Three Stages to Every Creative Process

It’s been my experience that there are three stages to every creative process.  Knowing what they are will help you go through them and make it to the end — the completion.

They are:

  1. Original Inspiration
  2. Mid-Creation Struggle
  3. Final Dash

I think the stages are pretty self-explanatory.  When you first conceive of the idea and start working on it, you are full of excitement and momentum.  Perhaps if the project is very small you can just work in one burst of creative energy and actually skip the middle stage.

But the bigger and longer the project is, the tough middle period is also longer.  This is where most projects die, in that space between the Original Inspiration and the Final Dash.  You are no longer excited about your creation because you’ve lived with it long enough that its freshness has been drained.  But pieces aren’t put together enough yet to let you glimpse how it’ll really turn out — so it doesn’t give you assurance that the final output will be of any value.

Let me use my song recording process as an example.  When I originally come up with a song, I’m obviously beside myself excited.  It’s going to be a powerful song and I can’t wait to put it together.  So I enthusiastically get started recording, laying out the rhythmic foundations, sing, put embellishments and details, and finally mix it all together to create a recording.  But somewhere in that process, I lose the original enthusiasm.  It goes faster than you can spell Kill Inspiration — a tiny hiccup like a computer glitch, a sour note I sing (which is often) or having to do any part over — can kill momentum.  I start wondering if my song is any good.

From that point, I have to drag myself through without much hope or excitement — indeed, it feels like a hopeless endeavor, even though I’ve gone through it many times — until I get to a point where pieces are put together enough to the point where I can clearly envision the finished creation.  Once I reach this point, I regain faith in my creation and go about finishing it off in earnest.  The Final Stretch is usually the most productive period, not only because I’m dashing to the finish line but also because there’s usually myriads of details that need to be put in between the points from More-or-Less Put-Together to Completely Put-Together. (and it always takes longer than I think it will) At this point I’d be fighting burn-out, too, and am just ready to get to a point where I give up and just toss out whatever my creation ended up being right then.

Seth Godin talks about this in his insightful little book “The Dip.”  I wish I read that book a long time ago, or someone at least warned me about this.  It appears that my whole artistic career has been stuck in the Mid-Creation Struggle for years and years.  (though I may be transitioning to the Final Stretch now — phew!)  I’m writing this here so I can point to this post every time I mention Mid-Creation Struggle in my blogs (which is often) but so that you can be forewarned: the bigger, greater, and more important your project is, the longer and harder the Mid-Creation Struggle tends to be.

Don’t give up.

The very reason why it’s worth doing it is precisely because most other people find it too hard. You may not feel excited, in fact you’re probably downright discouraged and disillusioned, when you’re bogged down in the Mid-Creation Struggle.  But there will be a point, if you keep at it, where you’ll see the glimpse of the finish line.  I wouldn’t say it gets easier then, as most projects still require tons of work in the Final Dash period, but motivating yourself to keep going won’t be an issue then, at least.

As you gain more experience with the whole creation process, you’ll gain insights into how to tough out the Mid-Creation Struggle.  It won’t go away, but you’ll be more equipped to drag yourself through it.

What is your experience with the Mid-Creation Struggle, and how did you beat it?  Please share them below in comments.