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5 Stages of the Creative Process with James Taylor

by Aleza D'Agostino
creativity

Have you ever wondered how to start your book, your song, or your creative business? Do you ever find yourself sitting in front a blank page unable to even begin?

James Taylor is a UK based, award-winning Creativity Expert and Entrepreneur who has spent years trying to find answers to those questions. After refining his craft and reading nearly every academic article based around creativity and its process, he has done creatives everywhere the favor of translating the answer into 5 bite-sized stages: Preparation, Incubation, Insight, Evaluation, and Elaboration. These five stages will help you stretch out that creative muscle and position you for success.

Writing

PREPARATION

The preparation stage is all about absorbing as much information as you can. Also known as the “getting inspiration stage” as Taylor called it. This first stage is where you want to immerse yourself completely in your subject and aspirations.

James Taylor: “The best place to do this preparation stage is in a quiet environment. Because what you’re really trying to do here is absorb as much as possible – and that does require sitting on your backside and just reading and thinking and speaking to people, just letting in.”

You might find that you do this naturally. For example, if you are a musician this might mean listening to the albums that you’d like to sound like; If you’re a writer, reading as many books as you can get your hands on.

JT: “You’ll probably have to give yourself a time limit on how much time you’re going to spend if you’re working on a creative project – Otherwise you can get completely lost there.”

To prepare, immerse yourself in your creative mindset to get inspired!

INCUBATION

This second stage might sound a little strange because it calls for you to, well, do nothing.

JT: “On the surface people think you are doing nothing, but what you’re actually doing is you’re putting all this stuff… into the back of your mind and you’re letting all your subconscious essentially churn through all this information.”

Taylor suggests absorbing all that you can in the first stage and then switching gears to something entirely different. If you’re writing at a computer, or sitting in a room reading for inspiration – this is the time to get out of that environment and do something physical to distract your mind.

JT: “This can take days, weeks, sometimes months… The idea is that you may be thinking about [your subject] in the back of your mind but it’s not really absorbing and it’s not something you can really push. You let your subconscious do the heavy lifting here.”

INSIGHT

JT: “This is the classic ‘a-ha!’ moment, or the “eureka!’ moment. Interestingly, It’s probably the smallest part of the creative process, in terms of time, but it’s the one that they make the films about… What you’ll tend to find is that you’ll have lots of series of these little insights and moments.”

Taylor mentioned that often you might find these moments come up while doing some sort of low-level activity. Don’t worry – you won’t have to do any extreme sports for them to appear! Taylor assured me that they can come to you on a walk, in the shower, or even while driving your car.

JT: “This is because your subconscious has basically been bubbling away, and in this insight stage you’ll realize things will start percolating to the top, bringing things to the forefront, and that’s where you’ll start getting these insights.”

EVALUATION

This could be the most difficult stage for some creatives. We tend to have a lot of ideas all of the time, but it doesn’t mean they are all good ideas. In this stage, you’ll have to learn to sift through them all to find the most viable option.

JT: “There’s different ways of thinking of that. You can fast forward and ask yourself, is this a new or novel idea, or is it just a re-hashed idea that has been done before?”

Taylor went on to say that this is where having a group of trusted peers or colleagues might come in handy. Getting outside opinions might really help in deciding whether or not an idea is worth pursuing.

JT: “We have a limited amount of time in life, so you’ve got to decide what you’re going to do with your life and how you’re going to spend it.”

ELABORATION

This is the most important stage of the creative process.This is the moment we take action.

JT: “Edison said, ‘1% inspiration and 99% perspiration,” this is the 99% perspiration bit. This is where you’ve had the ideas for songs, you’ve written the songs, you have the first bit, but this is the editing, the re-editing, the mixing, the marketing, getting it out there and telling the story.”

Taylor is incredibly passionate about this stage, and for good reason. You can’t just spend your time coming up with the ideas and not following through with the work. We have a responsibility to ourselves and to our creativity to show up or we’ll end up with a pile of half-finished projects.

JT: “Some days will be easy, and some days you’ll get more of these insights than others as well, but you’ll have to start by doing the work and building in some kind of system for yourself that works around your life and what you’re out to do.”

Next time you’re seated in front of a blank page, or you feel that inspiration hasn’t yet struck, remember that creativity is a process. Put yourself in new environments, immerse yourself in great work, and surround yourself with catalysts to launch yourself into your own creativity.

Check out James’ summary video of the “The Creative Process: Five Steps” here:

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Aleza D'Agostino

San Francisco native - filmmaker, photographer, writer, producer.