Updated: Dec 23, 2021
We call it Inspiration. Or a Creative Burst. Or the Voice of the Muse. Those enchanted blocks of time when we feel super-charged with creativity, clarity, and motivation to work. Our vision becomes clear. We know what we want to do, and we feel compelled to do it.
It's like somebody plugged us in, and we feel compelled to burn bright as long as the inspiration lasts.
But it never does. Why is that?
Like so many other things in our human experience—eating, breathing, sleeping, a woman's menstrual cycle, and so on—I believe creativity is a cyclical process in our lives. I think that's why we experience it as "coming" and "going"; why some days we can connect with our creativity, and other days we can't no matter what we try. As we are constantly called on to "be creative" in our workplace, at home, in our social circles, as well as within the inner life of the soul, it can be immensely helpful to understand a bit about this "Creativity Cycle," so we can start to notice its natural rhythms at work in our lives, and come into alignment with them as much as possible, rather than constantly feeling as if we're fighting against ourselves to be constantly creating.
So what is this "Creativity Cycle"?
Well, if you go onto Google and do an image search for "Creativity Cycle," you will get a LOT of different, and even contradictory, results. Seems everyone has their own ideas about it. Many of them, I think, are useful and can provide insight that's helpful. And...a few of the ideas out there strike me as gibberish. Clearly, more research is needed on this important aspect of human experience.
In the meantime, I have a model of the Creativity Cycle I use with clients that I have found to be simple, practical, and true to life. Here it is:
STAGE 1: RECEIVE
I also like to call this the "Input" stage, because it's the stage when we're voraciously taking in new information—whether that's in the form of art, science, spiritual training, personal experience, or any other form of learning. Perhaps even all of them at once. We become sponges of learning at this stage, and while we are not creating anything (and it's actually important, I think, that we don't create at this stage) we are making insightful connections between the often disparate things we are taking in.
STAGE 2: DREAM
This is the stage many people naturally connect with creativity. At this stage, we're synthesizing all that we've taken in during Stage 1, and beginning to dream about what we might create from it. This, too, is not a stage in which we're making anything real or tangible; we're just exploring possibilities. There's a seduction that happens to some in this stage: to get "trapped" in dreaming without ever moving to the next stage. I call it "dreaming yourself to death," and it's my particular tendency in this process. (Actually, I believe it's possible to get stuck in any of the 4 Stages, particularly when it's you favorite stage to be in.) For the dreamers like me out there, let me say: Dreaming is vital to the creative process. But it's important to remember that until your dreams move you toward real, tangible action, you aren't actually creating.
STAGE 3: CREATE!
This is the point in the cycle when we experience high motivation, high clarity, and high productivity—when we are inspired to turn the dream into action, and begin to create something real in the world that was not there before. I believe it's this stage of productive work that Bono describes so elegantly when he writes:
“You see, idealism detached from action is just a dream. But idealism allied with pragmatism, with rolling up your sleeves and making the world bend a bit, is very exciting. It's very real. It's very strong, and it's very present.”
Yes. That's the rush of real creative work.
STAGE 4: RECOVER
I also like to call this the stage of Rest, or the Fallow Stage, because it's really the time after a great creative surge when all creativity stops. All you want to do in this stage is nothing. Maybe stare out the window. Or play video games. Or watch movies. But maybe not even that. You don't want to think, you don't want to take in anything new, and you certainly don't want to create. In my view, this is an essential step in the creative process—one that we fight against and pretend isn't there, much to our own hurt. But just as we need both food and sleep for our bodies to be strong, I believe we need both periods of learning (RECEIVE) and periods of rest (RECOVER) for our creativity to flourish.
Here are some questions to help you explore this further:
What do you think of this Creativity Cycle?
How do you experience this cycle showing up in your own life?
Which Stage are in at the moment?
How might you begin aligning your efforts with the natural rhythms of your creativity?