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The Seven Stages of Creativity: Week 1 Intention

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Orna Ross

Bestselling author Orna Ross specialises in and offers coaching in creative intelligence. Here she shares her thoughts with writing.ie


The same process that creates one thing creates all things. And that process goes through seven stages that connect and loop around each other in an interactive waltz.

If what we’re creating comes easily to us – family dinner,  a dollar, F-R-E-E-writing, – we don’t tend to notice the stages.  If what we’re making is more challenging – conference catering for 300, a million dollars, a published novel  – becoming more aware of the process is essential.

With conscious creation, knowing which stage of the process we’re in allows us to follow the right steps at the right time — and enjoy the dance.

The Seven Stages of The Creative Process are: Intending -> Incubating -> Investigating -> Composing -> Deepening -> Completing -> Going Public.

These stages are not mutually exclusive, as implied by separating and laying them out in a list like this. In practice, they weave around each other in an interactive dance but isolating each stage is useful. It allows us to catch hold of a process that is, by definition amorphous, unconventional, anarchic, flexible, spontaneous and difficult to pin down.


It also facilitates us in understanding the quite different challenges involved in each stage of the process.

One of the main reasons that creative projects become derailed is because we bring in thoughts and behaviours appropriate to a different stage. A common example is writers who try to edit into shape (amplification stage) their early ideas and insights (incubation stage), instead of allowing them full formation.

Over the coming seven weeks, I’ll be examining these seven stages of the process as they apply to a long writing project like a book, blog series or film script. Each month will focus on one stage, working through from Intention to Publication, outlining the defining experience of each, exploring its particular challenges and offering exercises that will enable you to meet them.

This week: Stage One: Creative Intention.

The Challenge: To set the best possible creative intention for you and your writing at this time.

Creative intentions are not reducible to the ‘goals’ beloved of business management and success gurus. It is certainly possible to write a book using this sort of motivation but much more successfully for factual nonfiction than creative work. For many writers in any genre, such an approach quickly leads to frustration, procrastination and, in extreme cases, writer’s block.

It’s too managerial, too rational, too conscious. What’s missing is a tap into the vast reservoir of the imagination.

In setting creative intention, it is useful to think about the mind, and our experience of the world, in three dimensions:  Top Mind, Deep Mind and Beyond Mind.


Top Mind, Deep Mind, Beyond Mind

Conscious, Subconscious, Unconscious

Rational, Creative, Inspired

Visible, Invisible, Virtual

Body/Brain Mind/Heart Spirit/Soul

Intellect, Emotion, Intuition

Classical, Modernist, Quantam

Map, Territory, Dark Matter

Managerial, Faciliatory, Allowing

Information, Insight, Illumination

Separate, Interconnected, Unified

Our intentions are truer, higher, more satisfying, more likely to be fulfilled and more useful to others, when we draw on our Deep Mind and Beyond in framing them and following them through.

The imagination is the only human faculty capable of accommodating all three dimensions of self.

Given that our imaginative capacities and creative intelligence are actively restrained by schools, workplace and society that favour Top Mind, and analytical, rational modes of understanding, we have to reconnect knowingly with this faculty that is suppressed in us.

The good news is that our creative intelligence is always there, available to us, though we are not always available to it.  It is an underground reservoir overlaid with rock and debris; if we dig through these (ABCDEs, see below) we will open a space through which it can gush up to the surface, surprising and delighting us with what it brings forth.

Setting good creative intentions, therefore, requires us to go deep. We must bring the imagination, not just to the content of whatever it is we’re (co)creating but also to its conception and construction.

Not just to the what, but to the how — everything from the form it will take to the eating, sleeping, working, playing and recharging we will do as we create it.

Try ThisInspiration Meditation. Meditation has now been scientifically proven, over and again, to nurture creative capacities. Inspiration Meditation is a simple form of meditation, especially designed for multi-tasking, western writers and artists whose minds are busy and fragmented. You can learn how to do it with this free ebook.

Try This: Do Nothing. For 20 whole minutes, do nothing wholly and completely. Put on a piece of music that you find both soothing and expansive and lie down on your back, on the floor, to listen to it.  Close your eyes, put one hand to your heart and follow your thoughts wherever they go, observing them, but not allowing yourself to get caught up in the content.  Keep the listener (to the music) and the observer (of the thoughts) alive throughout.


We all bring

  • Attitudes
  • Beliefs
  • Concepts
  • Denials
  • Expectations

to any creative project.

These are not set; they will change as your intention begins to unfold.  The very act of turning attention on them often loosens long held ideas and framings. And that is good. The more open we are at this early stage, the better.

  1. What is my attitude to writing a book?
  2. What core beliefs do I hold about the project? About myself and my ability to see it into being? How true are these, in reality?

C. How do I conceptualise this project, in my mind? What does it mean to me? What abstract notions do I hold about it?

D. What might I be denying? What might be there that I don’t know I don’t know?.

E. What outcome am I expecting? What can I accept? What would be awful? What might be good in the worst outcome, bad in the best?

Try This: F-R-E-E-Write three paragraphs addressing each of these questions.

Try This: Write out as long a list as you can make of all your fears about this project (at least 10, preferably more): People will laugh; my mother will be hurt; I’m not good enough; it’s been done before; I can’t afford it; who’d want to hear what I have to say?; I have nothing to say; I won’t be able to make it as perfect as it is in my head; I’m being self-indulgent…

When you’ve finished your list, write five more.

Try This: Go without telephone, newspapers, books, TV or Internet for two days. Move in close to yourself.

Creative Paradox.

To begin a creative project, especially one of any magnitude, is to enter the world of paradox. In order to be habitually creative you have to know how to set intentions, not just for the book as a whole but for each chapter, and scene and line and word (depending on how literary/finicky you are). And also for the life that will support the work and enable it to be brought into being.

And then you have to be equally able to let the intention go when appropriate.

To know, and do, what works.

The intention is like scaffolding for a new build. Like laying the outer bricks, it’s essential but once the shell of the building is in place, and work has started on the interior, it can go without any consequences for the structure.

So your initial intention has to be solid enough to get the work standing on its own – then you allow the nuts and bolts, the shape and texture, the layout and furnishings to be what they want to be.

It’s very rare for a book to turn out exactly as it was conceived in the beginning.

Try This: Pick three of your favourite books and try to work out what the author’s intention was in writing them. How does this relate to/compare or contrast with your own creative intentions?

Try This: Write a parallel monologue around your creative intentions for this project, in handwriting, using both your dominant and non-dominant hand.

Begin with your dominant hand, thus: ‘When I think about this project, I…” Repeat with the non-dominant hand: ‘When I think about this project, I…

I’d really like for it to.…

I’m afraid it might…

What will I do if it doesn’t…

Here’s how I’m going to make it happen…

About the author

©Orna Ross

Orna Ross writes novels, nonfiction, the occasional poem and – new venture! – screenplays. She also blogs about, and facilitates, Creative Intelligence for writers, artists and everyone. Check out her website  www.ornaross.com.

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