Monday, December 10, 2007

Design Guy, Episode 15, Flow vs. Edit

Download Episode 15

Flow vs. Edit

Design guy here, welcome to the show. This is the program that explores timeless principles of design and explains them simply. If you're just joining us, our motto here is "Principles First." Or to quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, "If you learn only methods, you'll be tied to your methods. But if you learn principles, you can devise your own methods." Which is why we don't spend time on specific software tips or methods. Now, there are excellent shows that cover those things, and, of course, we all need to keep up our technical knowledge up to date, but it's out of scope for this program, where are goal is to offer information that doesn't change. And that's why we emphasize the timeless principles - because can safely commit them to long term memory.

Now, we're in the midst of a series on creativity, with the most recent shows focusing on the creative mind. In the last show, we introduced the subject of left brain / right brain theory. And while scientists today have a more nuanced understanding of all of this than was popularly presented in the past, the model still stands as a good metaphor for the mental dynamics we experience in our creativity. We also pointed out some similarities to Freud's teaching about the id, ego, and superego.(1) And we melded it all together to say that there's a side of us that acts like an inner critic or adult. We can liken this to Freud's ego and superego, and we can also liken it to the logical left hemishphere. This is the analytical part of us that complements and sometimes conflicts with the creative side of us, or the inner child, as represented by the right side of the brain, or the unconscious id. I'm mixing up these overlapping theories a bit to reinforce the point that these dynamics really exist. Which is that we need to recognize that there's a left and right brain dynamic, a rational and emotional side, logic and feelings, intellect and intuition. And in the case of creativity, they've go to be coordinated rather than conflicted.

So, we said that we've got a part of us that want to run with reckless abandon and create - that inner wild child or right side of the brain. The part of us that can be very productive. And we said that we ought to just allow it to do so, as much as we can. We may generate a lot of crazy stuff that we'll need to rein in later, but at least we're laying down a lot of raw material. We're starting to manifest the raw material that our unconsious mind has been working on. And by laying it down in a frenzied rush, we're quickly giving ourselves physical material to play with and shape and structure.

Writers tend to think of this process as two modes of production. The first mode, which we've just described is called "Flow." And, like the word suggests, we allow our ideas to spill out of us for a while, so that we can get a complete, if imperfect, set of thoughts down. If we're designers, we'll be playing with type and color or other elements, until things start to take shape. If we're writers, we making a mad dash to the end of our first version of a manuscript. And since, we're unleashing that inner, crazy child, we know up front that we're going to throw down a lot of material, only to throw it out later. But, as I mentioned a couple of episodes ago in a somewhat different context, this is when we should be thinking quantity first, not quality. We've got to fill the bucket before we can skim off the cream. There will be time later to subject this material to critical thought and fix it, but for now, we can allow ourselves to let it flow, without any concern to who is going to see this hodge podge we're creating.

And this bring us to our second mode, which is "Edit". The part of us that wants to nitpick and criticize, and immediately set to fixing things is that logical, rational, analytical part of us, which we associate with the left brain. This is that super-ego, or finger wagging inner adult. This is what writers tend to think of as the inner critic or Editor. The key to productivity is knowing when to gag this inner critic. When to tell him to shut up. When to ignore him or put duct tape on his mouth or lock him up in the closet. If we can allow ourselves to be in "Flow" mode until we get a version of whatever we're working on down, then we'll supply ourselves with plenty of fodder for that inner critic to work with later. And we need this inner critic. We want to have polished work. We want to subject our early drafts to scrutiny. We want to revise our work in light of all of the design principles that we've taken the trouble to learnn about. But we need to suspend that "Edit" mode in order to get something down on the page first. Otherwise, we'll be afraid to make a move, we'll be paralyzed by the voice of that inner critic.

Now, the separation between these modes will tend to characterize your personal work habits or style of production. If you can discipline yourself to tear off a crazy first version before going in to edit mode, you may tend to finish faster. If you revert between flow and edit very rapidly, you'll tend to go slower. The writer, Dean Koontz,(2) admits to being one of those writers who has to perfect one sentence, one paragraph, one page at a time, before moving on to the next. He doesn't revisit those pages much, because he's done. He's flowed and edited almost simultaneously. They're not really distinct and separate modes to someone like this. Other writers and creatives tend to be able to get that wild, unruly draft down without a lot of interruption from the inner critic, and then fix it in later passes. In my own experience, I find that my habits change depending on the nature of the project and mood. But I do find it helpful to be aware of this left brain / right brain model, this flow and edit model, because I can remind myself to work a little less inhibited for a while, knowing I can fix it later. And with this awareness of flow versus edit in mind, I hope you'll be helped also, as you strategically muzzle your inner critic and let the ideas flow.

Well that'll do for today. As usual, I'll have show notes at my webpage, which is located at Music is by I thank you again for tuning in, and hope to have back next time.




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