Creative Process, Thoroughly Unprofessional Discourse pt. 1 (Setting the Stage)
All familiar demons rose to taunt me as I procrastinated. I had given myself a writing assignment: a short series of articles on the creative process. My topic is so contextual, with subtopics thoroughly enmeshed. Where would I start? How to divide content? Outline or free-write? Conduct research or write from experience?
I did everything else on the list first. I checked out a library book, renewed it twice, and returned it weeks late. Searched for the right mood, the right lighting…Until the project intended to ensure I would write was preventing me from writing anything else.
Writers block: a formidable impasse. A long stare into a chaotic soup of unformulated thoughts, a morass of vowels droning indistinctly. Or worse, a lonely stand at the brink of nothingness. So, maybe the ideal starting point is a look at the bogies that thwart the creative adventurer on the road to manifestation… Except, it may be necessary to take a step back. Isn’t it essential to provide at least a vague and general conceptualization of the creative process as well?
One more step back. The afore-mentioned library book explores creativity as a discrete concept. I sympathize with the author who tackled this daunting task, but I returned the book unread. Despite some effort to be general and abstract, my description of the creative process will be contextual. The context is by necessity Me, so a brief introduction is in order:
I’ll introduce myself as a general-creative. I’m of the type that commits various creative acts with fair aptitude. More specifically: I can paint, draw, sculpt, design a website or a logo, structure a yoga class, and make soap from scratch. I like to write poetry and short prose. I’m a versatile and skilled cook, I’m learning to professionally decorate cakes, and I’ve tried my hand at bonsai with a fair measure of success.
This is a partial list. I love doing all of these things and more.
One of my challenges in being effectively creative has been completing projects because I tend to have a few going at the same time. Sometimes my focus is too diffused, and even my finished projects lack a sense of fullness and completion. Personal challenges aside, my varied forays are deeply enriching in the broader context of my life.
As somewhat a Jack of all trades, one of my primary skills is translating effectively between media. This is what drives me, hopefully qualifies me, to write on the subject of the creative process. If my take is subjective, it is also diverse.
Time to return to the second skipped topic: a general overview of the process involved in manifesting an idea as an intended representational form.
A looping function this may be. But if it has a beginning, it is a moment of acknowledged inspiration. A brilliant idea coalesces unbidden out of the ether!
‘But is it brilliant, really?’ hopefully the mind asks. If the idea passes a test of being plausible and potentially executable, the mind may take firmer hold. The idea has to evolve through some stages of conceptualization and formulation. If the inspiring idea makes it this far, then next would come planning. Once an executable plan of attack has been formulated, it’s time for the action that will manifest the finished product.
Mind may be unbounded, but space-time relativity comes with rules by which we play for the most part. This is the skill game. The physical actions performed to achieve a complete manifested form will be temporally ordered, specific and have definite results. The planning stage, whether done initially or in phases, is a translation of idea into form by the means of action.
The formula I’m postulating seems accumulative and linear, but one must allow for back-to-the-drawing-board insights. The process is not complete without them. Further qualifying my outlined structure, microcosmic versions of the whole erupt spontaneously, whirring in and out of existence like the quantum phenomena they likely are.
And one more important qualification: I have created a model for something abstract or metaphysical, then broke this continuum into distinct phases that don’t really exist as such so that they can be discussed. This is a common function of human thought and arguably the whole basis for language, therefore I feel that it’s allowed. (End disclaimer.)
Coming back to the first skipped topic:
Impediments to project completion can occur at any phase of the creative cycle. If it’s a jungle out there, then it’s a jumble ‘in here’. So, perspective and discipline have rolls to play in the life of any effectively creative person. True, many artist-types identify with a free-spirit, non-conformist, do-what-you-feel fantasy image. There will be no career in the arts for them. The more the ‘D’ (discipline) word scares one, the more likely that person would benefit from developing the trait.
Conversely to what the art-hippies believe, the right dose of prudence and discipline enhances ones capacity for creative fun and freedom. But the lack of these traits isn’t the only impeding factor, so why the focus? Other challenges require persistence to be overcome, for which discipline is required.
Example: Jumping the puddle of doubt between planning and acting is a recurrent challenge. Learning to take it less seriously and let go of perfectionism, I find a motive to splash through it. Then, I can achieve results that are validating and improve my faith in my abilities.
But to overcome my inertia requires discipline. Without that, I couldn’t build better creative habits.
A change in perspective can have a radical effect on experience. Walls or bridges can grow from the stories we secretly tell ourselves. Ultimately, it is this inner narrative that determines a life of self-imposed limitation versus self-created opportunity.
So, what are the stories behind our habits? We all have our own. The general theme is fear. The common manifestations are many and known. A guide to creativity-snuffing demons and methods for foiling their attempts is in order. For next time!