In Writing as a Way of Healing, author Louise De Salvo, Ph.D. delineates seven different stages of the creative process—and warns how we can derail our entire writing process with certain behaviors at each stage.
“For our writing to be healing,” Louise says, “it’s important for us to understand that there are different stages of the writing process, and different challenges at each stage.” It’s important to be able to write in a healing way, without undue anxiety. “I’ve come to understand,” Louise says, “that the most healing way of approaching the writing process is to focus upon the potential and possibilities for growth rather than upon its problems and pitfalls.”
Predictable Stages with Predictable Problems
Ms. De Salvo talks about seven predictable stages we pass through with each creative project. While sometimes stages can overlap, they are distinct stages with separate challenges—and they hold different opportunities for us to grow as writers.
The seven stages are:
- the preparation stage
- the germination stage
- the working stage
- the deepening stage
- the shaping stage
- the completion stage
- the going-public stage
The preparation stage (the subject of today’s blog) comes first. This is when puzzling ideas and odd images and snippets of conversation drift in and out of our dreams and musings. We wonder what they mean, and we’re intrigued. At some point we stop musing and begin to put things down on paper, trying to organize our thoughts, figuring out what genre or literary form we want to use and possible viewpoints. “Beginning writers,” says de Salvo, “often spend far too little or far too much time at this stage; some avoid it altogether and plunge right into working, which can derail our process.”
Sabotage at Stage One
How do writers sabotage themselves during the preparation stage? Several ways. One big way is by not writing down those fleeting thoughts we have at odd times. It’s not so much that we think we’ll remember those thoughts later. It’s more because the thought seemed rather silly, certainly insubstantial. We decide at some level that the idea just isn’t big enough to warrant attention—and so it’s lost.
On the other hand, you may take this initial stage so seriously that you shut down. You may expect too much of yourself, thinking that if you were a “real writer,” you’d have a plan! You’d know where all these odd bits and pieces floating around your head belong. You expect the images and musings to fit into a pattern much too soon, and this kind of pressure can give you a lovely writer’s block before you ever get started.
Tips for Stage One
In this preparation stage, in order to get the most out of it, give yourself permission to think and make note of trivial thoughts. Write down everything, no matter how unconnected it might seem to anything you want to write. Eventually, these odd bits and pieces may start making connections and spark other ideas that will be more useful or substantial.
Learn to enjoy this stage! Force yourself, if you’re a Type A organizational freak like me, to let your brain slowly release ideas to you. Don’t force connections immediately. Don’t try to make each snippet “mean something.” Let it happen for a while. For quite a while, actually. Remember, you’re just in the preparation stage.
Blog posts during the next two weeks will cover the remaining stages of the writing process, both the setbacks and the tips for navigating that stage successfully!