The Creativity Cycle

  By Shamus   Apr 17, 2007   15 comments

My work recently has brought the following into sharp relief. Whenever I’m working on a challenging project, I follow a very predictable pattern.

  1. Enthusiasm: This is going to be my best project ever!
  2. Unease: Hm. This is getting tough.
  3. Dismay: This is impossible! It’ll never get it!
  4. Defeat: What a waste of time. I must destroy this project and erase all traces of it so that my lack of talent is never exposed to the world.
  5. Grim resolution: I’ve come this far. I might as well finish it, even if it sucks.
  6. Hope: You know, I’m starting to get it. I might pull this off after all.
  7. Elation: I did it!
  8. Hubris: That was easy! Next time I’ll do something twice as difficult!
1515 comments. (Fifteen is the smallest natural number with seven letters in its name.)


  1. Alden says:

    My usual mistake is stopping at step 4… :)

  2. Rhan9 says:

    Hehe… I get usually to 1, then I have step 1.5 where I just emulate ADD and get distracted with something else.

  3. Eddy Webb says:

    Oh, so you’re written RPGs before?

  4. I know all those stages. Usually Stage 4 can be overcome by putting the project aside for a while. Sometimes it isn’t, though.

  5. Pixy Misa says:

    All good programmers go through those stages. The bad ones skip stages 2 through 6.

  6. Heather says:

    That’s it, exactly. I have learned to sit back during 3 and 4, knowing that the creative juices will sstart flowing after a week of solid gameplay. :)

  7. Clarifon says:

    Insert procrastination between 2 and 3, just remove defeat, and you’ve got me pegged.

  8. Steve says:

    You forgot step 9 where the office git takes all the credit and step 10 where you get marked down in your annual revue for something someone else added to your project without consulting you which then broke it in several key sites.

    Good one Shamus. Nailed it again.

    Steve.

  9. Vegedus says:

    Hm, I’m a good deal diffrent. Instead of Dimsmay and Defeat I have Intrest Decline: “This project isn’t that fun.” and Escapism: “I’ll do it later”, and I don’t always get to 5.

  10. Yup. I’m currently in phase 3 of my project at work. I’m hoping to get up to phase 5 by tomorrow.

  11. Thad says:

    So predictable you’re repeating yourself. :)
    (See http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=640 )

  12. Rhan9 says:

    ADD here would be Attention Deficit Disorder, not AD&D.

  13. Patrick says:

    I submit a revision ( based on years of observation) that only but a few are qualified to make.

    3a. I must take a 2 week hiatus from my project due to the broken rib I suffered while expressing #3.

  14. Nick C. says:

    Ever since my first foray into freelance web programming, I’ve stuck to this cycle like……Something sticky and clever sounding.

    I bid on a project and I think, “This is going to be great!” The code will be so simple, and the project will look great in my portfolio….
    Immediately after I look at the code I’m going to write or modify, I panic. I don’t start with a nagging unease or a few doubts. I go right into panic mode! Of course, I almost always take on jobs that are just barely within my capabilities…. Yeah, I don’t really know why I do that…Expand my horizons I guess?

    After tinkering with the code for hours, panicking all the while, I give myself a certain amount of hours to figure out what the hell I’m doing before giving up (usually 10).

    Eventually, I grasp one or two key concepts and start to feel hesitantly hopeful.

    The next phase is buckling down and working…. I’m the type who will either work his ass off with 15 hour days for a week or procrastinate heavily for as longs as possible (As long as the deadline is met!)

    I then celebrate by watching a bunch of movies on Hulu whilst patting myself on the back and making grand speeches to the air concerning my awesome prowess.

    A few weeks later, thinking I’m the king of the world, I tackle a bigger or more complicated project and repeat the cycle all over again.

    Sorry to necro this, but I felt OCC (Obsessive Compulsive Commenting). Love your blog by the way! I spent….seven hours today reading the archives. Procedural city and terrain generation posts were awesome!

  15. ERROR says:

    I usually stop somewhere between step two and step three, sometimes even step one and step two, for sometimes weeks on end. I have all kinds of unfinished stuff in my computer, now that I think about it. On the upside, I generally skip steps four and five, so for me, the only buffer is boredom, as opposed to difficulty. Other times, they go right after step one, which is probably why I have so many unfinished projects.

    Bottom line is, my own personal creativity cycle is fairly unorthodox.

    Creativity Cycle
    1. Enthusiasm.
    2. Unease/dismay/defeat/lack of interest.
    3. Hope.
    4. Elation.

    Did I say unorthodox? I meant simplified. Or something like that.

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