Ten Essential Truths I’ve Learned About the Creative Process

Every one of these applies for me, every time.


#1. If my life has a blank spot that is bringing me down, then I need to create something.

We’re all born creative, with a particular creative gift. It’s more than a skill; it’s something that you feel in your bones. The problem is that the vast majority of us have lost track of it. In life, we replace passion with protection. We end up watching our souls leave the room in disgust over our TLC marathons instead of lifting a pencil at the kitchen table. The fix is to get up and begin a new creative process. I have to remind myself of this on a regular basis.

#2. The calling and promise of the creative process is to fill the blank spot with something meaningful.

This is why I do it, in spite of the fact that the creative process can be masochistic. When I get buried, I indulge the fantasy that the gems that I am trying to dig out will be life changing for somebody. Maybe even me.

#3. Among many possibilities, focus on your creative gift.

Unsure what your creative gift is? I have been, on many occasions. I have had many creative interests over my lifetime that have distracted me from my core gift, which is writing.

It’s ironic that most of us lose track of our gift because it’s obvious – so obvious that we don’t realize that what we take for granted and even find mundane is actually unique. We assume others think as we do when in fact our assumptions are what blow other people’s minds. Our creative gift is a big present with a bow sitting in the middle of the room that we completely miss.

#4. Perfectionism is the enemy of the creative process.

I know many people who put off the work because the dream is fantastic and they’re afraid the reality will stink. Newsflash: it probably will, because reality gets in the way and the purity of your imagination is mainly there to get you started anyway. You can’t do exactly what’s in your head, but it will be better than what you’re doing right now.

#5. Knowing the creative process a thousand times over doesn’t make starting any less difficult.

Part of the fear of starting is knowing that there’s going to come a time in the creative process where I become convinced I’m putting together the biggest puddle of mud I’ve ever seen. Don’t fear this moment; everybody hits it. Take it as a sign that you’re going down the same road you’ve gone down before, and you will get to the other side. Every good thing I’ve ever done has splashed around in this pit.

Besides, once you’ve gone so far, you can’t go back anyway. The only way is to slosh through the bad spot until you emerge on the sunny side.

#6. Sometimes I find the moment before the creative process begins so painful I can’t handle it.

I do other stuff. Clean the house. Take a nap. Stare at my phone. All fine activities, to be sure – but not if they obfuscate the truth I’m responsible for digging out.

#7. The first draft always stinks.

Editing is cake. It’s facing down the blank screen that forces you into the fetal position. Admit that it’s going to stink, and that it takes a lot of mining to find a gem.

#8. I juggle too many half baked thoughts and ideas.

The hard part is picking one and going with it. Over the last two months I hit a wall on my blog. It wasn’t for lack of ideas; it was the opposite. I had dozens of hacked up, half baked 250 word impressions and was buried by the tonnage of raw ore I’d found. I finally dug through by creating a massive list of ideas, and matching stuff up, until I ended up with a schedule of about 30 new posts to publish over the next few months. I only ended up publishing about half before I got bored with the list. I figure the other half is probably junk anyway.

#9. The only criterion for my creative space is this: make it easy on myself.

For this I owe gratitude to Twyla Tharp, author of The Creative Habit. Creativity is hard enough – make your habits and physical space work for you. After years of struggle over a comfortable writing space, I’ve finally realized that I tend to build my writing space for show, not for work. The main criterion for my desk was how it looked and how cheap it was – not how it facilitated the creative process. It’s time to change that.

#10. Creativity is the greatest gift we have, because our ability to make something new means that all of our great moments aren’t in the past.

Nostalgia is a debilitating lie. The only direction to go is forward, and as long as you have your creative gift caged in the hull below then you have the confidence that something great will once again at some point happen.

Len’s day job is Creative Director for Peachtree, a large church in Atlanta. Abingdon Press releases his book on creativity, Think Like a Five Year Old, in June, 2015. Read more at http://lenwilson.us.


This article first appeared at lenwilson.us.

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