The Creative Process Part I: Crafting A Creative Process
The process of creating is one I’ve been engaged in since I was a child. I was always doing something creative - drawing, painting, making collages, writing stories, dancing, singing and putting on performances with my sister and friends. Creative expression has shaped who I am and how I do things. That need for exploration and expression has stayed with me throughout my life in many ways, and at times has been both wonderful and frustrating. I’ve continued to create, with all its gifts and struggles.
I got my first journal as a birthday gift when I was eleven - a small, white, square hardcover book with a lock and key, and Ziggy on the cover. I had been writing stories for years, but that was my first personal journal, when I started to really get into writing my feelings down somewhat regularly. I loved having a place to put my private thoughts. Growing up as a black girl in the Bronx and being the sensitive type who felt things deeply made having that private space necessary.
I’ve kept all of my journals since that first one. Ones with pretty covers, black hardbound sketch pads, and cheap spiral notebooks from the dollar store. There were years in my twenties when I was committed to writing practice. Not writing with the intention of creating a finished product, but simply throwing myself into the act of writing to contact my mind in an intimate way and getting my thoughts onto the page without censoring.
Sometimes I wonder what all that writing practice was for - years of sitting in cafes and at my desk, urgently scribbling with no clear destination. Now I know why I was doing that, why I kept a journal all these years (and still do), why I kept writing about my life and myself, recording the mundane. I was training myself. I did it so that when I want to write something specific, I know how to start, how to drop down and get below the surface of ‘what I want to say’ into the deeper part of my self which has something meaningful to express. Making a practice of writing helped me learn about the creative process.
Our creative process is unique to each of us. How we get from inspiration and having an idea to actualizing it on the page, on the stage or in some other way is how we live our lives as creative people. I believe we all have some kind of process around how we make things, whether that process is intentional or something that just happens. Exploring and understanding our process is key to figuring out whether it’s working for us and making adjustments if we need to.
I believe the creative process applies to all of us - not just those of us who identify as artists, but who we are as people. (Yes, I’m one of those folks who thinks we all have the capacity to create. You found me out). Whether writing a story, painting a canvas, baking a cake or beautifying our living spaces, there are many ways that we express creativity in our lives, from our lofty artistic goals to the day-to-day aspects of our daily routine.
I also believe that nurturing our desire to create is an essential aspect of being healthy and happy people. That desire drives us and sometimes we find ourselves struggling with how to move forward what we want to create. There are times when I feel like I know what I want to make, try to get started, and get stuck. I’ve come to realize that creating requires a distillation process. Everything isn’t ready to come out whole just because I will it so.
For those of us who work with deadlines (or “guideposts” as a client of mine likes to call them), there can be a bit of a struggle between what we want to create and what actually happens, and how to make space for that unfolding. This is where intentional process comes in. What can we do, what structures or tools can we put in place, to make room for what wants and needs to emerge? How can we create a container for our experiences in order to move forward toward a finished product?
It’s good to get honest about what we do when it comes to our process. Where do we hold back or resist? Where do we open up and become more expansive? How do we learn to make our creative process work for us?
In 2016 I did a performance for an artists lab in Belize City. It was my first solo performance in years. I was used to the collaborative process and realized I needed to find a different kind of process for this work. I made some space for reflection and brainstorming, and thought about what themes I wanted to address. I took notes and created an outline. I listened to music to inspire me, did some movement, reread some old poems. I took time to distill all of it, and came back to it a few weeks later, with a different energy and purpose for what I wanted to express. Mostly, I allowed it all to be a work in progress and refrained from trying to make it perfect and polished. I knew there had to be room for play and improvisation. I allowed space for the work to surprise me.
This way of working felt different from what I had done before. It was also a reflection of what was going on with me at the time. I was living somewhere temporarily after moving several times during the year. Work was slow, and a lot of things were in flux. We were living in a cabin on a farm that was way more rustic than I would have liked (hello, tarantula in the bathroom!), and things generally weren’t feeling so solid. I needed a process that was fluid enough for where my head was, but with some structure to ground me and guide the work.
What I learned is that regardless of the medium, I need an intentional process to move me through the different stages. I’ve gained some understanding of what my process has been in the past and where I needed to adjust. It used to be:
wait for inspiration
have an idea
Yeah. Not great.
That process wasn’t helpful because I wasn’t consciously making space for all the thoughts and feelings I experience when I create, in a way that also supports forward movement with the work.
And there will be feelings. When I was writing this, I had periods of doubt - Who do I think I am, writing about the creative process? How do I even do this? What is it that I’m trying to say and why should anyone care?
The angst was palpable. I started writing, stopped and came back to it, many times. I went through the emotional ups and downs that I often do when I create something - feeling overwhelmed, feeling like a fraud, worrying that I may never be able to create good work again.
The struggle is real, y’all.
And yet… I kept going. I knew that this was just one stage of the process, and I had a frame for the rest of it. Having a creative process helps me to move through the doubt and fear and discomfort and keep coming back to the work. I experience the doubt and fear a lot when I’m creating. I get scared before I perform onstage and nervous when I hit ‘Publish’. But I still do it. Because I love creating. Because I must.
Knowing that there will be emotional ups and downs when I’m working on something, and respecting that as just part of it, I’ve made some intentional shifts in my creative process. Now it looks more like this:
journal/write ideas for projects
choose a project to focus on and complete
set a time frame for doing the work
make space in my routine for practice, play and inspiration
sit my ass down and do the damn thing
share, release, and move on
Right now, this works for me. It works for the kind of creative projects I’m doing and where I am in my life. It helps me pay attention to my inspirations and obsessions as they come, saving a list (I love using Stickies on my laptop) to keep the well full of ideas I can reach for. And it keeps me in the mindset of making creative habit part of my daily routine. I find that with this frame, I’m able to work on projects more consistently over time.
This isn’t to say I don’t still agonize over what I’m creating. I started this piece a month ago and I’m just now getting it out there. I can’t even tell you how many drafts I wrote. But even though I agonized, I still finished it because I have a process which supports me. And the great thing about having an intentional creative process is it can be extended into the rest of our life so we’re not just waiting until we have the time, or the money, or the “perfect” project. I know that I’m so much happier when I’m engaged in something creative every day.
With this series, I hope to inspire you to explore your own creative process and find ways to make it work for you. I hope to illuminate some of the joys and struggles of creating by sharing my own journey. And I hope to invite you to push yourself beyond your perceived limits and create what your heart is calling you to do.
The creative journey is rewarding, and can also be a lonely one, as we each try to find our way. Let’s be companions on this road.
If you are looking for support in your journey and creative process, I look forward to connecting over a session.