What’s My Creative Process? This. And It Works.

Here are the ten steps I follow for creative work, from idea generation to final product.

Image: A pair of hands covered in paint. Amauri Mejía at Unsplash.

Phase the First: Ideas

“Where do you get your ideas?” is far and away the most common question I get asked about my work as a creative. Second most common is the closely-related question “How can I have more ideas?”

Step 1: GET BORED.

Boredom is my friend. Boredom is where the really juicy creative nonsense comes from.

Step 2: MACBETH HATH MURDERED JUDGMENT.

Another question I often hear is How do you have good ideas? I’m always convinced my ideas are utter crap.

Phase the Second: Not-Terrible Ideas

After decades of doing creative work, I can’t remember the last time I had no ideas. I no longer ask How can I have ideas? but Where do all the ideas come from?

Step 3: JOT IT DOWN.

If an idea won’t go away, I write it down.

Step 4: A LITTLE JUDGMENT IS OKAY.

I say “judgment,” but I mean “discernment.” This is where I start thinking about how the idea would work in practice. I take the idea out and play with it. I start asking questions, like:

  • What are the practical steps required for me to make it work? What tools, time, and help would I need?
  • What are the major challenges to turning out the envisioned end result?
  • Is it worth the time and effort required?

Phase the Third: Making Art

If an idea survives steps 3 and 4, it‘s probably becoming a finished product. Phase the Third is where, having curated a workable idea, I get it out of my head and onto paper (or pixels, field, or floor).

Step 5: RESEARCH.

Step 4 is about whether the idea is feasible for me, personally and individually, to execute. Step 5 is about whether the idea is feasible within a broader social and economic context.

  • Can I get the support from other people that I need to execute this idea?
  • Is this idea the best iteration of the idea? Or is there some related idea out there that would be even cooler, and hasn’t been done to death?
  • Are there 500 other artworks on this idea (hint: Yes! Always!), and what do they look/sound/feel like?

Step 6: OUTLINING/SKETCHING/NOODLING AROUND.

One of the hardest things to explain about writing, for me, is the moment at which writing turns from The Goal into An Imperative.

  • Make the first draft terrible.

Step 7: REFINEMENT.

I hate Step 7 the most.

Step 8. TENTATIVE PRESENTATION.

After the blood, sweat, and tears of Step 7, a draft is born!

Step 9: ABANDONMENT.

As they say, a creative work is never finished, only abandoned.

  • The editor sends me some notes.
  • I do whatever the notes say to do.
  • I submit the work.

Step 10: REBOOT.

Matthew Inman at The Oatmeal once described creativity like breathing. To sustain life as a creative, we must both breathe out (i.e. make creative work) and breathe in (i.e. rest and reboot). Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People calls this phase “sharpening the saw.”

As seen in The Atlantic that one time. Freelance writer, sci-fi author, pageantry arts nerd. Tweets @danialexis. See also http://danialexis.net

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