Creatives have different names for it. Some call it “The Zone” some “The Sweet Spot,” and still others “The Grind.” For the sake of this conversation we’re going to call it The Flow. It’s something that you know when you feel it. It’s you when you’re working at your complete and total best, when your cylinders are working at maximum capacity. You’re in the right brain space, you’re really seeing what needs to happen, and you’re doing it!
Achieving the art of being in The Flow can be downright frustrating. It’s something that you can’t quite learn by thinking about it. Like most other things, you learn it by doing it. In order to do that, you need to sit there and work on your craft, grinding away on your art until being in flow happens to you again and again and you master it completely.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Outliers he writes that in order to become a very highly skilled competitor in an extremely fast paced industry, you need to have 10,000 hours of experience. That’s 10,000 hours of mistakes and failures and learning from your missteps. Hence, getting good at anything worthwhile takes time. Nevertheless, once we start to really focus and prioritize our creative work, the payoffs can start to happen quickly. Furthermore, any and all creative activity that’s in line with our purpose works to dispel insecurities around our craft, making us stronger and better able to silence or greatly reduce negative, counterproductive thoughts.
When it comes to achieving flow, many creators have learned to hack themselves, using tricks and Pavlovian responses to help get into the beneficial mind state. The artist David Mack uses coffee. How, you say? Well, it’s quite simple. He doesn’t drink coffee at any point in his life except when he has to sit down and draw. That way, when his body experiences caffeine it knows that it’s time to draw. It’s time to create. After years and years of this habit it becomes a simple part of life. The taste of coffee means work.
Other creators do prep work. They get their body in a specific state and then sit down to do the work. Quite a few people use exercise to remove their body from the equation. Case in point, the musician Andrew Bird takes long bike rides. He finds that the physical act of movement and exercise frees his mind up to think about music and lyrics and create a mental map of sorts. When Bird gets back from his bike ride he’s completely primed and ready to take an honest stab at working with a plan laid out ahead of him. Once he’s gotten that overactive body dealt with, his mind is free to engage without impediment.
Another way of finding flow is to do copious amounts of preparation. The Wachowski Sisters are widely known for storyboarding their whole films. As in, they sit in a room with Steve Skroce, the storyboard artist, and walk through the whole movie beat by beat. They place camera angles, think of new sequences, and massage dialogue as they storyboard. They’re making the movie before they make the movie, ostensibly.
Finding your way into a steady and healthy working space can be difficult. But the thing that separates the pros from the armatures is simply this: their schedule. Do you have a schedule that you adhere to? Do you have a set number of hours per day that you work with for creating? Do you dedicate your free time to watching football or TV shows? Or, are you actually spending hours making your art? These are all important questions to ask yourself. If you’re really serious about being a working professional then you need to do the work, even if no one is paying you. Even if you’re just making the work for yourself, you need to treat it seriously. Take yourself seriously and spend the time it takes to prove that to yourself on a subconcious level. The more time you spend actively creating, the less stops you’ll experience. Over time, you will have something the pros have, the ability to enter the vortex and create with little distraction or notice of anything else that’s going on around them. Find the flow. It’s waiting.