The Six Stages of Inspiration
There are many different ways to express yourself creatively, such as music, writing, visual arts, dance, and stacking colored rocks by the side of the road. But as different as these methods are, there are some things that will hold true for all their practitioners. Whether you’re composing a song, painting a picture, or writing silly lists for a website with an alliterative name, you’ll likely go through a similar process during any creative project you embark upon.
You have an idea. It strikes you suddenly like a bolt from the blue, or else it slowly works its way up from your subconscious a bit at a time. No matter how you come upon it, you immediately realize its brilliance.
It will be a masterpiece, you think to yourself. The strongest of men will weep once they experience its beauty. Attractive members of the opposite sex will throw themselves at you, and Anderson Cooper will want to do a one-hour special about you.
Your whole body tingles with excitement. You spend all your time mulling over and expanding on your idea, until you can hardly function and find yourself walking into walls or spilling coffee on your crotch because you forgot to take a sip. You tell all your friends about your wonderful, marvelous idea, and they agree that you’re a genius – the possibility that they may just say that to be polite never occurs to you.
But eventually, this time of euphoria comes to an end as you realize that, if your idea is ever going to become the masterpiece you know it can be, you’re going to have to actually do it.
You’ve perfected your idea. You’ve made all necessary plans and preparations. Palms sweating in nervous anticipation, you sit down to at last begin your wondrous work of art.
Two hours later, you realize you’ve spent the whole time watching cat videos on YouTube, and you wonder what happened.
You shake your head and resolve to get down to work, but as you do, terror grips your heart. The idea that once seemed so compelling now seems a daunting task, an endless mountain to climb.
But you refuse to be deterred. Gritting your teeth, you swear off all further distractions and force yourself to get to work.
Days later, you realize you still haven’t started. Maybe the phone rang just as you were starting. Maybe you suddenly got hungry and had to go out to get something. Maybe you remembered Glee was on. Whatever the case, your promise to yourself to work on your brilliant idea has been thoroughly broken.
“I’ll start tomorrow,” you tell yourself. You say the same thing when tomorrow comes. It’s not your fault, you tell yourself. Life keeps getting in the way. Maybe that’s even true. Whatever the reason, every time you bring yourself to start on your project, you find yourself doing something else instead. The friends you told about your idea are now convinced you’re never going to do anything with it.
But at last, after weeks of putting it off, you finally master yourself and begin. The creative juices flow, and you wonder why you were so afraid of this. Everything seems perfect, until you come to…
Days have passed, and you have made excellent progress on your project. You’re filled with the thrill of creation. But then, something changes. You find it increasingly difficult to progress. Doubts begin to enter your mind. “Is my idea really that good? Am I doing this right?” It becomes almost impossible for you to keep working.
You have hit the wall.
This is one of the most painful periods of the artistic process. You begin to question every decision you’ve made. You may go back and change your work, only to discover you liked it better the first way. You fret and agonize over every tiny detail, and the slightest flaw becomes an insurmountable hurdle.
You become sullen and depressed. Those around you try to comfort you, or else your newfound surliness drives people away. You obsess, desperately seeking a solution to your perceived problems, to the point where the rest of your life begins to suffer.
Eventually, you realize you’ve lost all perspective, and need to take some time off to think.
Stepping back, AKA yet more procrastination:
You resolve to forget about your project for a time and focus on other aspects of life. You relax, and once again have a chance to stop and smell the proverbial flowers. Your mood improves, and once again people can bear to be around you.
As time passes, the problems that seemed so daunting when you hit the wall seem to shrink. You’re able to think clearly once again, and you feel sure you can now resume work on your masterpiece.
But you don’t. The time you’ve taken off, while necessary to clear your head, has now put you back where you started, facing a seemingly massive project and unsure where to begin. Once again, you sit down to work only to find yourself watching Jersey Shore, reading a book, cooking a four-course meal, learning to juggle flaming chainsaws – anything other than facing the terror of your project.
But you’ve been down this road before. You gather your courage, and in a feat proving your iron will, you face down the terror of the project and begin anew.
Completion and disappointment:
Weeks – or perhaps months – have now passed since you were gifted with your magnificent idea. You’ve worked yourself to the bone, you’ve agonized over every detail, you’ve poured your blood and tears into it, and you’ve gone three days without bathing or sleeping in a fevered burst of creativity, and at last, you are finished.
You take one final look at your creation, and you realize it’s terrible.
What seemed perfect just days ago now crumbles under your ruthless examination. You can see countless problems with your creation, but no matter how hard you try, you can’t seem to fix them. You come to the crushing realization you’ve botched your masterpiece.
Maybe it is as bad as you think it is. Maybe it’s actually very good. Maybe it will go on to unprecedented popularity, and Anderson Cooper will want to do a special on you after all. But no matter what happens, you will always know that you could have done better. There will always be that nagging voice in the back of your mind pointing out every little mistake you made.
Time passes, and the agony of disappointment fades to a dull ache. Then, suddenly, inspiration flashes for you again. You have a new idea, even more brilliant than the one before, and this time, you know it will be your true masterpiece. Your pulse races, and you begin to plan.
And thus the cycle begins again.