What does your creative process look like?
Everyone has a creative process, whether or not they consider themselves to be a creative person. Problem-solving and analysis all take some level of creativity, as you work to find new solutions or approaches to problems.
There are so many situations in life where you’ve got to come up with creative ways to solve problems or manage the people around you. Every time you encounter a situation you haven’t been in before, you’re using some level of creativity to help you adapt.
The creative process is rarely linear, which makes it hard to completely understand. For example, we still don’t know where that creative “spark” feeling comes from.
However, we do know that creativity relies on both sides of the brain; both the right and left sides of the brain are used throughout the creative process to achieve creative results, a back and forth from one to the other at various stages in the process. The left side is responsible for naming objects; it’s logical, rational, and goal oriented. The right side is more visual and able to see things more deeply; it’s less verbal.
So what are the creative process stages that have been defined by those that have researched it and know it best?
Some have identified 5 steps, while others 4:
Stage 1 is all of your preparation (some call it “saturation”); it’s all of the things that you do to get ready to create. This might include researching or reading up on others' experiences (especially seeing what masters do or think) or looking at alternative methods. The goal of this first stage is identifying your inspiration and seeking out the knowledge you need to feel prepared to start it yourself. This is all left brain work.
Stage 2 is incubation, a right side of the brain stage that involves thinking things over both consciously and unconsciously. Transitioning to this stage is often helped along by taking a break from what you did in stage 1. You may find yourself in this stage for a short time or a long time - there’s no defined period of time researchers have identified is better, normal or more ideal.
Stage 3 is illumination or insight; it is the equivalent of achieving a breakthrough, your “aha!” moment. This comes most frequently when you’ve given your left brain a rest and aren’t thinking hard about your creative challenge. Sometimes waiting for this moment is really hard, but the payoff is so rewarding! You might circle back to stages 1 and 2 as you wait for stage 3 because that can help move things along.
Stage 4 is verification or evaluation and it involves testing and challenging your idea from stage 3. If it’s been done before, how is your idea different? This stage is where your left brain comes back to work to evaluate your breakthrough. You may need to go back to your research in stage 1 to see what information you came up with or identify any holes you need to fill. If that’s the case, you may end up back in stages 2 and 3 again as you let things settle and process.
Some researchers also identify a 5th stage of elaboration, where you make your idea a reality and work to bring it to life.
All of these stages are fluid and may happen out of order or be repeated and circled back to over time.
For every creative process you go through, it might be slightly different each time: longer or shorter, more frustrating or a breeze. Being broadly aware of the creative process stages can help keep you on track with your own process because your specific process and what you do in each stage will be unique and different from others.
It’s like having creativity road markers along the way; you can take comfort in knowing where you are in the process or where you need to try to go to next, giving you hope, guidance, and encouragement. It’s ultimately a push/pull, alternating between being actively involved in the process, then taking a break from it.
How can you jumpstart your creative process?
With the creative process stages in mind, the most common struggles come when you’re moving between the stages. How can you jump start your creative process when you get stuck? Here are some easy ways to help you along your creative journey.
1. Color. Pull out your coloring book, pens and pencils and just color. Immerse yourself in the act of coloring and give the left side of your brain a break. Coloring is especially helpful during the transition from stages 1 and 2 or while you’re in stage 2; it’s that time when you can engage the right side of your brain and allow your subconscious to take over.
Coloring is very meditative and calming, and it forces you to slow down and look at things differently. Plus, it’s a perfect, mobile activity that can be done anywhere with minimal tools and space required. (If you need ideas on how to use your colored pencils, take a look at our previous post on the topic!)
2. Get active. Whether you head to the gym or get outside, engaging in physical activity is another great way to support all the work you did in stage 1 while you’re in stage 2, so you can get to stage 3 and beyond.
If you go outside, the fresh air will be equally beneficial to you. Physical activity helps your logical mind take a break, so every time you finish work in stage 1 or stage 3, force yourself as part of your creative process journey to go for a hike, take part in a yoga class, or run around your neighborhood so that stages 2 and 4 can take effect!
3. Take some time to be mindful, meditate, and reflect. Feeling frustrated with a lack of progress throughout any of the stages in your creative process is, well, frustrating. It also makes you feel stuck and concerned that you may never advance this idea of yours.
This time you set for yourself will shift your perspective towards positivity since being patient can be really hard in these moments; but if you make yourself focus on the present moment, you can reduce the stress you feel about getting to the finish line in the future.
4. Look for outside inspiration. Whether it’s on social media, in person, or in books, looking to successful people who you find inspiring can be a great boost to your creative process. Seeing how they persevere through challenges can be very motivating; likewise, you might hear them discuss a creative solution to a problem like the one you’re trying to solve -- instant progress!
You don’t have to do it all alone. There is a lot to learn, especially when you surround yourself with people who are doing amazing work.
Your creative process doesn’t run on autopilot
The biggest takeaway from all of the above should be that the process is not predictable and exact. But understanding the stages of the creative process and things you can do to strengthen it should set you up for success.
What does your creative process look like?