The creative process has traditionally been broken down into the following five stages: preparation, incubation, insight, evaluation, and elaboration. These terms themselves likely won’t do much for your creative spirit, but below, we’ve broken each down to help you understand and relate to them more easily.
Preparation sounds a bit like you’re studying for an excruciating exam you’ve got to take in the morning, but this feel-good phase is where your best ideas are born.
Think of it as if you’re taking an exciting journey into the creative space that appeals most to you. In today’s modern world, that might look like exploring a specific hashtag like — #lighttherapy, #redlight, #redlighttherapuy, etc. It could also look like deep-diving into autobiographies of artists who inspire you, perusing artist websites and their virtual galleries, watching documentary films on the topic, listening to music, reading through poetry, or as I do, just watching my surroundings.
In some cases, how you “prepare” may not be directly related to your specific medium. Can be from the coffee you are taking to the peer you are speaking to. Wherever this stage takes you, commit to it wholly and truly relish in it. Take notes. Observe what (and how) these other entities have created, lay down ideas as they come to you, colors that inspire you, sounds that move you, and words that catch you by surprise.
Now is the time to let all that information and inspiration you just breathed in soak into your very core. In this stage, it may not even feel like you’re really doing anything since it’s your subconscious that’s actually doing all the work. In that sense, you can liken this step of the creative process to allowing a piece of steak to marinate overnight in a juicy bath of flavors. The meat is just sitting there to the naked eye, but a delicious transformation occurs, in reality occurs.
We alluded to a lightbulb flickering on in the previous stage, sending a person into a full-fledged creative frenzy they couldn’t possibly suppress. This moment is traditionally referred to as the “insight” stage of the creative process, or what some have playfully dubbed the “Eureka” moment.
This is the step we’re arguably most all familiar with, and the one we wrongfully assume is a stepping one. Perhaps this incorrect assumption causes many to conclude that you must be an inherently gifted creative person ever to experience such a moment. As you now know, the reality is that it might have taken days, weeks, months, or even years for such inspiration to hit. This is true even of the greatest artists our world has seen.
Another false assumption is that this Eureka moment is always loud and gut-punching powerful. While it does sometimes hit as an unmistakable spark of inspiration-born direction, it is important to note that sometimes the insight moment is more of a quiet, contemplative whisper. It also might not happen quite as cinematically as we’d like to think. Many even say that such inspiration strikes or develops when they least expect it — while making dinner, having a conversation with a friend, or in the middle of folding a giant load of laundry. The argument is that doing something that doesn’t require much brainpower gives your subconscious some time to churn.
The creative process would be remiss without acknowledging that not every creative idea is a great (or even good) idea worth pursuing. This is the phase where you really dig deep — as tricky and painful as it might be to your ego — and ask yourself if this is an idea that’s ultimately worth working on.
Instead of framing it as a potential way to squash your hopes and dreams, consider it an opportunity to put your idea to the ultimate test. Does it hold up against a flood of critical thinking, honest questions, and in some cases, the scrutiny of your peers?
Once your project idea has passed the scrutiny test, it’s finally time to “elaborate.” It’s officially time to put pen to paper, ink to canvas, and clay to the wheel in easier-to-understand terminology. This is the phase where you’re actively creating something and bringing your idea to life.
For many, this final step of the creative process can take just as long as all the other four put together (or even longer). It typically involves many hours of brainstorming the best approach and experimenting to figure out what works and what doesn’t. You might nail it on the first try (and some really do!), but what’s more likely to happen is that you create something, dislike it, and either rewind a bit or start completely from scratch. You might do this over and over again until it’s perfect in your eyes. Real sweat, real tears, and real joy are bred during this step of the creative process. Embrace it.