Susan Perry, PhD

interview by Douglas Eby

Susan K. Perry, PhD, is a social psychologist, teacher and author of the book "Writing In Flow" - which is based on her work in flow psychology and includes interviews with dozens of writers. 

Referring to a comment that her book "helps writers negotiate that vital movement from 'busy mind' to 'no mind' where they can write with authenticity and real power," Dr. Perry clarifies that it's more a move to "some other place.

"I don't believe that when you get into a creative place, you're giving up thinking," she says. "You're super-thinking -- better and with more parts of your mind than you do normally." 

But, she adds, there is a 'busy mind' aspect which "means you're fragmented, you're unfocused, distracted, too many things on your mind. You want to get to a place which is both loose, relaxed, and focused.

"What I found in my studies of flow are that two things you need to do to get to this place where time stops and you can be most creative, are to loosen up, and focus in. It's a paradox, obviously, to be loose and focused at the same time. And they overlap, and one may come before the other. 

"In my book, I do have loosening up before focusing in. It seems that's a necessity. One of the quotes I have from Mark Strand, former Poet Laureate, said something like, 'In order to enter the flow, I need to first extricate myself from the trickle of everyday events.'

"The 'trickle' is the 'Chinese water torture' (if that's politically correct) where 'trickle, trickle, drip, drip' -- the multiple in boxes and the calendars and the planning charts. And it is necessary to learn how to let go of the many in order to focus on one thing. In order to be creative in one area, one needs to learn to focus on that area, and put everything else aside, and that's very, very difficult. 

"What I realized recently in my workshops, and looking at myself, is that we choose not to get into flow, which means we aren't able to access our deepest creativity. We choose not to because, perhaps, it's more stimulating to be surrounded by overflowing in-boxes.

"Yesterday I sent out queries to some online sites; why? I mean, I have some major projects I want to get to. Why am I avoiding concentrating on the things I say are most important to me? 

"There are people in business who would like to write or do something creative, or start their own business, or something beyond what they're doing: Why don't they get to it? They're being pulled by the everyday, by the immediate, and not stopping, thinking, planning, to get to the more long-range -- and ultimately more gratifying, work. 

"It takes effort to get there. It takes a choice. Okay, I'll give up some of this stuff that's immediately a buzz, to get to the very quiet place. It's not meditating. I don't meditate, and I don't even want to.

"But it's a good way to help relax, and for some people to get to that loose place. Then, when they get out of meditation, they can go on to the next step, equally vital, which is to focus in on the particular thing they want to be creative around." 

One of the writers Perry interviewed chose a new CD for each novel she wrote.

"A few people told me things like that" Perry remarks. "They'll choose particular music for a particular project, and by putting that music on, they put themselves into -- it's not hypnotic exactly, but into where their brain gets used to moving from hearing that music, to working on that particular project. That's the purpose of many of the rituals that creative people use. They're not just superstitious fetishes: 'I have to this particular pen.' They serve a very real purpose in both loosening and focusing. 

"You sit down in your accustomed place, you have your accustomed tool, you have your accustomed environment around you -- for some people it might be a bulletin board with postcards that put them in a creative mood.

"Maybe they have their favorite cup of coffee, and it might be a favorite cup: just everything familiar and expected, then you don't have to say, 'Should I do this, should I not do this?' It puts that aside. The decision has been made by using these behavioral methods to accustom yourself, to get yourself where you do your best thinking." 

Perry notes that the process for enhancing creative expression she has been researching and using is essentially the same, whether used by poets and novelists, nonfiction writers, or others. 

Referring to the work of psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly (pronounced "ME-high CHICK-sent-me-high-ee"), she notes "He came up with term 'flow' or decided to use the term, and wrote a book called 'Creativity.'

"You don't have to be a writer to go through a similar process. There are certain things that are a little different about writing. You need to give yourself feedback, for example. 

"But he talked to scientists and all kinds of creative people. The concept of flow, and the steps you need in order to enter that place of higher creativity are similar across domains." 

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 Personal site of Susan Perry, PhD

Related audio interview podcast: Susan K. Perry, Ph.D. on writing.

Related article: Creativity and Flow Psychology by Douglas Eby 

Books:

Mihaly Csikszentmihaly. Creativity : Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention

Susan K. Perry. Writing in Flow : "Creative individuals - painters, sculptors, physicists, musicians ... have left many accounts of what goes on in consciousness during the creative process. But writers have the advantage of being able to describe this process in their own medium, in words. This brings their accounts to reflect much closer the actual mental process, so that in reading some of the excerpts Perry quotes one can almost imagine oneself being in the place of the person writing." [From Foreword by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi]

Elaine St. James. Living the Simple Life : A Guide to Scaling Down & Enjoying More

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   T This is a publication of Talent Development Resources 

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