There are many, many, descriptions of the stages of the creative process. Some have been memorialized into pithy, quasi-inspirational, meme-worthy statements that can be shared on the net, all the better to encourage anxious, insecure, doubt-ridden procrastinators, distracting themselves from their creative ‘tasks’ by incessantly checking their social media feeds. Roughly, they amount to this: you have an idea; you think it is great; you get to work on it; you ‘find out’ it is actually a very bad, very unoriginal, very vacuous, superficial idea, one which no one in their right mind would ever have had; then you ‘find out’ your idea is not so bad; you continue working on it; finally, you discover that your original idea, having been modified through these creative interactions with you, is now actually a great idea after all. Hurrah. Or something like that.
These descriptions, which are intended to reassure ‘creators’ that their moments of self-doubt and anxiety are going to find a terminus of validation, include, as can be seen, a crucial, seemingly indispensable stage in which you are convinced your idea is no good. This turns out to be a little disquieting for two reasons: a) we do not know how long this stage lasts; b) we know all too many ‘artistic’ projects end up in the trash heap (those novels whose manuscripts remain filed away in drawers; those poems we burned, literally or electronically, before someone else could read our doggerel verse; those drawings we crumpled up and threw away; those sculptures pushed off the pedestal.)
And so we find ourselves anxious again: Are we in the middle of an especially long ‘this-is-shit’ stage, or are we experiencing the death throes of an abortive, hopelessly misconceived folly that should never have seen the light of day? To give up prematurely is to invite a fearsome cognitive dissonance whose dimensions can only be imagined; we risk subjecting ourselves to the worst condemnation of all, our own, the one in which we castigate ourselves for lacking backbone and ‘moral fiber,’ for giving up all too easily. No facile solutions present themselves; no matter how familiar you might find your own ‘process,’ the uncertainty of the ‘this-is-shit’ stage is always novel, always as forbidding as before.
So there is no good news here, I’m afraid.
As might be surmised, I’m writing this post because I’m in the middle of a ‘this-is-shit’ stage, one that has lasted a long while. My verbal descriptions of the writing I’m trying to pull off always generates encouraging responses from my listeners–‘that sounds really interesting; I look forward to reading a draft when it is ready’–but matters worsen considerably when I return to my ‘writing desk.’ There, masses of notes and observations and ‘insights’ refuse to resolve themselves into a coherent structure; no argument emerges; the threads and braids I seek to weave do not hang together. There is no magical insight to be had; I can only keep returning to this scene of the crime, hoping a clue or two will emerge from the murk. Cold cases suck.