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For anyone involved in the creative arts, the process of creation can often be a challenging one. There are times when it flows, but many times when it doesn’t. It can arrive at the least suspecting moment, but not necessarily when you are on deadline. Those elusive moments when creativity flows are like ecstasy as you see things with a clarity and imagination that escapes you in your everyday world. Your aim is to apply our talent, vision, and cleverness to create the moving and original. In those creative times, your imagination and ingenuity is elevated. Unfortunately for most, those moments are too fleeting and rare.

To explore the creative process more deeply, I found someone who has devoted much of her energy to understanding the creative process and how to best manage it. Sally Hogshead from Fascinate, Inc. is an author, and CEO who is constantly trying to innovate and research areas that fascinate her. Her book, Fascinate shares how you can instantly persuade and captivate in a world with a 9 second attention span.

She believes there are five stages of your creative process. Each stage represents an emotional state as your take your artistic endeavour from start to finish. Learning to manage yourself through each of the stages is a key to success if you are to make your living in the creative arts, specifically graphic design.

She labels the five stages of creativity as possibility, doubt, agony, epiphany, and finesse. They follow a timeline of sorts in your creative process. Not everyone hits every stage when completing a creative project, but many do.

In the first stage – Possibility – you are generating the initial easy ideas associated with your project. The basic concept of your project that isn’t fleshed out yet. It’s fresh and exciting because it hasn’t been too defined yet. It is often an easy and free flowing period of brainstorming the possibilities of your project.

In the second stage – Doubt – you are starting to examine your initial ideas more closely and realizing that they aren’t as easy as they appeared. Doubt and uncertainty appear as you struggle to start to question yourself, the original concept, and the overall process.

In the third stage – Agony – you seem to hit the wall. Everywhere you turn you see obstacles and challenges with completing your project. It’s not working and you don’t know how to break through. You become stressed and irritable at your inability to find a solution. You apply more pressure on yourself which creates more blocks to your creativity.

In the fourth stage – Epiphany – you finally break through to find your creative solution. You have innovated something beautiful and original. How it came is hard to replicate, but the sense of euphoria, relief and pride bursts from you after your breakthrough.

In the fifth state – Finesse – you need to take this original idea and complete your original goal. You need to refine your idea into the specific goal you were given. Utilizing your experience and skill, you are applying your creative gifts into a finely polished finished product. Once again, you feel pride and satisfaction by completing your goal and satisfying your client. The fifth state gives you a sense of fulfillment and momentum that you tap for future projects.

Sally Hogshead even prepared a visual that demonstrates her five stages:


Courtesy of Sally Hogshead

Sally Hogshead shares additional advice when you are working in a group:

I realize we have a limited timeline, and that we need to crack our solution ASAP. But if we truly want the best result, we can’t shortcut the process so drastically that we end up presenting and producing a lame idea. Lame ideas are expensive. They cost as much to execute as a brilliant idea, yet generally get pretty mediocre results.

Knowing that you will likely encounter the five stages as part of your creative process, learn to incorporate the time, space and flexibility for the team members to manage and handle the most challenging Agony period. Awareness of the five stages will create an understanding and also an expectation to work through so that you and your team can ultimately deliver your creative and impressive project to meet your client’s goals.