The creative process is not linear. I imagine it as continuous line that keeps bouncing around, goes straight ahead for a while, then might come back to the starting point and tumble in another direction — and keeps doing that until we decide it’s good enough.
Going back to the beginning and re-doing everything from scratch is also incredibly valuable despite being very time consuming.
I wrote a script, I liked that script very very much and because I’ve always been a bit disorganised I lost it and I couldn’t find it anywhere. I was a bit disappointed but I sat down and I forced myself to rewrite it from memory. It didn’t take terribly long and then… I found the original. Fortunately I was curious enough to compare the two. And what I discovered was: the one that I rewritten from memory was noticeably better than the original that I’d lost.
— John Cleese
Of course, it’s not always worth going back to the beginning but it’s a testament to the value of repetition and refinement. Restarting builds upon the knowledge accumulated and synthesized up to that point, while at the same time it gives new breathing space to ideas.
Restarting is one extreme, the other extreme is completing.
The inability to finish any work is a common preconception about creative people. While this should indeed be taken as a stereotype, people who are comfortable with their own creative process often also have a personal strategy on how to wrap things up.
A little exuberance is okay, but a lot is going to trip them up at some point.
— Judy Wert
In the complex evolution that the creative process can experience, it’s important to find ways to create break points that can still be valuable as result, even if they aren’t perfect, even if it’s not the thing we were looking for.
In a more structured environment, this can take the form of multiple sequences of iterations and feedback, where every iteration is a valuable contribution. In less structured environments it could take the form of an illustrator who posts all the drafts on Instagram even if the goal is the final comic book. These are ways to compensate for the effort that the creative process can require and at the same time gather valuable feedback from others.
If you haven’t found your own approach yet, a good way to think about this is to experiment with different ways of working that might automatically create something that’s still valuable as a byproduct. Doing this can become simpler if you find someone that is able to evaluate things for you along the way. An author’s “it’s just a sketch!” could be another person’s “it’s wonderful, can I buy it?” — it happened to me personally. We are the worst possible judges of the creative work we produce.
This article is part of the Creativity Fourteen series.
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