While researching Flow and his other books on creativity, Mihaly Csikszentmihayli identified five stages that most creative projects go through, whatever the field of endeavor. In an article called “Let It Flow” in the August issue of The Writer, Kerrie Flanagan outlined them for authors. I hope you find the stages intriguing and inspiring:
Preparation: This formative stage is where everything begins. With fresh eyes and curiosity, ideas are gathered and new experiences are absorbed. This is the time to jot down notes, save stories that pique your interest, and set up a folder to hold them as they’re gathered.
Incubation: In this phase, the bits and pieces gathered begin to percolate. Ideas drift together, stories begin taking hazy shape, characters may appear and demand attention, and plots begin to unfold. To make this stage most fruitful, you can consider using mind maps, sketching out plot points, writing character back stories, and even designing visual montages of characters and settings.
Insight: Here, we reap the fruit of our preparation and incubation. We have an “Aha!” moment, where our ideas begin to really take shape and we feel energized and motivated to take them further.
Evaluation: As we begin to pursue our creative concept more vigorously, we begin to look at it more objectively. We may begin to feel uncertain and insecure about whether our concept “has legs” or we have the ability to bring it to completion. We wonder if it’s original enough and meaty enough to pursue — or if there will be an audience for it. This can be the most emotionally taxing part of the process, because we need to push past self-doubt and recommit.
Elaboration: During this last stage, we make the decision to keep going, to realize our vision and complete the novel, story, or poem we’ve been developing. At this stage, we need to summon up the time, energy, and perseverance to push past the finish line.
Just knowing these stages can make it easier for us to keep going. Let’s feel the flow — and write on!