Today I’m honored to have as a guest blogger Carole Jane Treggett, a Canadian photographer and writer who has proven phenomenally encouraging to me as I have charted my dedication to an art-committed life on The Artist’s Road. She is one of the readers who nominated me for the 2011-2012 Top Ten Blogs for Writers Award, for which I am forever grateful. But I value her most because she is so attuned to the creative process, providing great wisdom and personal insight on her blog.
A few months ago while I was participating in a monthly 10K writing day with Milli Thornton et al over at Fear of Writing blog, I decided to experiment with a recommended technique I read about earlier that day for sneaking past the infernal editor, hoping to enter what is commonly known by creatives as the flow state.
I went to get my travel mask, sat down at the computer, slipped the silky black blindfold down over my eyes and began slowly tapping away after a quick peek to make sure my hands were oriented properly on the keyboard. I was relieved to be shielded from the mocking blank screen before me and its evil accomplice, that stationary blinking cursor.
A few moments later a clear image popped into my mind of the ruler-wielding teacher who taught me how to touch-type my first year of high school (on an IBM Selectric machine, remember those?).
She had the habit of slapping that wooden ruler in her palm in time to each deliberate step she took as she marched between our desks, ‘tsking’ at students who would invariably falter and make a typo or two as her shadow fell across their typewriter.
I was intimidated then, but my mouth twitched in amusement now. Oh the irony of using a skill which is second nature to me now that was so tyrannically drilled into me all those years ago, as the means to the hopeful end of getting into a free-flowing creative state!
I realized my fingertips were brushing over the keys steadily and I didn’t seem to be the one who was bringing forth the words while I sat there in reverie; I was simply keeping up with the voice dictating to me. I was now in that wonderful, altered state, not sure or caring how much time had gone past, just enjoying being immersed deeply in the work…
This wasn’t the first time I had experienced creative flow, but I have to admit those glorious sessions are few and very far between for me.
As I mentioned in a recent post on my blog, I find relinquishing a sense of control over my work difficult to do.
Again and again, my long-suffering muse has to wait for me to decide to trust and fall back into her arms.
In her excellent book, Writing in Flow: Keys to Enhanced Creativity, Susan K. Perry Ph.D, offers research findings, advice and valuable quotes highlighting the experiences of 75 authors she interviewed, as well as practical exercises to help writers and artists ‘open the creative floodgates’.
In one particular chapter, Perry addresses the common paradoxes that artists regularly grapple with, asking some great exploratory questions:
Being in control or out of control
Do you always feel in control or out, or do you sometimes purposely take control more actively with a particular project, genre or kind of writing?
Thinking or not thinking
Can you choose not to think (in the usual sense of the word) or is it a shift that you learn to allow to happen?
Asserting one’s will or waiting for inspiration
What is your personal pattern of feeling inspired? Does it happen more often the more regularly you sit down to write? Does it sometimes happen when you’re totally involved in something else, that you get a sudden inspiration and feel the urge to write immediately? What happens if you don’t?
Perry also discusses an important barrier to experiencing flow and enjoyment/productivity in our creative work. She asserts if writers are worrying too much about how their work will be received when they sit down to write, free flow of ideas will be inhibited and it will be nearly impossible to enter a flow state.
I know this chokes me big-time. She suggests we conjure up the most benevolent, accepting reader we can imagine and pretend to write for them, if what we are working on is meant for publication.
So how can we find our own personal formula for creative success, some balance among these opposites?
I long to be more out of control and let myself free fall, but I find it very hard (most days impossible) to allow myself to relax into it. I’m well-read on the suggested methods and routines to try (especially after reviewing Perry’s book again recently!) but I can’t seem to get over my habit of over thinking and wearing out those blasted delete and backspace keys!
The less you fear losing control (in the sense of letting go of your workaday self to move into an alternate reality), and the more you’re willing to explore anything without prior rejection, which is a form of looseness and boundary-hopping, the greater your possibility of enjoying the unself-consciousness of flow. – from Susan Perry’s book
I wanted to write this post to examine the possibility of finding the best of both states: where one can feel reassured and somewhat in control of the process, not completely swept away, but at the same time be in the adventure and really have a great time with quality results to show for it.
Maybe we shouldn’t be looking for the security of a hard-and-fast rule or method though, as efficient as it would be.
Maybe the magic is living the creative paradox to keep us excited and interested, like when we marvel how someone we love and know so well can still surprise us every once in a while.
By showing up – happy, mad, sad, or glad – and being ready and willing to spend the time, we’ll be intermittently reinforced for doing so, and be motivated to keep at it.
I think it’s a matter of accepting and allowing ourselves to have different experiences each time we come to the page, or canvas or pick up our musical instrument.
Perhaps sometimes we’ll be writing in a more cerebral or ordered way and other times voluntarily allowing ourselves to fall down the rabbit hole and simply record what we experience, and even further, become part of the experience so deeply that we are barely aware we’re writing.
Whatever our experience, we can derive great satisfaction knowing we’re honoring our commitment to our art in good faith. Willing and open to trust the process yet another day.
What do you think? What ways do you as an artist find balance among the paradoxical states in order to create in flow?
Carole Jane Treggett is a writer, photographer, and new media producer. She decided to resume her young adult ambition of becoming a creative professional just a few years ago, having worked over 25 years in social services and education. She blogs about inspiring people to reclaim, rejoin and rejuvenate their artistic birthright and go forward to make their creative dreams and life ambition come true. You can follow her on Twitter @cjtreggett or visit her website.