The creative process is a powerful tool.
It’s how top artists consistently ship great work at a mind-blowing pace.
But what is the creative process, why is it important, and how can you apply it to your own life?
That’s what we’re going to cover.
First, we’ll talk about what the creative process is.
Then we’ll talk about why the creative process is important.
And finally, we’ll walk through 7 steps that top artists (like Jerry Seinfeld, Lady Gaga, and J.K. Rowling) use to consistently ship great work — you can take advice from their creative practices and make it your own.
“You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.”
– Stephen King
What is the Creative Process?
The creative process is the systematic practice that artists (writers, producers, painters, musicians, developers, comedians, etc) use to ideate, outline, create, edit, and ship their work.
Every artist has a different creative process because each creator is different.
But there are similarities.
And it’s the common denominators that aspirers should try to emulate — those are, in a sense, the non-negotiables of creating and shipping great work over the long-term.
Below are 7 non-negotiable steps that top, long-lasting creators all seem to follow.
Why is the Creative Process Important?
The creative process is important because it allows the fragile human psyche to consistently create works of art.
People use habits to lose weight, increase productivity, and succeed in the workplace.
But many people think that creativity should be free of discipline.
Follow your muse, drink the potion, wait for inspiration to strike.
Creativity is a process.
It’s something that requires hard work, discipline, and courage.
You might be creative, but that’s meaningless if you don’t create. It’s also meaningless if you don’t create consistently, with longevity and impact.
But to create, you must have a practice.
In an interview with Tim Ferriss, Daniel Ek, the CEO of Spotify, explained his experiences with the world’s most creative individuals:
“One of the greatest things in my day-job today is that I get to meet some of the most creative people in the world, in their various fields, including music and arts. But the interesting thing is that most people associate [creativity] with unstructured thinking and unfeathered, like, they do whatever they feel like doing, but some of the most creative people that I know are actually incredibly almost scripted in their creativity, in their approach and their process.”
Do you want to be a great creator?
Or even a good creator?
You do that by having a script, a practice, a daily set of habits that give you space to be creative.
Because creativity thrives when it’s guided by a process.
But what should that process look like?
Here are 7 steps taken straight from some of the world’s most remarkable artists.
Step 1. “Stop waiting for motivation or creative inspiration to strike.” – James Clear
James Clear is the bestselling author of Atomic Habits and a prolific writer. In an article on his blog, The Myth of Creative Inspiration, he explains,
“Stop waiting for motivation or creative inspiration to strike you and set a schedule for your habits. This is the difference between professionals and amateurs. Professionals set a schedule and stick to it. Amateurs wait until they feel inspired or motivated.”
Your creativity is nothing without a schedule.
Follow the ebb and flow of your muse only if you want to create haphazardly, if you don’t care about making an impact or getting better.
Otherwise, schedule 30 minutes per day to work on your craft.
During that time, you don’t have to create, but you can’t do anything else.
That time is sacred.
Treat it as such and you’ll soon understand that working is the quickest path to creating.
Step 2. “Treat yourself like a baby.” – Jerry Seinfeld
No one can create while a crazy man whispers that they’re inadequate.
So calm yourself.
In an interview with Tim Ferriss (sorry — love his podcast), Jerry Seinfeld explained that he flips between two different mindsets throughout his creative process:
“The key to writing, to being a good writer, is to treat yourself like a baby, very extremely nurturing and loving, and then switch over to Lou Gossett in Officer and a Gentleman and just be a harsh prick, a ball-busting son of a bitch, about, ‘That is just not good enough. That’s got to come out,’ or ‘It’s got to be redone or thrown away.’
So flipping back and forth between those two brain quadrants is the key to writing. When you’re writing, you want to treat your brain like a toddler. It’s just all nurturing and loving and supportiveness. And then when you look at it the next day, you want to be just a hard-ass. And you switch back and forth.”
Your mind is ready to ridicule your work if you let it.
There’s a time for careful editing, but it’s not during the first draft.
Allow yourself the freedom to create without judgment.
This is a safe space — the crib of creativity.
For now, it doesn’t matter whether you’re creating a masterpiece… or your life’s worst work.
You’re doing the work. You’re creating.
That takes bravery.
Let it be enough.
Step 3. “The discipline involved in finishing a piece of creative work is something on which you can truly pride yourself.” – J.K. Rowling
Professionals don’t just create for themselves.
They create because they’re trying to make an impact, they’re trying to get results, they’re trying to elicit a response.
But while that’s their goal, outcomes don’t dictate their discipline.
They know that the result is possible. They know that some art will fail.
Ultimately, they know outcomes aren’t guaranteed, but that trying is important.
Maybe your audience applauds.
Maybe they gawk.
It doesn’t matter.
Because you did the work.
And doing the work is what you set out to do.
Take it from J.K. Rowling…
Step 4. “Reassurance is futile.” – Seth Godin
Reassurance feels good.
But the creator should never seek it out.
Reassurance kills the creative process because it says, “Wonderful!”, “Good enough!”, “No room for improvement!”, “It’s perfect!”
Great artists understand that nothing is ever perfect and that everything can be made better.
Here’s how Seth Godin, bestselling author and business executive, puts it in his book, The Practice…
“Seeking reassurance isn’t helpful when we work to make change happen. Because doing something that might not work means exactly that… that it might not work.
While it’s aclming to be reassured, it never lasts. As soon as we hear the word, the feeling begins to fade away. There’s never enough reassurance to make up for a lack of commitment to the practice. We have to choice other than to trust ourselves enough to lead the way.
Reassurance is simply a short-term effort to feel good about the likely outcome. Reassurance amplifies attachment. It shifts our focus from how we persistently and generously pursue the practice to how we maneuver to make sure that we’re successful. We focus on the fish, not the casting.
Reassurance is helpful for people who seek out certainty, but successful artists realize that certainty isn’t required. In fact, the quest for certainty undermines everything we set out to create.
Hope is not the same as reassurance. Hope is trusting yourself to have a shot to make things better. But we can hope without reassurance. We can hope at the same time that we accept that what we’re working on right now might not work.”
Step 5. “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” – Stephen King
After a day or so, it’s time to review your draft with a fresh pair of eyes — a critical pair of eyes.
You should no longer treat your art like a baby. You should demand more, remove pieces that just aren’t good enough, and fix areas that fall short.
Great work is created when an artist returns to the same work over and over again, refining it each time, remembering that all projects can be made better, but no project can be made perfect.
There will come a day to ship the work, to let it go.
But before that day comes, schedule time to “kill your darlings” — remove the pieces of your work that serve you, not your audience.
And then, when you can say “I’m proud of what I’ve created”, ship it.
Step 6. “It’s very important to have a feedback loop.” – Elon Musk
The goal of creativity is to elicit a response, to create change.
But to do that, we must become masters of our craft. We must learn how to elicit the desired response with our art.
Not just once, but over and over again.
That’s why every artist needs a feedback loop — the more direct, the better.
Stand-up comedians know what works based on the laughter in the audience. Writers know what works based on reader engagement. Marketers know what works based on conversion rate. And inventors know what works based on market research and response.
Creators create. The audience responds. Creators create again, but better than before.
That’s the feedback loop.
And according to Elon Musk, this is a very important part of the creative process:
“I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better.”
Step 7. “Open the next door.” – Lady Gaga
You’ve created something you’re proud of and you’ve shown it to the world.
The next step is to create again, a little bit better than before.
A little more ambitiously, a little more generously, with a little more courage.
Holistically, the creative process is a system for mastery, for self-betterment, for opening new doors and discovering new knowledge, for challenging oneself.
The creative process never ends because it’s a process, one that is there for anyone who’s willing to embrace it.
Lady Gaga describes her creativity as a hallway of doors. Once she opens a door, she starts seeking the next. Each one takes a little more work to uncover and open. But the process is always worth it.
Here’s how she puts it.
Creativity is a Process, Not a Prayer
Great art isn’t a result of hopeful and flippant creativity.
It’s a result of hard work and commitment to the craft.
Specifically, it’s a result of a commitment to the creative process outlined above — schedule time to work, treat yourself like a baby, reward yourself for doing the work, avoid reassurance, edit like a hardass, create a feedback loop, and always seek the next door.
The creative process is waiting for you.
Will you embrace it?
Mike is a writer for SUCCESS, AdWeek, and Addicted2Success. He’s been quoted on Forbes and Entrepreneur for his expertise in marketing and personal development. He’s also the owner of Get Your Gusto Back where he helps people reignite their inner fire.