Recognize the phases of creative work.
Nature moves through phases as it transforms itself.
The waxing and waning of the moon, the seasons of the year, the human life: they all have cycles. Story structures, like the hero’s journey and the heroine’s journey, also move through the same phases. We love stories, because they teach us how to recognize and adapt to change.
No matter where you are in your writing life, you will revisit certain states of creation again and again. You and your writing are part of nature, and you move through the same phases.
You might not recognize the pattern, at first.
Writing is a lifelong career for many of us. I know that it is for me — I’ve been writing since I was four years old. Basically, as soon as I learned how to read, I decided I wanted to write.
Over time in my writing life and career, I saw patterns in my creative growth. I’ve been a creative writing teacher for over twenty years, and I have seen these same patterns at work in the lives of the writers I’ve worked with.
It helps to know there’s a pattern, and that you’re a part of it. It helps to learn the phases, so you recognize them in your own creative life.
And if you’re the kind of person who likes to plan ahead, you can put things in place to support your growth edge and work with your own cycles throughout your writing life.
Every phase of transformation has a signature energy, with different and specific needs and responses. Each phase requires different kinds of actions (or non-action) for the cycle to run naturally and effectively.
Phase 1: DREAM
Prepare your physical space; Set your intentions; Take things out of your calendar; Gather your tools.
Phase 2: SPARK
Enjoy the pleasure of starting; Carry a notebook with you; Use prompts; Follow your curiosity; Trust what feels fun and curious.
Phase 3: COMMITMENT
Set up a ritual; Make decisions and follow through on them; Keep pushing forward; Find a writing partner to help you stay on track.
Phase 4: PATIENCE
Pay attention to synchronicities; Trust your intuition; Read books for support and influence; Embrace change; Let momentum lead you; Nurture yourself.
Phase 5: RESULTS
Finish the draft! Celebrate how far you’ve come! Let yourself expand to fit a new reality; Reflect on your intention; Reward yourself.
Phase 6: SURRENDER
Honour your story and revisit it with curiosity; Know your strengths and lean into them; Accept what is still unknown; Reach out for connection.
Phase 7: CHANGE
Mix it up, cut it up; Face the truth: what do you have to release? Be kind to yourself; Clean your desk; Recycle the old; Make space for new vision.
Phase 8: INTEGRATE
Go wordless; Digital sabbatical; Notice without writing; Hang out with a non-writing friend; Keep your manuscript in a drawer; Make time for white space.
You get to experience every phase as you move through your creative work. And while you might have favourite phases, it’s reassuring to know that your less favourite phases will pass.
For instance, you might be a writer who loves the Dream and Spark stage, but feels freaked out about Commitment. Or you might love Surrender and Change, but feel uneasy about Integrate.
They’re all important. And you can’t skip a phase. Each new phase emerges when you reach the limits of the previous one.
With this larger perspective over the whole pattern, you get to make smoother transitions for yourself, so you can avoid feeling stuck or blocked.
You’ll know when it’s time to fan the flames of your curiosity and how to stay engaged with a long project without working until you’re burned out.
Knowing that each part of the journey is a normal phase, crucial for leading you to the next stage (and your future projects) will help you make the most of your time.
Story is how we create meaning out of what we don’t obviously understand. It’s pattern recognition. Living our writing life as a story means we know how to prepare for different dilemmas, obstacles, and curiosities.
And it means that deep in our core, we know that after every ending, there will be a chance to start again.
Photo credit (top): Sanni Sahil on Unsplash.