The Creative Process, and Why You Should Go On (Even If You Feel Bad)

There’s a numbered list that outlines the creative process going online, and it goes like this (edited slightly to remove profanity):

  1. This is awesome.
  2. This is tricky.
  3. This is bad.
  4. I’m bad.
  5. This might be okay.
  6. This is awesome.

The list is short, sweet, and very accurate. In broad strokes, it describes how the creative process brings the artist from one high end to the next, but giving the artist a seemingly insurmountable slump of dullness and disappointment halfway through. It’s like a fence or a mountain, getting higher and higher and harder to overcome, and eventually the artist – regardless of the discipline – opts to give up and start over.

A professor in my English department shared this list to my class the other day, as an introduction to how difficult it is to write. She is a writer, by the way, and lives her life every day dealing with the vicious cycle that is the creative process.

I’m bringing this up right now because based on experience, and from friends’ experiences, the individual tends to run smoothly through the process until they hit the slump. They reach the fourth stage and never come out alive, likely leaving the work unfinished and the artist inside unsatisfied. Of course this happens a lot, but creating is an uphill battle, a process that’s never easy. One does not cruise through writing with hair down and the sun shining brightly. A lot of challenges face the artist, but the artist’s biggest challenge is the self. Self-doubt and discouraged feelings come in at the fourth stage of the creative process, and this brings the artist down enough to put a stop to everything.

But, as with all difficult things, if you think you’re stuck in the fourth stage, don’t let it defeat you. It’s your own voice that’s telling you to give up, because at that stage of the process it seems as if your work cannot be saved. Don’t believe the nagging feeling inside, and push through the darkness. It will help if you’re constantly reminding yourself that you’re determined to finish the work, and that you wouldn’t want anything to go to waste. After all, far into the creative process, you’ve invested a lot of time and effort, and it’d be a waste not to see it through.

Granted, there are projects that aren’t satisfying when you go through them. However, it’s a thing I’d recommend. If you’re stuck in the slump, read through or look at what you’ve done so far. If you see progress, then that’s fine, that’s wonderful, go on ahead and defeat that thing telling you that you can’t do it. If you think it doesn’t possess any value whatsoever, take it to someone else so they can evaluate it. If they tell you it’s good, then pick it up again. Continue writing that story. Continue working.

Once you overcome that fence, you might start feeling okay about what you’ve done, and it’ll go back to the final stage. The thing is, though, the creative process is basically like this. If you let it defeat you halfway through, there will never be any output that you can be proud of. Everything will be half-finished, half-realized, and dumped in the “what-if” folder. So do your best to overcome the fourth stage – the lowest point – of the process, and everything will turn out fine.

Read next: when should you give up your creative dream?


Jillian is an English Literature graduate who loves reading science fiction and fantasy, and is a big fan of J.G. Ballard. She is obsessed with coffee, video games, and rottweilers, and keeps herself busy by writing and walking around a lot. She's currently reading Jeanette Winterson and a lot of YA literature.

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