I spend a lot of time thinking about the creative process from a practical point of view, but not much thinking about the nature of creativity itself. So, I was intrigued when I came upon a reference to Graham Wallas’s Stages of Creativity. (quoting Wikipedia here)
I’m not quite sure what to make of this. It’s an interesting break-down of the process of having an idea from an observational point of view, and it puts me in mind of a recent guest post I read on Livia Blackburne’s blog. And on the one hand, it squares pretty well with a lot of my experience: I can sit and obsess over a problem for hours, but it’s only when I’ve moved on to some other task that the answer comes to me. Step 3 seems out of place to me (and the article does note that many lists leave it out) and I’m not sure that step 5 is usually anywhere near that explicit.
On the other hand, this is not the only way I know to generate ideas. And as psychology it’s probably pretty thoroughly out of date (anyone care to comment on the current state of the science in this regard?). But it has gotten me thinking about how ideas come to me. On reflection, I think that I get ideas in two main ways: after an incubation period as above (nine times out of ten, step 4 occurs while I’m doing the dishes, which is why I’ll never buy a dishwasher), but also in the process of conversation.
I’m not a big one for brainstorming. Sitting down and deciding to come up with ideas is the best way to make the well dry up for me. I start staring at the paper and wondering what I’ll have for dinner. But when I talk something out, the ideas often come freely. I can start explaining something that’s not fully baked, and find that the words come to me without trouble even when I get into areas I hadn’t consciously thought about before. They’re not always the right words, but I’ve learned to be confident in that stream of words.
To my mind, then, that list of stages above can be cut off at stage 3/4 and replaced with
I’ve probably just erased a lot of my credibility right there 🙂 But that seems to me closer to the way creativity works for me. Sure, there’s some incubation time, but if I sit and do nothing but dishes, only a few ideas will “just come to me”. It’s like writing with a new pen: you’ve got to start your line before the ink will flow. To some extent, this works for me in just sitting by myself and writing the text or an outline, but dialog with someone else works better for me. I can make a lot more progress on a plot just explaining it to someone on IM or over coffee than I can by talking to myself.
How about the rest of you? Do either of these stages describe the way your brilliant brain babies explode onto the world, fully formed and in armor?
(Edit: Changed that last link to one with pictures)