Many creativity guides out there will suggest that the ultimate experience of creativity is something called “flow.” Basically, it is a state of total concentration and free expression, full of joy and without anxiety or doubt. To some, it feels as if the product is creating itself—flowing out of some place in your subconscious. It is the goal of most artists to reach this state at some point in their process.
Then, for me at least, there is the opposite: the void. Where I wish to create something, but all I can see is a blank. I may know the parameters of what I want to create (a character, a plot point, a plot at all), but when I try and create it… nothing. Forcing myself through that void space may be part of the artistic process, part of the craft—but it feels wrong. It feels like I’m not doing something right.
Ultimately, I think every artist and every project goes through states of flow and states of void. Various techniques and prompts exist out there to help challenge the void into giving us something new.
But what concerns me today is how these processes affect the beginning and development of a project—the very formation of the idea for a project.
I have said many times that I believe the best way to write is to find what you love, what you would most want to read, etc. Many writing books say the same; the book Write Your Novel in a Month by Jeff Gerke opens with the direction to list the top ten qualities that your perfect book would contain, and then find a way to incorporate as many as possible into your project. It wants you to find the idea that “fires your creative juices.”
That “fire” of “creative juices” must be something like flow—almost without control, your mind takes off, fascinated by the idea and drawn to it again and again. You can’t help yourself. You’re in love.
But what if nothing does that? Or what if the “wrong” thing does that?
For me personally, I’ve been struggling with that very notion. When I think about my “perfect” book, looking at the books I love best and the elements within those books that I love the most, I end up with a vague set of parameters for what would probably make the perfect book for me. And then I try to think of a specific story to fit those parameters and… void.
But then some other idea, something outside of that list of parameters, sets something alight in my brain and I find the flow. Images, characters, settings, dialogue even—come to me like daydreams. Plot points, inciting incident, motivation—easier to find. I still hit moments of a void, or things I’m not sure about, but it’s the closest thing to flow I’ve felt in some time.
And yet when I step back and look at the idea forming, at the book it could potentially be, I’m not sure I would like it, let alone love it. I don’t think I would hate it, and with so much development left to go, it will surely grow in ways that might make it fall more in line with my personal preferences. But from the initial spark? It doesn’t seem like something I would love.
So what do I do? Follow the flow to something I don’t necessarily want? Or force myself through the void to something I do want… but clearly my subconscious doesn’t? How do you know what you really want to write?
For me, at least, I don’t know. For a while now I’ve been buffeted about by the constantly shifting winds of the fickle muse, and I can’t seem to pin her down in one place for too long. I need to develop the will power and discipline to find some consistency and commitment, or I’ll never finish anything.
But right at this moment, I’m going to go with the flow. And see where it takes me.