We’ve all seen the inside of an artist studio – either in person or in the movies. They are never neatly organized with paints all in a row and tables that are clutter-free. In fact, they are just the opposite. They are messy, and appear completely disorganized at first glance. They studio may have half-finished works thrown randomly about, tacky accessories that appear to be from old garage sales, and strange props, toys, or magazine clippings festooned about like seaweed.
The key takeaway here is that the creative process is messy. It isn’t something that fits neatly in a box, or a rule book that can simply be adhered to. By definition, the creative process is non-liner and abstract. In the same way that the artist’s studio is physically messy, the act of creativity is not always clean and neat. There are days that are inspired and extremely productive, while others that seem to achieve little results. There are often creative bursts followed by periods that feel like a lull.
As you embark on the process to grow your own creativity, you need to give yourself permission to work in this messy, non-linear environment. Unlike fastening bolts on a line or pushing paper across a desk, effort and results do not always sync up. In the creative process, you may expend an enormous amount of energy and feel frustrated with the lack of output you generate. Then, as if it fell in your lap, you may be overwhelmed with enormous gains, rich ideas, and brilliant breakthroughs.
Imagine striking a rock with a large hammer. You hit it once – nothing happens. Strike it again – no results. Three more times – nothing. You hit the rock 99 times in a row and still the rock remains intact. On the 100th strike, the rock breaks open and crumbles into thousands of pieces. Obviously, the result wasn’t from a single super-powerful final strike. It was from the cumulative effect of the previous 99 strikes combined with the final hit. Each of the previous hammer blows was critical to the ultimate objective, but the results were not visible as the effort was expended. Creativity is often very similar. You may work on a Creative Challenge again and again and again, seeing no tangible results. Finally, after tremendous, unrewarded effort, the breakthrough idea comes into the light. Just like the 100th strike of the rock.
Artists become better over time not only due to the perfection of their craft, but due to the increased confidence in their own abilities. As the cycle of creativity oscillates between peaks and valleys of inspiration and lack thereof, the artist gains comfort that the next burst is just around the corner. Having successfully navigated through dry periods and ending up with success, confidence increases and so does the quality of the work. These cycles increase in speed, and the low periods become fewer and farther between.
The same thing will happen for you as you nurture and grow your creative capacity. Your experience of overcoming challenges, working through soft spots, and ultimately achieving strong results will not only motivate you to continue but provide the confidence you’ll need to handle the next obstacle. You will end up creating a positive cycle that increases in speed, while you creative work becomes better with each turn at bat.