Every writer I know writes in part because they’ve experienced the glory of the creative flow – when your imagination flies through endless possibilities, your wisdom focuses your attention and gives you unexpected maybe even undeserved insights, you can see, hear and feel exactly what you want to write, and your fingers can barely keep up with the words that arrive effortlessly.
Every writer yearns for more flow experiences. Some wait for flow to inspire them, and they spend more time waiting than writing. Those of us who persist as writers learn how to work from the memory of flow until we are blessed again.
Creative flow is both appealing and illusive because it is the rare state of consciousness where we can access both our intellect and our imagination. In a world of limited either-or, the creative flow is delightfully and powerfully both-and.
Make no mistake, a major piece of writing must come from both our logical, linear, analytical thinking (aka left hemisphere) and our alogical, spontaneous, metaphorical imagination (aka right hemisphere). Your intellect alone can’t discover truly innovative solutions and your imagination alone can’t manifest what it envisions.
When we’re lucky, we’re able to balance the cognitive activity of both hemispheres to enter the creative flow. (I call it cognitive activity because the left hemisphere, typically dominant and far more impressed with its own functions, is unwilling to dignify whatever the hell it is the right hemisphere does with the label ‘thinking’.)
Much of the time, we have to alternate between thinking and imagining. (In chapter 4 of Around the Writer’s Block, I describe six stages in the creative process and which stages rely on which cognitive activity. We also review this in my Writing Habit classes at the Loft Literary Center.)
But we can learn to shift our consciousness into more flow-like, both-right-and-left-hemisphere states. We can learn to enter and sustain the flow, aka writer’s trance. But to do that, we have to surrender our preferences.
Each of us has a preference. We happily define ourselves as dreamers or we proudly proclaim our thinking and organizing skills. It’s important to know our preferences and honor our strengths, but if we’re not careful, we can minimize the value of the other kind of cognitive activity, which makes it more difficult to move into the creative flow.
If we’re ‘pantsers’ or use what I call the Draft-and-Discover approach, we dismiss outlines and structure as unimaginative and emphasize how over-planning limits possibilities and kills creativity. We take inordinate pride in our ability to go with the flow, wander courageously in the wilderness of uncertainty and see what happens.
On the other hand, if we’re ‘plotters’ who rely on the Outline-and-Order approach, we dismiss dreaming as undisciplined and emphasize how haphazard, unproductive and unreliable unfettered imagination is. We take inordinate pride in our ability to finalize the structure, to know where we are going, how we will get there and have map and compass in hand before starting the journey.
Pantsers need to learn the discipline of planning, analyzing and organizing. Plotters need to learn to risk uncertainty and spontaneity. You can do your non-preferred cognitive activity as drudgery. Or you can embrace it as a doorway to creative flow. The first step is to give full respect and appreciation to the “other”.
This is what we’ll strive to do in my 6-week Revisiting the Flow class at the Loft (starting April 14, 2016). I’ll keep you posted on some of the exercises and tools we’ll use and the insights my students share with me.