June 3, 2020
Leading for Possibility: How Creative Process Can Make You More Prolific and Productive
For years, I had a dream to write a poetry collection. In 2018 I published one. Yet for roughly two and a half decades I only wrote a handful of poems each year. To put together a poetry collection, a friend once told me, a poet must write hundreds of poems. From the hundreds, there will be a couple dozen good ones for a collection. In a handful of years prior to 2018, I finally came to write those hundreds.
I learned three things:
- There are four distinct stages to producing a new work and which I like best and least.
- Prolific and productive creativity takes practice.
- The muse might make a few good things but consistent practice makes many.
Universal Creative Process
Any time you set out to make something new—a poem, an article, a product, a theory, or a change to a system, you (likely unknowingly) engage in the universal creative process. We can map work in every profession, from accounting to plumbing, to the four stages of this process.
As I wrote in The Non-Obvious Guide to Being More Creative, when you are aware of this process and map your natural work approach to its stages, you can more deliberately and consistently produce novel and excellent work/ideas/solutions. You can pinpoint where you get stuck and devise strategies to overcome the obstacles.
Use My Process to Discover Yours
Here’s my poem-writing strategy mapped to the universal creative process. It provides an example to help you sketch yours. As you read, think about the new forms that you have to create each day at work.
Do you have to find new physical solutions to problems, like engineers or electricians?
Do you respond to customer service calls, each one a unique situation requiring a unique response?
Are you a lawyer who needs to get a new perspective on a case?
Do you make proposals for clients?
Do you create lesson plans?
When you really think about your process, you’ll be able to roughly divide it into the following four stages. Then, you can pinpoint where you typically gain or lose energy and work out strategies to keep yourself consistent throughout.
Writing a Poem in Four Steps
I begin thinking about topics. Am I writing for a specific purpose? To convey a message? To capture a new way of looking at something? Am I inspired by a particular catalyst?
This might look like a first draft, a list, or a few random observations. It is written in messy handwriting in a paper notebook. If I don’t have an idea yet, I’ll start writing mostly bad things that I later mine for an interesting nugget.
This might be a second handwritten draft in a notebook, or edits and erasures to the first. Then it becomes a typed draft. Then it is printed and edited further. It’s often read by my writing mentor. Then another draft, often with altered line formations.
This stage can be the most intense. It’s actually the one I liked least before I knew about creative process. With this realization, I created several strategies to make this stage more engaging for me:
- I make my drafts in several different forms (handwritten, typed, printed).
- I take time between drafts to let ideas incubate.
- I ask for feedback from others.
The final typed draft is printed. It only becomes final once it’s published because I can’t resist tweaking.
Now, Your Turn
So, what’s your process? Which stages spark the most joy? Which would you rather avoid? What strategies might you devise to improve your process to make it more prolific and productive, and, theoretically, more beneficial to the world?
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Kathryn Haydon helps you maximize your creative strengths so you can do your best work. Through keynotes, workshops, and consulting, she trains individuals, leaders, and teams to find the unique spark that leads to deep engagement and productivity.