How to Get Into Creative Flow
In my previous post I looked at how taking small steps and setting our goals to do-able levels can help us maintain our resolve, and get us past the end of January with our creative resolutions.
This time I wanted to explore how we can get ourselves into ‘flow’ quickly. This means that even if we only have short periods to create in, we can lose ourselves in that moment and still experience a good flow feeling. You will probably surprise yourself with what you can do in short periods of time.
The aim is that we create more but that we don’t need to ‘carve out chunks of time’ (or one of those other irritating phrases the get bandied about but no-one really explains). Instead we can use the gaps we already have, and yes expand them a bit if we can, but even if that is not possible, we can still use what we have to START the process of getting more creativity into our days.
So, say you are waiting at the bus stop, or on the bus, you could be drawing, or writing, or at least coming up with ideas to jot down. But do you? Or do you read the free paper, or scroll through Facebook, or worry about something that you can’t actually do anything about at that moment in time? You could be using that time in lots of productive ways, reading, planning, whatever, but why not use it to create? People say that they can’t, that they feel self conscious writing or drawing, or that they can’t concentrate in public with other people around or knowing that they have a short period of time, that they get distracted.
So, the solution to this is to look at the issues that stop you doing it, wherever it is. I’m using public transport as an example as most people who don’t have enough creative time have a job that they have to go to. If you drive to work, then you don’t have the same options, but perhaps you could be recording yourself talking out loud as you ponder ideas, or you could be listening to a creative podcast for inspiration and too keep you in the frame of mind.
But, back to the people that do have the time/place to do it, but block themselves.
5 ways to get into flow/shut out the world
1. Music – earphones and music that you know works for you. Ideally you have some kind of music that you already like to listen to, take it with you and train yourself to hear the music and feel in flow wherever you are. Streaming services like Spotify and Amazon music have playlists set up for genres or moods. I use a couple of Spotify ones that are for concentration or relaxing which work for me. And once you have used them a few times of course, it becomes that trigger. Or some times its not music while you work but a ‘power’ song that gets you started. Having music on also blocks out the distraction of other people and noise around you. There are also apps that can just block out sound with. I’ve listed some useful resources below. Sometimes I have put my headphones on, but forgotten to play the music, and I’ve still had the same ‘flow’ experience, so the headphones themselves are obviously part of my triggers.
2. Have a mantra or word that you can say to yourself, or write down that trigger to get your head into your creative zone. When I was doing Nanowrimo, some days I would sit at the computer and just be blank headed, nothing came to me at all, all my plot ideas seemed stupid and I could barely lift my hands to get them on the keyboard. I found that writing, ‘Sam Sam Sam’ (the name of the main character in the book) just seemed to get me going. I would ‘see’ Sam where I left him and be able to continue his story.
3. Coffee or food/drink of choice. Some people just can’t work without a coffee, other need their chai latte, or their green juice. Whatever works for you. Again, its not the what, it’s the trigger in your head. If you have managed a regular hour of writing every week, and in that hour you always had a coffee and a muffin, well having a coffee (and maybe the muffin), will be a link in your brain to being creative. You have to play around and see what works for you, your trigger is unique to you.
4. Timer. If you are concerned about time, as in you might miss your bus when it comes or your stop. Or you’re worried that you will be late back to work if you are doing the creative thing in your lunch break. Then you can set a timer on your phone or watch to stop you in plenty of time. Having a set time is actually a great way to focus your head and get into flow. eg Pomodoro type timers
5. Small Steps Keep those goals small. You have a set period of time that you are trying to make good use of, even if it is just a few minutes. So don’t let the gremlin start whispering about there being no point because your actual intention is to write a novel. Your goal for the session is just whatever you know you can easily do in that period. How many words can you write in 20 minutes? (if that is how long you have before you need to get ready to get off the train/bus). That’s your goal, even if it is 50 words! That is still 50 words more than you had (and you can write more than 50 words in 20 minutes!). Surprise yourself, and that inner gremlin, by setting small goals, and meeting them, then you can build them up if that seems realistic.
Small goals + small steps = big results.
Other things to think about –
Planning ahead so that you have the things you need to hand. If you get on the bus/train and then have to dig for your notebook, pen, tablet, earphones, all while balancing your coffee and having your travel pass ready. That’s not going to be a good start. So, make sure everything is easily to hand in your bag or pockets.
Maybe you don’t have any time, you have a 5 minute bus ride or you never get a seat so can’t possibly write on your form of transport, or other reasons that this scenario just doesn’t work for you. OK, but when can you fit it in? When do you have free time that you currently don’t even notice, or haven’t thought of using? Use these techniques wherever you can to get your head in creative mode and train it to get into flow quicker, so that you can make use of even small pockets of time.
You don’t have to work on your ‘creative thing’. Even just jotting ideas, using a prompt to write or sketch for 5 minutes, stopping to take a photo on your walk to work, or doodling ideas while you wait for the kettle to boil. Wherever you can fit in a wee bit of creativity, makes it easier to access the creative part of your brain whenever you want to and get yourself into creative flow quicker. It’s all about keeping that flow ready to go with it’s engine turning over, rather than having to cold start it on a frosty morning. Then when you DO get a chance, it’s that bit easier to re-trigger your creativity.
Resources to help boost creative flow
Apps that help you block distractions – Concentrate (Mac), Freedom (Mac) and Focus Booster (Mac and PC), there are many more but these are a good place to start. There are also timers such as Be Focused which don’t block anything but set a timer for you to work in, and then take a break. It’s important to take breaks too – something I will be looking at in future blogs.
Apps that block out sound – Sound Curtain (Apple) White Noise (Android) – these are for mobiles, and they create ambient sounds. There is also Noizio for Mac which creates a variety of soothing background sounds.
Music to help you concentrate – Then there are the streaming services such as Spotify which have their own playlists for concentration.