The Power of Flow


In the Fall of 2016, I took one of my favorite college courses. It was called Composition Theory for Teachers, and we basically just talked about writing. How to teach writing, mostly, but also best practices for getting writing out of students that’s deeper and more involved. We tried to get ourselves into the mindset of young students or struggling writers, and even the best writers among us were left with an understanding of the reality of what it’s like to be a young writer. We’ve learned so much through experience that it’s hard to put ourselves back in the shoes of a writing-toddler.

We had a ton of discussion which often derailed multiple times. There were arguments and high-fives and critique circles. I made a reference to D&D and how it pertained to teaching writing and the teacher asked me to write my paper on that. I didn’t, ultimately, because I had another idea in mind, but I definitely slipped in a D&D reference. Got an A in the class so it must have been pretty good.

I also learned of something called “flow state.” I might have heard of it before, and I’d definitely experienced it before, but this was one of those mind-blowing experiences.

The teacher introduced this by asking us if we’d ever had an experience where we got lost in a project and totally lost track of time.

Well, just the weekend before, I had created this mock-up of a book cover for my NaNoWriMo 2016 project:

I spent hours on this image in photoshop. I used an actual human face for the model and then started adding shapes and deleting edges until I had what I wanted. I know it doesn’t look like it really took that much effort, but you have no idea.

And the eagle-eyed observer would recognize that I used the same technique for my site logo.

Sadly, that story never came to fruition. It’s still on the backburner and I’m excited to write it, but I didn’t like the plan I made for it at the time.

One of the greatest things that happened from it, though, were the comments from friends who thought I’d paid to have someone make this for me. At first I was insulted, like, “What, you think I’m not capable of making this?” Then I realized that it was actually a huge compliment. I’d made something of quality, something someone would pay for.

It’s all because I focused on it completely.

The thing about flow state is you have to completely turn off all criticism going through your mind. It’s that pesky “inner editor” getting in the way of flow state. And when you can turn that off, you end up working at a breakneck pace, not stopping to think about much, not searching for a word or phrasing, not hitting backspace every other word.

You focus on the task at hand, and nothing else matters.

This is how I like to write. I start with a plan, of course, but from there, I can just go and go without worrying about how pretty the words sound. Editing comes later.

I’ve learned a lot about this from drawing, especially. See I’ve always wanted to know how to draw. When I was in the fourth grade, I saw a classmate’s drawing of a fighter jet and was absolutely floored. I tried doodling after that and after a couple of fumbling attempts, I gave up.

Then, nearly twenty years later, I decided to learn how to draw. I did some research first and learned there’s so much more to it, about learning how to see things objectively and yadda yadda this post isn’t about that. Point is, I learned that it’s not as hard as it seems at first. You just have to finish the picture…

Flash forward to when I had another idea for a book cover. I still wasn’t that great at drawing, but I knew from experience that I just had to keep going, to persevere, to erase a line or two here and there.

The idea was to draw one of the “characters” (that’s a problematic term for this guy, but I’m not going to go into why here) leaning against a tree. The tree is a somewhat important part of the story, but eventually I had to scrap it from the drawing.

I took a picture of myself in the pose I wanted, drew the skeleton, then set to work. Eventually, like four hours later, I had this:

 

And this, with a little photoshop magic, turned into the final mock-up for the cover image, which I’m revealing for the first time here:

I don’t know if it will end up being used—probably depends on if I go self-pub or traditional—but I’m really happy with it. Even sat on it for a couple months without looking at it so I could look at it with a fresh eye to make sure it still looked good. And I think it does.

So do not despair if what you’re doing doesn’t seem good enough. If you’re new at a craft, you’re always going to be fumbling with your first efforts. It might have taken me hours to come up with these images, but it would take a pro probably just an hour, if that. It’s all about practice, and not giving up, and focusing on what it is you want to accomplish.


Photo by kazuend on Unsplash


About David Shank

David T. Shank is a writer, runner, and musician, in that order. His blog is hopefully an oasis among the vast ocean of negativity that is the Internet. He lives in Cleveland studying how to write good.

Got something to say? Say it!