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Defining the Creative Process – the “How-To” of Creativity

What is the Creative Process?

As you could probably see from the Creative Process Maps we looked at in the last post, a lot of people define creative process in basically the same way AND apply their own creativity in making each map special and sometimes very fun and entertaining. What’s most important to me is the very fact there IS a process for creativity. That the only difference between those who do not believe they are creative and those who do, may literally come down to this:

Self-proclaimed creatives know about the process and have experience working through it when creating.

So, in this post, I’m going to define a version of my creative process and in the next few posts share a few tools that can be used to facilitate each step.

Unlocking Creativity – A Simple Four-Step Process for Unleashing Genius

Step One: Sponge Work

You are a sponge. You are preparing to create by soaking up what’s around you – especially in the area that interests you. You are consciously exploring. If you’re a business owner, you may be researching innovations in your industry. If you want to write poetry, you may be reading your own past poems or poems by other people. If you’re a cook, you’re looking at pictures of great meals, reading about chefs. If you’re a guitarist, you’re strumming. For me – and I would venture to guess for most people who believe they are creative – this phase is happening all the time – even absent a specific project on the dock or a deadline.

More on how to be a sponge

Step Two: In the Flow

In this step, you move from being a sponge to actively playing with what you have soaked up. This is the step that can seem like magic – and I do believe there is an aspect of that happening – but it’s magic because you’ve done the Sponge Work – whether you consciously realize it or not. You have been open. And now, you stay open and work consciously and unconsciously making connections from your sponge work, keeping some ideas and tossing others. The difference is that your somewhat random strumming, reading, observing, researching becomes more specific, directed and purposeful. It’s important to keep the sponge mentality in this step – to remain open to what comes to you, but to also “be with” the creative flow and actively play with what comes. In Ann Quasman’s comment to the What’s Your Creative Process? post, her “flowing of ideas” that comes after meditation is a good example of the In the Flow step – and her meditation itself, is a great example of Sponge Work – although she might not call it that and I’m only guessing. In the same post, Jeshaas commented, “I spend the bulk of my creative time ruminating on the project and absolutely require a deadline!” She goes on to comment that she does certain things to stay present and avoid distraction. This is a great example of the In the Flow step – and In the Flow is, in fact, where people tend to get the most distracted. This is the reason many creations never go further than this phase. People get distracted by life. But if you stick with this step, you will get the BIG IDEA. (note: I lost the comments when I transferred my blog to WordPress, so full comments are no longer under the What’s Creative Process? post – I apologize deeply to those who took the time to comment.)

More on how to get in the flow

Step Three: Inspiration & Insight

This is the step in which you get the BIG IDEA. The Ah-Ha! And you WILL get it. Why? You did the Sponge Work and you played In the Flow. You are prepped for it. It comes. It does. I believe many who struggle with getting an idea, struggle because they actually start at Step Three (Inspiration & Insight). They try to have the big insight before doing the necessary prep work of the other two phases. In fact, I strongly believe that starting at the Inspiration & Idea step is the #1 killer of creative potential and the #1 reason why people end up saying, “I’m not creative.” The Inspiration & Insight comes directly from Sponge Work and In the Flow. If you start “trying to have the big idea,” you will get frustrated, discouraged and you will end up confirming to yourself that you are, indeed, not creative. “See! I tried to come up with an idea, but I couldn’t!” You have to prep for genius. Okay, back to Inspiration & Insight. This is the step or moment when, after doing the earlier work, you hit upon something that strikes your gut in such a way that you know “this is it!” You can tell Inspiration & Insight have hit because you HAVE TO grab a piece of paper – NOW. You’re desperate to capture your insight. What happens if Inspiration & Insight don’t come? You go back to Sponge Work and In the Flow – Sponge Work first if you are really stuck, and In the Flow if you’re still feeling inspired, but just haven’t had the big insight – but going back to Sponge Work at stuck places is always a way to release the struggle by just observing and soaking up. You can see that there is a real order to this – even though sometimes (for many creatives and for those observing those creatives), Inspiration & Insight just seem hit. I would offer that that’s because those creatives spend a lot of their time in general just being a sponge and being in the flow. It’s part of how they are in the world. So, Inspiration & Insight are theirs for the taking. They’ve done their due diligence. And due diligence is something we all can do. What’s interesting is that the more you practice Sponge Work and In the Flow, the easier it becomes to have good ideas fast. You are practiced at soaking stuff up and practiced at making connections, separating the “good” from the “bad.” You may not always be fast at it, but you’re more apt to be fast when you need to be fast.

More on getting the big idea

Step Four: Make it Real

You have your Inspiration & Insight, and in the Make it Real step, you turn it into something tangible. You write the poem. You cook the meal. You create the new product. Often it just flows out of you. Sometimes you work at it – and hard. Re-writing, re-painting, re-configuring your ingredients, creating various product models. In this phase, you might become frustrated. You might have others working with you and become frustrated with them. You might find yourself experiencing ups and downs as your big idea appears to be alternately working and not working. This is a WORK STEP. You do the work until it works. I like to point out that if you have a big idea, but you don’t have the technique to pull it off, it’s perfectly okay to have others execute your big idea. It’s still your idea, your creation. Read the post: Technique – The Sneaky Creativity Killer

More on making it real

So that’s the basic process that anyone, anyone, ANYONE can follow – and the maps of the creative process all illustrate these steps and even others. The trick really is to find a process you want to adopt as your own and try it. And, even more, to realize that any sort of “I’m not creative” belief may simply have been born of a lack of knowledge of the process and how to work. If you work it, it will work.

Next post in this series: How to be a Sponge.

Susan B.