“A composer of music, for instance, may know that he wishes to write a song, or a flute concerto, but other than that, his goals are usually quite vague. And how does he know whether the notes he is writing down are “right” or “wrong”? The same situation holds true for the artist painting a picture, and for all activities that are creative or open-ended in nature. But these are all exceptions that prove the rule: unless a person learns to set goals and to recognize and gauge feedback in such activities, she will not enjoy them.”
“(FLOW occurs when eight conditions are met, one of which…) occurs when we confront tasks we have the chance of completing. The task undertaken has clear goals and provides immediate feedback…. In some creative activities, where goals are not clearly set in advance, a person must develop a *strong personal sense of what she intends to do.* (emphasis added) The artist might not have a visual image of what the finished painting should look like, but when the picture has progressed to a certain point, she should know whether this is what she wanted to achieve or not. And a painter who enjoys painting must have internalized criteria for “good” or “bad” so that after each brush stroke she can say: “Yes, this works; no, this doesn’t.” Without such internal guidelines, it is impossible to experience flow.” – FLOW by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
THIS struck me hard last night, while I was reading with my kids – because I understand (and personally experience) flow-state nearly every day, but I hadn’t connected it to the need for artists/writers to develop an internal sense of direction about their work. This “personal objectivity” about one’s creative work (an inherently subjective matter) is a key skill to develop in reaping the full benefit (ie flow-state enjoyment) of the work itself. It’s not merely turning off your internal editor, but harnessing it in a non-destructive way, so that, as you battle through the act of creation, you have a sense of whether you’re advancing toward your creative vision of the completed work – the goal YOU have devised. This is why I keep my own counsel as to whether a work is “finished” or not.
Seeking external validation literally destroys your FLOW.
Many times, I feel like I just “luck into” doing things in a way that works, provides enjoyment, or simply is the best way to move forward. In reality, I think I’ve had many positive influences over my life that lead me naturally to seek out a greater understanding of myself and the world. I remember very clearly being ten years old and deciding I would live a life of no regrets. What regrets could a ten year old possibly have? I have no idea. But I already knew that a life well-lived meant knowing myself (in order to identify the regrets) and taking chances (to ensure they didn’t happen).
Embracing my creative work has been (and continues to be) the pinnacle of that ethos for me. I write posts like this in hopes that all my friends will find their own peaks of creative fulfillment.
MORE about being objective about your work HERE.