lemon cupcakes

Your Creative Process…and Lemons

When life gives you lemons, what do you make?

Well, there’s one very popular answer, but this is a creative thinking blog so let’s get creative and skip the lemonade! What do you make?

For my regular readers, you’ll notice that this article is coming to you slightly off schedule. Did you notice? Drop a comment below and let me know!

So, here’s the lemon part. I was all prepared to drop the article in advance because I was leaving to attend my father’s funeral. Then it ALL breaks loose! An uncharacteristic snowstorm in the south almost makes travel impossible. Half the family gets food poisoning the day before the service. And I, your fearless leader, forgets to close her car windows before a rainstorm. I end up sitting IN a sopping wet car all the way out of town! I’m soaked to the skin while driving! I’m gonna need something with a bit more kick! Let’s get creative! Got any ideas?

So, let’s talk about the creative process and how we bring our wonderful ideas to life. How, exactly, do we make that lemonade?

We just finished the C2C series which outlined the logistics of getting your creative work done, from having a concept in mind to putting all your strategic plans on a calendar. That’s all well and good, but what about the “creative” part of a creative process? What is the creative process anyway?

Today we’re going to talk about that very thing! We’re going to outline the “right-brained,” creative thinking, less strategic part. We’re going to talk about your “creative process.”

It can come together differently for each person. But generally, everyone goes through a similar process to get their idea to the “make it happen” stage.

And, these steps aren’t necessarily linear. Sometimes you’ll go back and forth between them. Let’s begin.

  • Preparation. First up is Preparation!

As you begin the creative journey, the first stage involves prep work and idea generation. This is when you gather materials and conduct research that could spark an interesting idea. Brainstorm a bit, let your mind wander, or write in a journal to help with creative thinking. In this first part of the process, you’re using your memory bank of knowledge and past experiences to generate original ideas. You’re also looking outward to find additional sparks that will fuel your fire.

If you’re a musician, you’re absorbing a lot of the inspiring music that might help to create a new piece. If you’re a writer you’re reading other writers in your genre. If you’re an artist, you’re looking at other artist’s work and gathering inspirational images. And if you are a creative entrepreneur, you’re looking at market research and what others have done before.

This stage is usually pretty quiet. It’s here that you’re trying to absorb as much information as possible because this information will go into your sub-consciousness where it is very important in the next step.

  • Incubation. Now let it Incubate!

When you have finished actively thinking about your idea, the second stage is where you let it go. Yes, that’s right! A big part of creative thinking is taking a step back from your idea before you begin to flesh it out. You may work on another project or take a break from creativity altogether. Regardless of which road you take, you’re not consciously trying to work on your new idea. Walking away from your idea might seem counterproductive, but it’s an essential part of the process. During this time, your story or song or painting is incubating in the back of your mind.

In this time of incubation, all the information that you have gathered in the preparation stage really goes to work. It starts to churn in the back of your mind. This can take days, weeks, or months, so be patient. Don’t worry! Just leave it there for a while and you’ll come back to it later. The interesting thing is that the “time allotment” for this stage isn’t really under your control. It’ s something you can’t really rush because it leads to the third stage.

  • Insight. Next, it’s time to gain Insight!

Sometimes called the “illumination” stage, insight is when that “aha” moment happens. The light bulb comes on as all that material you’ve gathered comes together to inspire you and present a solution. In this stage, the answer to your creative journey strikes you. For example, you overcome writer’s block by figuring out the ending to your story. Or you figure out how to transition to the border of your quilt. It can take you by surprise but after the incubation stage, an idea has emerged.

This third stage is what most people think is a classic sign of a creative person. Although it is probably the smallest of the five steps, it is one of the most important parts. These moments often happen when you are doing something else like taking a walk, washing the dishes, or taking a shower. Your mind works for you in the background. Once you’ve had the “Aha” moment, we then move to the next stage.

  • Evaluation. Now we do an Evaluation!

During the evaluation stage, you consider the soundness of your idea and weigh it against other alternatives. This is also a time of reflection when you look back at your initial vision to see if what you’re doing aligns with it. During this phase, you might go back to the drawing board, or you might forge on, confident in what you’ve come up with.

Many creative people struggle with this stage because you have so many ideas and you have a limited amount of time. So, the evaluation stage is important because it requires self-assessment and reflection. It is asking yourself questions like:

“Is this a new idea or one that is just re-hashed and has been done before?” “Am I adding new facets to an idea?”

You can also go out to a small group of trusted friends and ask their opinion. But be careful here and make sure these are people who understand YOUR vision and don’t interject their own fears and concerns.

This is very important stage because we only have a limited amount of time. Often you find that people who are considered very ‘creative people’ are quite good at this stage. They have all these ideas, but they can use self-assessment and reflection to say, “these are the ones that have the most merit and that I’m going to work on”. DONE!

  • Expansion. Now it’s time to expand that idea!

This is also known as the Verification or Elaboration stage. This is the final step of the creative process. It’s when the hard work happens. Your creative product might be a piece of art, a song, a novel, an architectural design—anything that you set out to create, driven by that initial idea that popped into your head. Now, you finalize your design, bring your idea to life, and share it with the world.

This is where Edison’s quote comes into play: “1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”. This final stage is the 99% perspiration stage. This is where you’re actually doing the work. Many people think that the “creative process” is that ‘Aha’ moment. But really a creative individual isn’t complete until they actually put in the hard work, actually expand that idea and bring it to reality – testing the idea, working on the idea, those late nights in the studio, working at your desk, those hours in the laboratory if you are scientist. This is the expansion stage, the “make it happen” part.

So, what are you going to make? Use your creative process and let me know in the comments. Ok, so it’s a stretch, but when life hands you lemons, what will you make? If you need some inspiration, click HERE. I’m torn between Lemon Tiramisu and Limoncello!

But seriously, embracing your creative process, and everything that comes with it, will help you forge ahead. Know that it isn;t a linear thing, and you may circle quite a few times. Trust the process!

Join me LIVE on my Facebook page, Virginia Leigh Studio, at 3:00 pm Central every Wednesday to ask me questions and talk creativity. Well, except for today – still floating in lemon juice!

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