A Method to Madness? - The five-step framework for creativity

The blinking cursor on a blank screen. How can such a small thing feel so weighted with the expectancy of creativity? It’s not always like this. Sometimes I don’t even notice the blinking as I furiously pour my soul out through the keys. Other times, the blinking cursor taunts me as if to say “I’m waiting…”

I’m not unique in this experience; being creative isn’t just a tap that we can turn on and the genius begins to flow. But did you know that there is something called “The Creative Process Model”, developed by scientists Jacques Hadamard and Henri Poincaré? Flora Richards-Gustafson outlines each of the steps in her Small Business article, “5 Steps in the Creative Process Model.

This was news to me: I knew that I had my own (sometimes painful) process when writing, but I had no idea that there were formalized steps. I was very interested to establish if there were any parallels between mine and the scientists. Using myself as a guinea pig, I’d learn if I’d unwittingly been following it all these years.

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During the preparation phase, the artist “becomes curious after encountering a problem” and “may perform research, create [sic] goals, organize thoughts, and brainstorm as different ideas formulate.” This is key for me; there must be some spark, some catalyst that drives me to write, whether it’s professional or personal. I would call this my inspiration phase, but they are essentially one and the same.

Thinking back to all the projects I’ve worked on, this is certainly my experience; something has always given me the impetus to begin and that’s when the coffee starts percolating.


“While the individual begins to process her ideas, she begins to synthesize them using her imagination and begins to construct a creation.” The seed has been planted and now it’s up to me to ensure that it flourishes.

I find myself in this phase a lot. In fact, sometimes it can be hard to escape it. I’m not writing anything at this point; it’s all happening in my head. Ideas are coming in and out of focus; it’s a bit like prospecting for gold, with the worthwhile nuggets staying in the sifting pan whilst the irrelevant ones fall through the holes. Fluidity is the name of the game here.


Have you ever had that finger-snapping moment when, out of nowhere, an idea pops into your head in one neat, bow-tied-solution-to-your-artistic-problem package? Suddenly you have clarity with a solid framework.

Never underestimate the greatness of this moment, referred to as the illumination phase, which apparently “can happen unexpectedly.” All artists have them, they just might not be as frequent as we would like. This is the creative process high.


The evaluation stage is when the artist “evaluates whether the insight is worth the pursuit.” I have had times when, what I thought was a great idea, was not quite what the client wanted, or I had inadvertently lost sight of what I was trying to achieve. This is the creative low: acknowledging that you got it wrong and needing to go back to the drawing board. But when you get it right, that’s when the true creativity starts—the implementation phase.


Finally, we are creating something! The last phase is “when an individual begins the process of transforming her thoughts into a final product.” This is not necessarily the easy part. I refer here to my blinking cursor introduction. I have the solid idea, but I still need to get the right words into the right order and onto that blank page. Some days it flows naturally, and some days it does not.

In my own process of writing, I’m actually following The Creative Process Model; I just never knew it. (That’s an illumination if ever there was one!) It seems there is a method to my madness after all!

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Shelley McKay is a communications professional with over fifteen years of corporate and technical writing experience. Currently freelancing, Shelley is working in the nonprofit space supporting organizations by sharing their stories and engaging with their communities through fundraising and marketing campaigns.


Creative InspoJulia Djeke