Flow State: Release the Kraken Within You
By Wulf Moon
Have you ever engaged in a writing session where a wonderful feeling came over you, a near out of body experience where you felt you were creating at a level beyond your wildest imagination? Where all the puzzle pieces clicked into place, and time slipped away as your mind expanded into a hyper dimension of skill and productivity?
Congratulations! You were in Flow state! 
Greek artists, poets, and actors knew this state, and believed it came from being blessed by their goddesses. Michael Jordan attributed his best playing to this state, and called it being “in the zone.” But it was a modern psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (CHICK-sent-me-high-ee, yeah I had to look that pronunciation up), that did intensive studies on this psychological phenomenon, and dubbed it “Flow state” in 1975. 
Why is understanding and channeling flow state so important for us as writers? Just look at how Csikszentmihalyi defined it in a Wired magazine interview: 
He said it’s “Being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the utmost.
New York Times bestselling author Steven Kotler described it this way in The Rise of Superman: “Flow is an optimal state of consciousness, a peak state where we both feel our best and perform our best. It is a transformation available to anyone, anywhere, provided that certain initial conditions are met.”
Writing at a professional level is one of the most difficult acts a creative can undertake. How is it some writers can produce massive output that hits bestseller lists year after year, while other writers plod along, rewriting and rewriting, hoping one day they’ll finish a story that might someday be read? The secret? The Super Secret? Professional writers know it well, and know how to tap into it. 
It’s called Flow
What do you think? Would it help you while writing to:
Operate at your optimal performance level?
To know that what you need to do is possible to do?
To feel so much joy in the act of writing, there is no drudgery, but instead a euphoric feeling of skill and accomplishment?
Instead of rowing your boat to shore with back-breaking effort, what if you could stretch your sails and effortlessly ride the wind?
That’s what hitting flow state in your writing sessions will do for you. 
It’s a powerful kraken sleeping within you that can act as your ally to help you slay the task at hand, like writing that brilliant short story, like completing your heartfelt novel, like winning that international contest that will take your career to new heights. 
Worth it? You bet! So let’s discover how to release this powerful kraken within you. Trust me, this is my best Super Secret yet! In this article, we’ll examine the following:
1. The psychology of flow state. The kraken is real— it’s been fossilized in man’s history!
2. What causes flow state to occur so that we might get a handle on the beast!
3. We’ll learn how to trigger flow by awakening our kraken up from the sleeping depths, and provide a kraken-friendly environment to entice it to do our will.
Finally, a word of warning. Some get so good at these techniques, their kraken literally materializes in the room. I don’t carry insurance for such incidents, so if you attempt to follow these guidelines meant to release your kraken, you are hereby agreeing to accept all risks. Savvy? Good. I knew you looked like an intrepid adventurer. Let’s proceed.
The History of Flow State. The Kraken is Real!
Flow state may be a modern term, but the Greeks knew about the concept thousands of years ago. They referred to flow as goddesses that they called the Muses. Each of their creative endeavors had a goddess they beseeched for blessings, and there were nine Olympian muses in total. When ancient Greek authors sought to invoke the Muses when writing epic poems, hymns, or history, they called on the name of their patron Muse to speak through them. 
How do we know this? Sculptures of the Muses survived, so we have it chiseled in stone. There are also invocations at the beginning of Greek works, inviting the Muse to inspire or sing directly through the author. An excellent example of this is in the 1961 translation of Homer’s invocation in The Odyssey: "Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story....” 
This request by ancient writers to have a superhuman power envelope them to help them do their work? Today, modern psychology has revealed this state does not have to be enticed down from the heavens to sing inside us. It’s already within us. We simply have to make it easy for our genie to get out of the bottle. True, some today still refer to this state as “their muse,” but modern positive psychologists have defined it as Flow state, a way to engage our unconscious mind in complete concentration to accomplish a task at optimal proficiency.
The power lies within us. The mighty kraken rests quietly in our unconscious mind. We just have to figure out how to draw it up. And when we figure it out, and get to the level where this kraken will work with us on demand, we’ll have entered a heightened state of performance. The sleeper will awaken
“Wait just a minute, Moon!” you might say. “You mean to tell me I have some super creature buried within me, and I can make it do my work for me? Sounds like superstitious mumbo-jumbo to me!’”
Come now. I’m writing this for DreamForge. I’m sure many of you are speculative fiction writers. We believe in the stuff of dreams. This is not a hard leap. I’m telling you; you have a monster under your bed. A wild super intelligent kraken with all kinds of weird appendages, and when it crawls out, it sprays your room in neon colors, makes aliens tap your window, turns your sheets into drumheads and bangs out primal tempos. I’ll prove it.
You have dreams, right? Your kraken is the producer. I’m betting when you were younger, your kraken hid the password to your school locker, stripped you naked and kept you from knowing it until you walked into class, and then had your teacher and classmates laugh their heads off at your embarrassing mistake. 
I’ll also bet your current productions are more vivid and emotional than any Netflix production. All of this happens every night as we sort through the meaning of the prior day. The kraken? The siren? The muse? That's our unconscious, and it's the most powerful tool a writer has, because it creates the stuff of dreams. It does this every night, without a director, without a production crew, without actors and sound technicians.
Today’s psychologists estimate ninety-five percent of our brain’s activity is unconscious, meaning that the majority of the decisions we make, the actions we take, our emotions and behaviors, depend on brain activity that lies beyond our conscious awareness. 
Guess what? When we’re struggling at the keyboard, trying to force words onto the page, we’re only using at best five percent of our accessible brain!
But what if we could tap into some of that unconscious ninety-five percent? What if we could tease it up regularly, on command?
That, my friends, is what flow state is all about. That, my fellow writers, is our superpower. And when we figure out how to ignite it and can do so day after day, we become Supers.
So What Makes Flow State Occur? 
We return to Hungarian-American positive psychology researcher, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
In the sixties, Csikszentmihalyi watched artists at work and became intrigued by their single-minded focus. He noted their persistence to continue working on a painting in spite of any physical discomfort, tiredness, or hunger. In 1975, he took his research into other fields, conducted tests on the phenomenon, and found patterns across the board in activities people engaged in that activated a state he dubbed Flow
Commonalities of flow included:
1. Challenge of task to participant’s skill ratio. If the task is too easy, it leads to boredom. If it’s beyond one’s skill level, it leads to agitation. The task must challenge the mind and employ one’s full skill set without overwhelming it.
2. Intense focus on one task vs. multitasking.
3. Instant feedback on clearly defined short-term goals.
4. Sense of control.
5. Loss of self-consciousness.
6. Time transformation.
7. Transcendence: out of body experience.
When the proper conditions were met, participants entered a state of optimal performance where they did their best work and felt happy with results. Csikszentmihalyi asserted: “The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times … The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
When in flow, our analytical mind lets go, and our unconscious rises up and takes control. Scientifically, it’s termed transient hypofrontality and refers to a less engaged pre-frontal cortex. Because our pre-frontal cortices step down from higher cognitive processes —including self-reflection, analytical thinking, and other conscious capacities— our other systems can play a bigger role. Effortless information processing ensues, and we enter the high performance of flow state. 
Lay terms? Your brain requires so much operating power to accomplish the task at hand, your kraken silences that analytical part of your cortex that likes to tell you you’re no good at this writing thing and maybe you should go back to being a dog catcher. You are in the moment, operating at peak capacity, and nothing else matters.
Of course, there is a downside to this state. When the kraken is so busy whipping those tentacles around to get the job done, he’ll neglect to tell you it’s time to pick up the kids from school, to pay the credit cards, to go eat something nourishing, to hydrate, even to go to the bathroom. It’s all about the task at hand, operating at full capacity and peak proficiency. 
This can be hard on our bodies, and it can also cause household friction if we neglect real life responsibilities. Eventually, we’re going to have to crate that creative kraken back up for the day, because our conscious state looks out for us and does take care of real-life realities.
Still, the benefits for writers of being extremely productive and feeling great, even euphoric in writing sessions, is not to be underestimated. You don’t have to force the writing. Rather, when you hit flow, your writing will appear to happen automatically. 
Seeing All the Benefits, How Do We Trigger Flow?
Since flow state is the most productive state we can be in, and we do our best work within it, and we are happiest when flow envelopes us, how can we make it come upon us more often? What tricks can we use to trigger our flow state? And what distractions should we avoid to keep our kraken from swimming away? 
I’ve found many ways in over fifty years of writing to create an environment conducive to flow occurring, and even special cues to trigger it. James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, totally gets it. “Every habit is initiated by a cue, and we are more likely to notice cues that stand out. Unfortunately, the environments where we live and work often make it easy not to do certain actions because there is no obvious cue to trigger the behavior. It’s easy not to practice the guitar when it’s tucked away in the closet. It’s easy not to read a book when the bookshelf is in the corner of the guest room. It’s easy not to take your vitamins when they are out of sight in the pantry. When the cues that spark a habit are subtle or hidden, they are easy to ignore.
“By comparison, creating obvious visual cues can draw your attention toward a desired habit.”
We want visual cues that can stir our kraken. Let’s consider some of these.
1. Dedicated writing space. 
This is your dream space. It can't be filled with bills and the phone ringing with collectors of those bills. If you don’t have a writing office, at least put the bills out of sight.
Surround yourself with power totems in that dream space. They can be the obvious awards on the shelves and certificates on the walls, copies of things you've had published, even personal rejections that mean a lot to you. They can be motivational pictures or art— I have a couple of power paintings I've created above my workstation. Fittingly, one is of an eagle in a dive entitled, "Focused." Here, I’ll share it with you.
And for the love of writing, PLEASE SHUT OFF YOUR PHONES AND MESSAGE SYSTEMS! The fastest way to kill a dream is to have the phone ring. You can do this. Forward your calls to a service or silent message recorder. I mean it. Don't even let the answering machine click when it goes on. It will pull you out of dream state in a heartbeat, and then it’s work, work, work to get back into it.
But we’re not done yet. Turn off notifications! As soon as a notice pops up on your computer, or your phone beeps, you’ll leave flow and fight with your cognitive side to go see who it is. Yes, it might be important. But so is your writing. Unless the house is on fire or kids are bleeding or a tsunami is about to strike, deal with it after. 
My final comment on protecting your writing space? Train your friends and family. If you don’t treat your writing time as sacred, nobody else will. 
“Focused” copyright 2005 by Wulf Moon
2. Routine. 
A writing routine is the best friend you've got. Set a time and set achievable word count goals— consistent productivity encourages your flow to show. I know writers that work full time and only have an hour in the evening to write after putting the kids to bed. Whatever it takes. Just make it routine, and the kraken will sense it's time to come out to play.
3. Find your biological peak time (BPT). 
Believe it or not, you have a perfect biological time where you are energized and “running on all eight.” Colloquially, it’s known as brainergy time. It’s the time when your brain works best, when the synapses are doing happy dances to the flamenco. Find your brainergy time. If you're a morning person, write then. If you're a night owl, set up your schedule to write then. Make it easy for your brain to fire, because when that happens, the kraken comes out to dance.
4. Write your million words. 
Whether Bradbury said it, or Pournelle said it, or other writers said it first, everybody knows the more you do something, the better you get at it. And when you get really, really good at something, you cross that elusive threshold from struggling apprentice to master craftsman. Master is where it's at. You’re not pushing against inexperience anymore. Your skills carry you. Write until it becomes effortless. Don’t stop for weeks, months, years, and try to start from a dead stop. Get momentum going. Keep it going. Watch what happens. 
5. Study the craft of writing. 
Yes, you have a kraken within you, bursting with energy. It doesn’t care about writing rules or proper grammar, it just wants to create. But if you study writing craft and story structure until it becomes second nature, you’ll give the kraken a channel to flow through. It won’t stop and ask you, “Hey, buddy. Is where I’m heading okay?” 
Learning solid writing principles gives the creativity a mold to flow through, and that structure embeds on your unconscious. This is how experienced writers can produce a first draft that actually is a finished product. They know the rules by heart, which allows their unconscious to twist them like an artist. Yes, I just twisted a famous line of Picasso’s. Before he developed Cubism, he studied the ancient masters and learned the principles of human form.
6. Research. 
Research requires the cognitive part of the brain. If you awaken your cognitive side, the creative kraken will run away. Do research in a separate session, or it will shut your kraken down. A little dusty on Kepler’s three laws of planetary motion? X marks the spot. Go back to it after your kraken has finished working and sinks back down to the depths.
7. Music. 
Music can put you in the mood, and it’s used in many cultures to put people into a meditative state. But beware— listening to music while writing is multitasking, and as discussed, flow state only overtakes us when we are focused acutely on a single task. If music energizes you, try starting your session with an inspiring song, and then turn it off to write. 
I know, many say writing with background music during their session helps. Who am I to argue? But I’ll recommend listening to music without lyrics. Why? So the cognitive mind doesn’t shove the kraken back down to its depths so it can analyze the words in the song. And I’m not the only professional to recommend this. 
8. Aroma. 
Incense has long been used in religious ceremonies to help induce a meditative state. Realtors love having smells of fresh baked cookies in the kitchen when doing an open house to stir scent memories of hearth and home. And who hasn't walked by a burger joint and caught the scent of broiled meat and not felt sudden hunger pangs? (Sorry, vegans.) 
It's Pavlovian conditioning, and it works for me. I have a couple of bottles of pure essential oils named “Renewal” and “Rejuvenating” that I open and sniff when I start a fiction session. For nonfiction, I sniff newsprint (heh—just joking here, but now that I think of it …). A word of caution: if you use a diffuser, be careful if you have an office cat— it’s hazardous to their lungs.
9. Exercise: Release … the Endorphins! 
Some schedule exercise before their writing sessions, increasing hormones that release feelings of satisfaction and well-being. This gives their flow state a jump start. Or, if you’re Kevin J. Anderson (Saga of Seven Suns, Legends of Dune), you write as you exercise via dictation as you climb a 14k mountain. Whatever works for you.
10. Coffee. 
Caffeine is a stimulant, and many writers have found coffee can help in initiating flow state. I’ve also found Earl Grey tea in the afternoon helps ward off my biorhythm’s siesta time. But many experts say limit your coffee to one cup. A second can make you jittery, and an agitated mind is not conducive to flow.
11. Spouses, Partners, Kids, and Pets. 
We return to our main distractions. Remember when you were a kid, and you had a clubhouse? Okay, maybe that was just the kids in the movies for most of us, but you probably had a bedroom, and you might have made a sign that said KEEP OUT! You may need to make a sign that sends a similar message when you’ve closed your door to write. This is vital. Studies show it can take fifteen minutes to enter flow state. Remember, your conscious mind must yield to the unconscious for flow to occur. As soon as your companion knocks on your door, as soon as your kid says “Mommy, Mommy,” as soon as your cat yowls to go out, the conscious mind pushes the unconscious aside and says, “My job. Let me handle this.” 
But once flow state is shut down, it can take twenty minutes to entice it up again. Some writers have allowed so many distractions to interrupt their sessions, they never enter flow state. Make a WRITER AT WORK sign, hang it on your doorknob, feed the cat, and make sure it’s quiet on the set … and stays that way.
There’s my short list. It is by no means complete. Hey, a teacher’s gotta save a few secrets for webinars and masterclasses. 
Go With the Flow
Flow state. After examining the facts, we should have all the proof necessary to realize it’s vital to activate flow in our writing sessions if we’re to achieve optimal results. Did you know DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, discovered that inducing flow state in military snipers during training cut the time to mastering their skills in half? And that following their training, it multiplied their performances by a factor of five?
What will releasing the kraken do for you as a writer?
Flow state is a mental condition we can develop and access by establishing the proper conditions. Humankind has recognized its influence and power throughout the millennia. Modern positive psychologists have studied its effects, and researchers have established the conditions that help trigger it. 
By intensely focusing on a single task, by challenging the outer “limits” of our abilities, and by removing distractions that can impede our unconscious mind from activating, we can enter flow state. We can induce our minds to tap into our full potential. 
Instead of rowing against the doldrums, we can sail into euphoric writing sessions. Sessions that can be so powerful, it may seem as if we didn’t write those marvelous words at all, that they came to us in a dream as the heavens bent down and time stood still as a superhuman being spoke through us. By accessing flow, we can enter a creative state so powerful, some even refer to it as touching the divine
Maybe we aren’t so different from the ancient Greeks after all.
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Wulf Moon's SUPER SECRETS: Flowstate: Release the Kraken Within You © 2022 Wulf Moon