out the outside world and focus on the creative project at hand. For me, a “creative” and CLEAN space is vital. The place where I work is inspiring – to me. It’s white on white and it’s fun. In many ways, my physical space itself is a blank canvas – the whiteness of it supports that. But it’s also filled with inspiration. A few of my paintings, acceptance letters I’ve received for poetry – even some great and inspiring rejection letters. Plus, some ads I love, letters from my husband – anything that makes me feel creative and loved.

Think about your environment. What supports you in preparing to get in the flow. Music? A conversation on the phone with the friend who champions you best? Flipping through an art book? The trick is to notice what inspires you in general – what pumps you up or what grounds you in the rest of your life – and consciously use that as prep for In the Flow.

Think about your physical space. Do you love it? Does it make you feel expansive or shut down? Does it put pressure on you or relieve you from pressure? Does it inspire you? I feel strongly that it is worth it (not wasted energy) to spend time creating your creative space.

Trick #2: Freeing the Mind

Getting into a mental space (free from your inner critic) where you can think “outside the box” can be helpful for getting in the flow. For me, doing improv (yes, alone!) is a great way to free myself from the inner critic. I do the alphabet game by myself. I think of a scene, two characters and play both parts. So are “morning papers” as suggested in The Artist’s Way. This is more of a clearing trick and can be a wonderful way to get all the clutter of thoughts out of your head. To do morning papers (in the morning or anytime), get a blank page and a pen and just start writing in stream of consciousness style. Don’t edit. Don’t perfect. Just keep writing until you are done. You will know when you are.

Staying in the mental space of expansive thinking is about self management. Both around regaining focus when distracted AND around navigating the internal saboteurs that appear at various points during In the Flow.

Trick #3: Using Creativity Tools

Creativity tools is going to be a future blog post all in itself, so for now I’m just going to discuss tools in general – and we’ll dive deeper a few posts down the road. Creative professionals and anyone who expresses their creativity on a regular basis is likely familiar with the vast array of tools available to foster greater creativity – and especially expansive thinking. Googling “creativity tools” is a great place to start. You will find many of the tools I’ll be sharing through that search. The key with tools is to trust the tool. To fully use it. To not sell it short because the big idea doesn’t come right away. In In the Flow, creativity tools are simply methods of playing with ideas to expand and connect them; to generate additional thinking – especially, new ways of thinking. I fought using creative tools for a long, long time until I had an experience with one specific tool that turned an idea my creative partner and I were playing with into something we never would have thought of on our own, and that we never would have thought of together if we were brainstorming in the traditional way. The tool is called “Yes, And …” and, again, I’m going to devote an entire post (or two) on creativity tools as soon as we finish the two final steps in the creative process.

It may sound simple, but with Environment, Mind and Tools ALONE you will be primed for getting and staying In the Flow. Under each category, there are countless methods, but the “big idea” behind In the Flow is knowing that these three ingredients are all you need to facilitate the In the Flow step.

Your environment is supportive and inspiring, your mind is free and open, and your ideas have a gym full of tools designed to help them become stronger.

The final piece of the In the Flow puzzle is about the feeling of In the Flow.

In the Flow can feel like staring at a blank wall or banging your head against it – but there is a point in the process where an almost magical feeling of connection occurs. It doesn’t feel like work anymore. Instead it feels like an experience of heightened awareness. It is very likely that you have experienced the flow feeling in relation to creativity and that I don’t have to describe it to you. But if you haven’t, you can experience that feeling in all sorts of areas of life. In conversation, in sports, in love making. In the Flow is everywhere.

All it requires is presence.

Susan B.