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Navigating the Creative Process

Updated: Nov 4, 2020

What is the creative process? Well, years ago before I wrote my first book I’d tell you that you need to be sitting around waiting and waiting for inspiration and then, when it strikes, you get busy creating. And for a long time, I thought that’s how it worked. I wasn’t overly productive but on those rare times when inspiration struck, it wasn’t too bad.

But then, I was asked to write a book. I thought it sounded like fun so I signed up. It was miserable, I wasn’t getting the inspiration I thought and I was panicking at the due dates. So, I did something I thought wasn’t right. I sat in front of the computer and, not waiting for any inspiration, I just started writing because I had a deadline.

And, it turns out, that wasn’t a bad plan. Eight books later and I figured out that creativity is not something that just happens, it’s something that you work to create. I discovered there is actually a process for being creative.

Now when I teach game design or other classes, I realize that you can actually teach people how to harness the creative process and how to make it productive. Unfortunately, in our society, there is this huge myth of creativity that ties being creative to a gift or to a talent that people either have or do not have. Or a “bolt of lightening out of the sky.” None of that is needed.

In my experience working with graduate students, corporate workshop attendees and many, many creatives, I’ve discovered that a systematic process can be taught and followed. A process that results in the creation of a creative product.

In fact, when I am in a workshop, I often see a familiar pattern. When I first assign the task of creating a game, the team sits around talking, wondering, debating. And as they sit around thinking about what to do, they suddenly get stuck at about 20 minutes of discussion. They have “no idea’ what to do and seem stalled. This happens all the time, at this point, I tell the team to write down, draw or sketch any ideas they have. Even if they think the idea is wacky. They just need to just sketch it out. Getting started doing something, writing drawing, work toward a finished product even if you don’t have one in mind.

Once they start sketching and writing, then the ideas start to flow (remember, they’ve been thinking about it for 20 minutes as well). Then we go through a process of pruning ideas and slowly but surely, the game design emerges. The same is true for artists, writers and others (from what I’ve witnessed).

Now the creative process does have variations and each person is unique but if you start with a proven process that has been used by others, it gives you a starting point. Once you have a process that you can use, then modifications are easy but at least you have a start. I think Picasso has been credited with the quote “Learn the rules like a professional so you can break them like an artist.”

So, don’t get stalled on the creative process. Follow a technique used by others and soon you will be on your way to creating awesome products. Oh, one more thing, you need to be willing to iterate again and again but that’s the subject of another post.

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