June 12

The 5 Stages of the Creative Process

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People believe that the creative process is the result of divine inspiration or is only for professional artists. But you can apply creative thinking and the steps of the creative process to a variety of fields. You don’t have to be a creative genius or artist.

As Chase Jarvis says, everyone is creative, which makes us all part of the creative population.

The Definition of Creativity

The definition of creativity is broader than we think. The moment you create something new or find a new way to solve a problem, you are expressing your creativity. But my favorite definition of creativity comes from Todd Henry, who says that “creativity is a pathological inability to accept the status quo.”

Creativity is a pathological inability to accept the status quo

Todd Henry

Creativity is a habit, not a trait

There is only one difference between professional artists and people who believe they don’t have a creative bone in their body. Professional artists express their creativity on a daily basis

But to make an idea happen, you need to understand the steps of the creative process. Business creativity leads to innovation and breakthroughs, while artistic creativity can lead to personal fulfillment. This is why Neil Gaiman says that making good art is a lifesaver. This is true for people who are professional artists and hobbyists.


Whether you want to further your education, learn a new skill, complete a project, or make a product, you go through every stage of the process.

  • To learn a new skill, learn with someone, practice, and keep practicing until you master the skill
  • When you meet the love of your life, you go on a date, develop a relationship, and get married

The same goes for the basic steps of the creative process in any creative field or creative endeavor. You have an idea, go through an incubation phase, take action, polish the idea, and tell the world about it. This requires a combination of critical thinking and strategic action that drives a project forward in any artistic field.

Stage 1: Generation of Ideas

creative process

The first stage of the creative process is the generation of ideas. No one has a shortage of ideas. To say you have a shortage of ideas is like saying you have a shortage of thoughts. You have a brilliant idea almost every day. Unfortunately, this is the most common stage where people get stuck.

My Moleskine notebooks and writing software are full of half-baked ideas, incoherent psychobabble, and dozens of false starts. Some of these have turned into blog posts, books, and other creative projects. What seems like a terrible idea when you have it can become brilliant overnight.

Ideation is just a form of brainstorming about a project or piece of art you want to do. But thinking about your ideas isn’t enough.

You Need to Capture Each Idea

There’s no point in having a brilliant idea that you can’t remember. That’s why you need to capture your ideas to capitalize on them.

  1. Always carry a notebook with you. Ideas come to us at inopportune and unexpected times. Your notebook is fertile ground for creative ideas.
  2. Your brain is a terrible place to store information. That’s why you should build a second one. Notion is my second brain. It’s where I capture ideas, insights from books, and more. I’ve included a video below.

Even if you have bad ideas, hold onto them. As Seth Godin says, the key to having good ideas is to have lots of bad ideas. The steps of the creative process become much more useful when you capture your ideas.

Stage 2: Incubation

creative process

The second stage of the creative process is incubation. It gives you time to reflect and to generate new insights that you will apply in the later steps of the creative process.

You can’t turn creativity on and off like a light switch. **Ideas take time to mature, and you usually won’t always be ready to implement an idea as soon as you have one.

Ryan Holiday wrote down his idea for his book The Obstacle is the Way on a notecard four years before he wrote the book. Today, the book has sold over a million copies. Sometimes the incubation phase of the creative process takes years.

The illumination stage of the creative process begins when you have those eureka moments about ideas you’ve captured. You figure out how to start a paragraph or write the conclusion of an essay.

The Macgyver Method for Creative Thinking

You can take a more deliberate approach to creativity at this stage by using the Macgyver Method. Lee Zlotoff , the creator of the series, developed this simple three-step approach to overcoming creative blocks.

  1. Write down a question.
  2. Do An Incubation Activity (something like puzzles, building things with your hands, etc.).
  3. Write down the answer to your question

This amazing creativity secret always leads to a great result, regardless of your creative field. I’ve used it to come up with ideas for articles, products, and services. The Macgyver Method gives you time and space for convergent thinking, divergent thinking, and the emergence of alternative ideas

Stage 3: Elaboration

creative process

Artists never have a shortage of brilliant ideas. Professional artists know that no one cares what you want to start. The only thing that matters is your finished product, not your almost-finished products. To finish what you start, you have to go through the elaboration stage the creative process

“The creative process begins with work and ends with work. The takeaway point here is that creativity is not just percolating and Eureka: it’s percolating and Eureka sandwiched between work phases,” says Charlie Gilkey. “

Accumulate pages, not judgments

People who want to turn creative ideas into results get stuck judging their work as they create it. But as the author Amber Rae says, “You want to accumulate pages, not judgments.”

When people come to our writing class, I always tell them, “You write in ink, not blood.” You can always go back and edit, modify, and change things. The beauty of the internet is that you can always update your content.

Make Little Bets

There’s nothing more disheartening than following the steps of the creative process only to find you’ve built a product no one wants or written a book no one wants to read.

Iconic creators like Chris Rock and film studios like Pixar take an experimental approach to creativity by making small bets and testing their ideas in low-risk environments. If you see Chris Rock on a comedy tour, he’s tested all the material at open-mic nights.

The Taste Gap

At the beginning of the creative process, there will be a gap between what you can imagine and what you create. Ira Glass calls this the taste gap. The more you do, the more you will bridge the gap. Eventually, your demands will increase, and you will have to bridge a new taste gap.

If you keep your commitments, you will harness the profound power of consistency, and you will begin to make progress with your idea.

Focus on the Process

Many aspiring and professional artists get caught up in the highlight reels that run through their newsfeed. The fantasy of seeing their name in lights and possible awards causes them to confuse attention with achievement.

  • For a writer, the creative process consists of putting pen to paper and fingers to keyboard day after day, month after month, year after year.
  • For a musician, the creative process consists of spending hours in a practice room, playing in an empty bar, and playing where everyone is willing to listen until they sell records and play to sold-out stadiums.
  • An actor’s creative process is to go to thousands of auditions, rehearse his lines, and spend hundreds of days on set making a movie that people will watch for a few hours.

Everything that professional artists and successful people achieve is the result of following the steps of the creative process. Their achievements are the byproduct of their work.

Focus on Mastery Instead of Metrics

You have no control over how your audience will respond to your work. The steps of the creative process are the only thing you can control. So you need to focus on mastery instead of metrics.

The goal of creation is not to see your name in shining lights. It’s to create something worth consuming. The only way to do that is to master your craft.

Track your progress

Visible progress is a great motivator. When you don’t break the chain on a calendar or see pages and pages of writing, your motivation increases. You build momentum. The best work happens not at the beginning or the end, but in what entrepreneur and author Scott Belsky calls “The messy middle of the process.”

When it comes to tracking progress, use a metric you can control. I can’t control whether you like this post or not. But I do know that I can control my daily word count. So that’s the primary metric I use to track my progress as a writer.

Celebrate small successes with your project.

When we put off celebrating until we hit the bestseller list or get a book deal with a publisher, we deny ourselves the joy we could derive from the process. As I said in An Audience of One, our work becomes an obligation instead of a privilege.

When you’ve reached your word count, written something you’re proud of, or managed a concentrated hour of uninterrupted creation, pat yourself on the back, buy yourself a drink, or eat some chocolate.

Stage 5: Evaluation


Up until now, we’ve been delaying judgement. We’ve piled up pages, wrote shitty first drafts, and covered the canvas.

Now it’s time to look back at your work with a critical eye. Yes, you will judge it, but that doesn’t mean you should beat yourself up. Don’t confuse “this sucks” with “I suck.”

Revise and Edit your work

When I work with clients to help them write books, I encourage them to look at every sentence, paragraph, and chapter through three filters:

  1. Why is this here?
  2. Does it serve my audience?
  3. If not, should I get rid of it?

Although this is specific to writing, it can be applied to any creative field. The evaluation stage involves cutting scenes from movies and sections from books.

You Must Ship

Shipping your work can be the most difficult step of the creative process. This is where you are forced to face the voices of fear and doubt that almost kept you from starting in the first place.

  • What if no one likes it?
  • What if it doesn’t sell?

While these fears are natural, here’s what I encourage you to think about. Each of my books has a 1-star review. Every one of Seth Godin, Mark Manson and J.K. Rowling’s books has negative reviews.

If you follow the steps of the creative process perfectly, someone will still hate your work. You can try to appease your critics, or decide it’s not for them and make it for the smallest viable audience. Don’t overvalue feedback from anonymous critics and treasure critical feedback from your biggest fans.



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