The Creative Cycle: A Primer

The Creative ProcessMy first book, A Year Since the Rain, was released earlier this year—in March. It was a strange time for me. That day in March saw the end of the most intensive and longest creative cycle of my life. It was the most public my writing had ever been. Well, that may not be entirely true. Blogging may be more public by definition, but blogging doesn’t come with the same pressure.

An indie publisher had decided to take a chance on my little book and traditionally publish it. This vote of confidence from the publisher was huge for me. I decided early on that I didn’t want to go the self-publishing route—at least not for my first novel. I won’t rule it out for future endeavors, but for whatever reason (I blame Academia), I wanted some external validation from someone who didn’t know me. And I found that in Snow Leopard Publishing.

But this isn’t about that—not entirely. This is about the creative cycle, which is different, I think, from the creative process. Let me try to explain.

The Creative Process: A Working Definition

When I think about a process, I think about a list of steps or a checklist of items that have to be accomplished in a certain order. The creative process, then, would include the specific steps that an artist must take in order to create. For me, that looks like a coffee (if I’m writing during the day) or whiskey (if I’m writing at night), followed by putting on instrumental rock music (usually Explosions in the Sky), followed by parking my ass in my old and gross green chair that I’ve had since college. These things are important for getting my head right.

Then, the creation part—I’m a “let the story happen to me” kind of writer. At least, I let the story happen for a while. Eventually, I will transition into researching and outlining. To me, the creative process ends when I stop creating—that is, once the story is complete. Certainly I add to the story afterward, or take away from it, but these things happen with a different part of my brain. I think that revision is a step in the creative cycle that exists outside of the creative process—for me. Some writers are revise-while-writing writers. Clearly, one phase of revision is important to their process. The rest happens in the greater cycle, but outside of the process.

The Creative Cycle: A Working Definition

The creative cycle is bigger than the creative process. The cycle changes based on the project, just like the process changes based on the artist. For me, the creative cycle that ended when my book launched in March of 2016 was a cycle that began sometime in 2012 when I first wrote the words that would become the title down on a page in my journal. So, something like four years.

The cycle included trying to write a poem and realizing it was something different. It included all of the things from the process that it took to create the book. The cycle included querying and pitching and being rejected and rejected and rejected. And finally, the cycle included acceptance, signing a contract, rewrites and revisions, promotion, and finally release.

That’s four years of my life spent focusing on one creative pursuit. Of course I was working on other projects, but the novel drew most of my creative energy. And then one day in mid-March of 2016, it was over.

And next time, we will talk about what happens when one of these lengthier cycles ends.

~~~

I’m Shane—one of the newer members of the team here at Today’s Author. I am grateful to Rob and company for allowing me into their space. I look forward to working my way in to this new community and trying my best to contribute something worthwhile.

Until next time—

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15 thoughts on “The Creative Cycle: A Primer

  1. You make some good points about the difference between the “process” and the “cycle” of creativity. I think it’s easy to overlook that while these are similar, they are not necessarily the same all the time. I’m looking forward to seeing you build on these points in upcoming posts.

    Welcome aboard, Shane!

    • Thanks, Rob! There is definite overlap between the two, but I think–and I’ll be exploring this more in the future–the cycle can be jarring when it’s over. “That project is done…now what?”

  2. Very interesting. I’ve always thought of creativity in terms of “process.” Hadn’t considered the notion of “cycle.” Love it. Welcome aboard.

    • Thanks, Andrew! I found myself using the term “cycle” when the novel was about to come out. It felt bigger than just process, which in my brain had ended months earlier. Thanks for reading!

  3. Good analysis, Shane. And congrats on your book! Why don’t you add a link so we can check it out?

  4. Welcome, Shane, to Today’s Author. I’m always interested to learn how a writer works, what motivates him to pursue the completion of a book, Thank you for insight into your process. I’m going to think about how your strategy translates to how I write, creative cycle encompassing creative process.

  5. Great post, Shane. I love the distinction between the process and the cycle. The revision step is as far from the creative process as can be – we need so many hats when we’re working on a novel 😉

  6. I thought I was a pantser too, but I find myself floundering in seas of muck within the scenes of my creation. Anyway, nice to meet you and look forward to posts writing by you.

  7. A cycle, yes I like that very much.

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