My Morbid 6-Step Dance of the Creative Process



Humiliation is a mandatory part of the creative process. At least I hope it is, because that’s how it plays out for me with just about every graphic design project.

The creative process is a quaint and classic dance. Steps are as follows. (I’ve got logo design in mind as I write this, but it’s really applicable to anything.)

Step One: The Excitement.

The beginnings of ideas are flirting with your consciousness. The ideas of ideas. You can’t wait to get started, and your mind thinks of grandiose finished products. You imagine smiling in satisfaction at the finished logo, mounted in glossy acrylic on a gleaming building towering over your head. You imagine nodding at your admirers in appropriately discreet humility, as you admit, “Yes, yes, I did that.” The world is full of promise.

You put pencil to graph paper and start to get rough concept sketches down.

This is going to be great!

Step Two: The Decline.

After sketching out a few ideas… and then a few more… your pencil speed slowing… you realise that this is not going to flow as easily and as naturally as you’d imagined. There’s a bit more forced effort to this than you’d anticipated. Excitement is dampened.

This thing that was Fun now feels more like Work.

Step Three: The Crash.

It’s all shit, what you’re seeing in front of you. The ideas are shit. The sketches are shit. The development is shit.

The work is shit.

Step Four: The Burn.

You are shit. You have no business claiming to belong to this profession. You’re a fraud. Your client’s going to realise it as soon as they see this work. They’ll demand a refund of their deposit. Look at it! No one’s going to pay for this! Your client will tell everyone about this disappointment. Then everyone will know. No one will hire you.

This is the stink of your professional death.

Step Five: The Revival.

A concept sketch or two doesn’t look too bad, and as you refine them, and experiment with different arrangements, you think it has promise. Yes, you know what you can do with this… and then do that… and now this… Yes, yes, that’s better.

This isn’t too bad.

Step Six: The Success.

You pick up momentum and enthusiasm, then you finish and look at what you’ve made. It’s mathematically proportioned. Objectively rational. Aesthetically pleasant. Quantifiably excellent.

This is great!

If I’m lucky, the client thinks so too, and requests few or no revisions. Of course, there’ll sometimes be clients who dance me around, chasing metaphorical wild geese, but if they pay invoices in full and on time they’re easier to forgive. (Unless they insist on routinely calling my mobile at 10pm to discuss something trivial—I had to cut that client off in the end, and was better off for it. Even if poorer.)

The buzz of a successful project gives me the confidence to pick up the next job, because I know I can do it — until we start dancing, and I hit Step Three.

Humiliation is a mandatory part of dancing, too. At least, that’s how it plays out for me. But in the choreography of the creative process, I know where my feet go next. And as long as my feet keep moving, I’ll eventually get to Step Six.


1 Comment

  • Deborah Makarios
    02 Sep 2016

    Sounds familiar! Self-doubt is part and parcel of the writing (or generally creative) life. As Anne Lamott said, “I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much. We do not think that she has a rich inner life or that God likes her or can even stand her. (Although when I mentioned this to my priest friend Tom, he said that you can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.)”
    That said, self-doubt still sucks and is a drag to get through. Them’s the breaks.

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