Am I Sabotaging My Creative Flow?

“I won’t completely deny the elements of luck and inspiration, but in my experience – in most cases, when work doesn’t flow, chances are you’re not letting it. As usual, it’s very much about the process.”

 Don’t you love it when work just flows? Everything you do falls right into place, like magic. Then there are those other times. Depressing, frustrating times. Things just won’t fall into place, and trying to force them only makes it worse. That’s the opposite of flow, also known as “feeling stuck”.

What makes the difference?

I won’t completely deny the elements of luck and inspiration, but in my experience – when work doesn’t flow, chances are you’re not letting it. As usual, it’s very much about the process.

Here are four questions to help you figure out if your working habits sabotage your creative flow.

Do I edit myself too much?

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/barkbud/4772858837/

Flow comes from being loose and letting your work happen almost by itself. If you keep judging yourself as you go along, or worse – if you keep going back and reviewing what you’ve done, or WORST – if you start editing yourself while in the middle of creating– well, that’s a very powerful anti-flow gun you’re using.

Instead, try to think of a creative pass as a kind of stage performance. Made a mistake? You don’t stop the show and start fixing it. The show must go on! Except that here, you actually get to go back later and change it in the next pass, so that’s good. The rule is: let the work flow. Adjust stuff later.

You know what? If you let go and allow things to flow, you might be surprised at how little fixing it really needs.

Am I too hooked on my plan?

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/torres21/1155113039/sizes/o/

Creativity is a strange thing. When done right, it takes a life of its own. It will surprise you. It can defy you. That’s just part of the fun.

Plans are great, but you really need to take them with a grain of salt. You need to be flexible – not let the work control you, but also not kill that thrilling spark of its independent life. There’s an art to nudging it to flow roughly according to your plan, without completely controlling it. Keep your plans in mind, but be flexible and let your work guide you as much as you guide it.

In an article I wrote for The Write Practice blog, I talk about doing this in animation as well as in writing. Even if you do neither, I think you’ll get the idea.

Have a look – it’s in tip #3: Let your writing flow through your outline. 

The Write Practive | 3 Writing Tips You Can Steal From Animators

Am I letting details distract me?

source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/see-through-the-eye-of-g/10395438694/sizes/l/

I already mentioned that  the creative flow is a bit like a stage performance. It’s a living thing. And like most living things, you can’t just pause it. Pausing the flow kills it.

I used to have huge problems with my writing because I would suddenly get stuck trying to remember a specific word I knew I was looking for. I’d actually start looking in dictionaries and browse through synonyms trying to find that specific word I wanted (seriously!). By the time I was ready to write again, the flow was gone. Here’s what I should have done: mark the spot, let it continue to flow, and come back to it later.

Do you ever get fussy over insignificant details along the way?

Am I doing too many things at once?

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pixel_addict/465394708/sizes/l/

Pausing the flow to for a detail is bad enough, but pausing it for just random stuff is even more senseless. I see way too many people watching TV while they work, or stopping everything in order to answer the phone, or they get that chime from their Facebook app and they can’t resist checking it out.

You do that and BANG! You just shot your flow dead.

Let me say this one more time: being in the flow is like a doing a stage performance. One does not simply answer the phone on stage! (Well… mostly you don’t. I actually did see someone do that once. It was an old jazz player in a small club, and he just answered the phone while the band was playing. We were stunned, but it was also quite funny).

To keep the flow alive, you must give yourself completely to your work.

Give it a try

Next time you have a good solid chunk of work ahead of you (a couple of hours, say), make an effort to protect your flow. Don’t edit yourself while you create, don’t get too hooked on your plan, don’t let yourself get distracted by details, and don’t try to multitask.  Write a comment and let me know how it went and what felt different.

Author: Doron Mayer

Director, Animator, Writer, Designer. Author of "Workflow: The practical Guide to the Creative Process".

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