The Creative Process is Messy—And That’s by Design

The Creative Process is Messy—And That’s by Design

When I was in grad school, one of my creative writing professors said something that’s stuck with me over the years. “You learn how to write a book by writing a book,” she said. “There’s really no other way.”

What she meant was that, sure, I could read books on literary craft and workshop essays with my classmates, which of course I did, but the process of writing a book—which is not unlike the process of building a business—was something I had to experience for myself. It simply wasn’t a process I could learn without doing.

Instead, I needed to spend years wrestling with the material—shaping, revising, rewriting, deleting, moving things around, and generally making a gigantic mess of the manuscript before I could begin to see what the work was trying to be. I had to write 120,000 words, and then another 20,000 words after that, in order to get to the 80,000 words I would ultimately use.

In short, I had to go really wide, and then really narrow.

Diverge, and then converge

Years later, within the context of creative agency work, the lesson I learned in grad school still applies. The process of creation, of creativity, of making things—whether those “things” are strategies or products or apps or designs—is something we and our clients have to experience to understand.

To the uninitiated, the process can feel messy and unruly. It can be frustrating. It can seem risky and like a waste of valuable time.

But if it feels like that—you’re doing it exactly right.

The process of creation is by its very nature an exercise in trust. You have to trust in your team, and yourself, and that you’ll ultimately find your way to the solution, no matter how far off the path it feels like you go, because the path to the solution is rarely linear. Instead, it’s undulating. At times, it’s even circular.

This is because creation relies on both divergent and convergent thinking. In divergent thinking we go wide. We create choices. We generate. In convergent thinking we narrow our focus. We make choices. We decide.

When I wrote my first book, the entire first draft was in service of allowing my future self the ability to make choices that were in service of the narrative arc.

Paradoxically, I wasn’t able to truly understand the narrative arc of the story until I had all those words laid out in front of me. I had to create choices for myself in order to make choices for myself. It was then, and only then, that I could begin to mold and shape, to fashion, to push it all to the next level.

The same has been true of our agency. My guess is the same has been true for your business.

So if you find yourself in the midst of a project and it feels like the wheels are falling off, if you feel unsteady and unsure, if you can’t see the forest or the trees, know that you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be. Push forward, temper your frustration, trust in the process.

Remember that creation is messy—and that’s by design.

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