A few thoughts on creative flow

It starts with experiences and your senses. The consumption of many things in a short amount of time. After-all: It’s the ideas and feelings and flavors of life that you consume which will influence what you create, as no idea comes from nothingness.

Once you’ve consumed enough to give spark to a lot of varied ideas, you have to utilize what Freud once referred to as your primary thinking process. Primary process is subconscious, the thinking in your brain that deals with symbolism and condensed thoughts. It’s the part of the brain that isn’t concerned with solving math problems, making coffee, or driving to the grocery store. No heavy thinking, just quickly bouncing around thought after thought (preferably written down at this stage).

The best way to access the primary process is to do what Edward de Bono refers to as “creative pause.” Do something mundane or routine, where the second process type of thinking (the logical process) can take a break and the primary process can utilize more of your thinking capacity than it typically does. Don’t analyze every thought that comes to your mind, just get it down on paper or recorded somehow.

Next, after you’ve got the rough ideas outlined somewhere, you can start using your secondary process. Look at the list of ideas and break them down, ask questions like “what would this look like in five years?” or “how could I make this a reality in less than an hour?”

Write down your answers, don’t just think about them. Things written down (or drawn out, or recorded on your phone) are fairly more tangible than an idea (which you can’t feel or touch or see or otherwise mess with in any practical way).

Now the hard part: create. Creation starts with primary process thinking as well, you want to quickly create something without having to analyze it. Perfection comes later in the game, at this stage you just have to get something out that you can add to or edit or chop up or (in some cases) throw away.

If you can’t explore your ideas in a way representative of their final form, there’s no way to determine whether they’re worthwhile or not. Postpone judgement until you’ve gotten down and dirty.

Ok, now that you’ve created something that you can actually interact with (by seeing, smelling, touching, tasting, or hearing it), then it’s time to switch back into critical mode. What are the parts that don’t work? What can be improved? Is the rough result anything like you imagined, or is it better/worse? What could you do to improve it? Whatever your answers are, either trash the concept or start improving until satisfied. Repeat.

Writers have to quickly jot down ideas for their novel one page at a time, without overly thinking what it is they’re writing. Editing always comes later (but it does come).

The painter who hesitates to make a stroke on the canvas will never make a masterpiece, they have to start and stop and do it all over to create anything worthwhile.

Inventors have to quickly run through possibilities before getting their hands dirty, as do designers and educators and leaders.

The creative process involves a lot of back and forth: creating and evaluating. You can’t do both at the same time to come up with anything worthwhile though. And you can’t truly be creative without both either. It’s finding out where creating and evaluating fit into your process that can get you on the right track.

Photo by Studio Roosegaarde.