One of the hallmarks of the creative process is readily distinguishable stages of evolution, from conception through completion. Understanding these stages in an experiential manner can help fulfill our creative potential and assist us in deeply serving others through our works.

These stages are not meant to be viewed as discrete and mutually exclusive. For some creative people, they may develop experientially in a different order, with certain steps breaking like large waves and others only causing a ripple. Indeed, depending on an individual’s efforts, they may interact with each other, bisect each other, happen concurrently or not at all—and deeply interpenetrate each other. Also, these same steps of creation play out microcosmically within each of the seven stages, proceeding on many levels simultaneously. I mean them to be viewed merely as pointers toward the Way and notes toward an unknowable process.

Bryce Canyon, Utah 1974

Bryce Canyon, Utah 1974

Seven Stages of Creativity

As outlined in my book: The Widening Stream: the Seven Stages of Creativity.

The Creative Process

Stage One: Discovery & Encounter

Discovery of working framework; theme, concept, and suitable medium
Search for what one needs to do / one’s deepest responses or heartfelt questions
Finding what is one’s own / what one really cares about
Art grows out of inner necessity
Overcoming of fear, doubt, and insecurity
Necessity of engagement / encounter with process
Invites full and enveloping quality of concentration

Stage Two: Passion & Commitment

Passion encourages growing commitment to process
Necessity to fully engage / the intensity of the encounter
Energizing reciprocal process / joy of creation
Neurological changes / heightened awareness / Entering the flow
Risk taking / innovation / creative discoveries
Rapid and smooth progress / unexpected gifts from process
A deepening relationship with the work is experienced

Stage Three: Crisis & Creative Frustration

Initial momentum expended.
Process hits the wall
Reached the limits of one’s own skills and conscious initiative
Review of works reveals limitations and frustrations
Tendency to give up; Many stop at this stage
Need for new discoveries / fresh energy / new direction
Need for inspiration / intuition / something beyond one’s own skills
One’s understanding and the work itself is incomplete / something missing

Stage Four: Retreat & Withdrawal

Voluntary withdrawal of forces / stepping back
Impartial review of ongoing works and efforts: effort to see “what is”
State of questioning; accept frustration, embrace not-knowing; take time away
Inner quiet and search for inspiration; place conscious will and intent on hold
Aware of one’s own limitations and incomplete work
Search for new energy / new understanding
Put question in back of mind / allow to gestate / activate unconscious

Stage Five: Epiphany & Insight

Open to unconscious / deeper layers of response beyond conscious mind
Breakthrough of understanding: insights often shift direction / gives new understandings
Inspiration can be encouraged, cannot be forced / comes from depth consciousness /
Heightened consciousness and awareness / need to be open and flexible
Process has its own integrity / work gains its own momentum
Artists become the vehicle for the work / insights pass through
New direction brings energy to continue and deepening insights

Stage Six: Discipline & Completion

Merging of conscious action with new awareness
See what is needed with work as a whole / receive feedback from others
Completion phase / disciplined work with craft / techniques
Craft at service of new vision
Attention and concentration given to works
Process follows to natural conclusion; finish work according to new insights
Conscious efforts to express / embody new understandings / to give them shape

Stage Seven: Responsibility & Release

One’s work and understandings are not for oneself alone
Artists are only the vehicle for work / understandings to be born
Creative children must be released into world; let go
Preparation for new cycle of work; indigestion without this stage
Release the work / communicate to others one’s understandings and insights
Making one’s contribution; contributing the to the dialogue of our times
Help / inspire / nourish others and move on to new endeavors