The Dip, the Messiness and the Creative Process


I come from a legal background, over 20 years of studying and working in the law. With hindsight and an expansive view, I can see that some of what I was doing in the law was creative, but it’s a stretch, the language and concepts of ‘creativity’ were not used or understood let alone explored, in the realm of law. Creativity was for artists, advertisers, writers, the other people who lacked order in their working world - and the law definitely sees itself as being about order.

So for me the transition from law to telling stories, was as if I had moved to a strange and foreign land. I did not understand the creative process at all, but I eventually discovered, from personal experience, that in the course of crafting a story to tell, there was a dip, a low point, where nothing could be seen but the sides of the deep hole I found myself in. In the bottom of that pit the ‘story' I was sitting in seemed like nothing more than an unformed and unformable mess that would never amount to anything. There was no clarity, order, sense of cohesion, let alone compelling narrative. The original vision I had begun with was lost.

Often this point, when I am overwhelmed with the mess, is so late in the process that I can’t pick up another story and begin again. Time is against me and the best, indeed only option, apart from giving up, is to push through and with effort, craft, piece by painstaking piece, the bits I hold in my hands that I had hoped would form a story.

And so I put the mess on my tongue and once again seek to speak my mess as story. And again and again I speak, and like a photo under the developing fluid, shapes slowly begin to form in the words, scenes and phrases, a boundary begins to appear around the chronology, to contain it, ideas come, showing where to move parts to make better sense and flow.

And when that happens it is one of the most satisfying feelings in the world. It is a moment of creative achievement, of satisfyingly getting all my ducks in a row, like fitting the pieces of a jigsaw, of landing something. It is not that the work is over, but the central part of getting the structure right has been done.

Next, the story needs tightening, polishing, heightening some parts, getting rid of others, fixing the ending, smoothing the beginning, adding in sensory details, a few flourishing evocative metaphors, adding in dialogue and remembering all the parts.

But its going to work, I like it, its important to me.

Actually believing in my story is another layer not to be taken for granted. The story in my head about the story of my voice can, with the worm of self doubt, undermine a perfectly good and innocent story, but that is a topic for another Monday Muse.

What about you? Any of this familiar? Or do you go through a different process?

If you want to think and learn more about creativity and storytelling, sign up for the next Story Wise Webinar, which I have pushed back a week, to give me some school holiday breathing space (apologies for any inconvenience). It is now on Friday 20 April, 1.15pm.

Photo by Jez Timms on Unsplash