Writing a book is a transformative experience – terrifying and thrilling at the same time – like exploring a jungle or climbing a mountain. The process can take many twists and turns and you never know where you’ll end up. With that in mind, this series will explore the creative process and map out some of the territory. I’ll give you a detailed guide you can apply to your own creative process that will help you to start and then, even more importantly, finish your book.
What is creativity?
One of the myths about writing is that the budding writer sits down to write and the book pours out fully formed and perfect from the start. It’s a misconception often held by non-writers, and those who tell themselves they want to write but never seem to find the time. They see writing as a process of pure inspiration. If only it were that simple!
“Writing is easy. All you do is sit starting at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” – Gene Fowler
Creativity is usually defined as the process of creating something new, original, or valuable using the imagination. It wasn’t seen as something humans could do until the Renaissance. Up until then creativity was a matter for the gods and the muses. If you wanted to create something you had to pray for divine inspiration and then your efforts were seen as mere copies of the original Divine Idea. Only the Creator could create.
Creativity as a human attribute took hold during the Enlightenment, and was linked with the rise of individualism and the idea of genius. Perhaps this is why so many people still believe they can’t be creative. They know they’re neither divinely inspired nor endowed with great genius so think they can’t do it.
In my series on Living Creatively I defined creativity as a state of mind, a way to connect with life, to grow in self-knowledge and come alive. That sounds like a good thing, but how do you do it?
Everyone is born creative and yet we often lose touch with our innate abilities. There are many reasons for this, and I won’t go into forensic detail about it, suffice to say it comes down to one basic emotion:
Creating anything is hard work and always gives rise to anxiety. To create is to step into the unknown, so it’s no surprise that you end up feeling scared. It can be hard to explore the plot of your story when you’re dealing with the internal distractions of self-doubt and insecurity. So how do you navigate this process of turning your ideas into something other people can enjoy and share?
There are a multitude of theories about how creativity works and what you can do to enhance it. Most are a variation on the process of finding an idea, thinking about it, and then working on it. The stages involve things like Inspiration (you cast about for ideas and do research), Incubation (you let it stew in your subconscious), Elaboration (you work on the idea), and Evaluation (you review the idea to see if it worked). Sounds simple!
The version I’ll be using in this series is more psychological and comes from Fearless Creating by Eric Maisel, in which he explores the creative process in six stages. Each stage is characterised by a particular kind of anxiety which you can overcome using appropriate techniques, as we’ll discover. Here’s a graphic I created to illustrate the stages, their anxiety types and how they’re handled:
Stages of the Creative Process
1. WISHING gives rise to hungry mind anxiety – dealt with by appropriate feeding.
2. CHOOSING gives rise to confused mind anxiety – dealt with by appropriate clarity.
3. STARTING gives rise to weakened mind anxiety – dealt with by appropriate strength.
4. WORKING gives rise to chaotic mind anxiety – dealt with by appropriate order.
5. COMPLETING gives rise to critical mind anxiety and attached mind anxiety – dealt with by appropriate appraising and appropriate detaching, respectively.
6. SHOWING gives rise to shy mind anxiety – dealt with by appropriate performing.
The stages aren’t distinct and will morph into each other. As you create you move around the circle and dip in and out of all the stages and anxieties. In this series we’ll explore each stage in turn so you can build an understanding of the process and how it works. With more understanding of how you create, you’re less likely to make a drama out of the process, and as Julia Cameron says, “keep the drama on the page.”
Fearless Creating is a great guide to the creative process and is packed with advice, support and exercises. You can find out more about the book by reading my review here. Although the book is aimed at anyone who creates, in this series we’ll look at each stage as it relates to writing in particular. And we start with WISHING.
>Check out this brilliant poster by VirusComix depicting the creative process