Creativity as Process and Pattern

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my creativity and my creative pursuits and how to continue to do them and enjoy them even when I’m not feeling especially inspired or motivated.  I’ve realized that most of the creative things I do follow a type of process, and that I take comfort in that process.

Take sewing for example.  You have a pattern that needs to be cut out of the fabric and then there are steps that need to be done in a certain order to sew everything together and finish all the edges and make it into a complete and finished item.  The same goes for things like cross stitch, crochet and knitting.  There’s a pattern you’re following, even if it’s something as simple as making a row with a few dozen stitches made a few dozen times to make a square.

I find that this applies to my writing as well.  It’s not always quite as obvious, but there are patterns to most writing.  Whether it’s a pattern of rhetorical choices made in a persuasive piece, a pattern of plot in a narrative, or a structural pattern for something descriptive.  There’s always going to be an underlying structure to the final product that shows the pattern I was working from.

With my writing, these patterns are often something invisible, something that only exists in my head, but they’re also a tool I use for revision and improving the piece.  With fiction, I don’t usually write the pattern down in advance, but I do map it out after the first draft.  But that’s just my discovery writing style process, and I have been experimenting with plotting out stories in advance.  That plot outline is the pattern you’re applying to the narrative.  There are all sorts of ways to think about that pattern and how to create it: seven-point plot structure, three act structure, or the snowflake method.  All of those give a sort of template for the process at least if not the actual structure of the plotting pattern itself.

I find patterns comforting.  Humans are a bit hard wired to see patterns (which is why we read so much into what is actually random or coincidental).  I can use that to my advantage when I’m doing something like a sudoku or picture-cross puzzle, where it’s obviously about patterns, but I can also use that pattern recognition tendency in things like my crafting hobbies and my writing.  Almost every sewing pattern I’ve used that has a modern style sleeve has basically the same instructions.  I can use that familiar pattern to help me make a better sleeve next time.

With my writing, the process of it all, the drafting, revising, and editing, helps me keep going even when I’m not feeling particularly motivated.  The habit of doing something every day at the same time helps my brain shift into the familiar pattern of writing work at that time each day.  I find it easier to write during my morning sprints than almost any other time these days.  My brain is so used to getting up, getting ready, and settling down to write before anything else, that it falls into the thought patterns that help me write.

In times like these, when the motivation or inspiration may not always be there, having the process to fall back on is great.  If I can’t think of anything to draft, I can work on revisions I’ve made notes about before, fill in details for a plot, character, or setting I’ve been working on, or copy edit something that’s nearly finished.  I can keep doing the work, even if it’s only for a short time, and that keeps the pattern of my daily writing work happening.

In the end, the process is how you get from an idea to a finished piece.  Whether it’s the process of laying out the colors to go in each square for a cross stitch pattern, making those stitches, following the pattern directions for a sewing project, or following the process of drafting and revision that works for you, it’s all about process.  Despite the romanticized vision of sudden inspiration, creative products don’t just happen.  Someone puts a lot of work into them by following their own personal creative process.

Right now, I’m taking some much-needed joy in appreciating that process for its own sake.