As we de-clutter our house in preparation for Spring Green’s community-wide garage sale (July 11-13), I am thinking a lot about the perils of being creative.
In 1926, Graham Wallas described the creative process as having four stages: preparation (often now called immersion), incubation, illumination (often now called inspiration) and verification.
Maria Popova, on her “Brain Pickings” website, does the best job I’ve seen analyzing, communicating and paying tribute to Wallas’ list. His ideas have been around so long, and are so widely accepted, I’ve often seen creativity scholars list the four stages without mentioning Wallas.
The preparation or immersion stage of creativity is where you do research, consider what’s already been done, observe, collect materials, brainstorm possibilities and generally just play around with ideas and variables. It is my favorite stage.
I’ve had the privilege a few different times of interviewing the amazing folks at American Players Theatre in relation to creativity. In one conversation, a director said, “You can never have too much” (of the immersion/preparation stage). In response, a person more on the production side of things said, “Yes, you can!” Then the conversation became a discussion of the fine gradations of difference between “enough” time immersed in possibilities vs. “too much” time immersed in possibilities, when everyone has to keep in mind that there will be people showing up to watch a show at some point.
As I’m de-cluttering, I’m seeing evidence of my penchant for collecting possibilities. I say sometimes AS A JOKE that we’re half a matchbook collection away from being a “Hoarders” episode. I wouldn’t say that I hoard craft supplies, not exactly, but really, unless I’m planning to run my own Vacation Bible School, what am I going to do with the foam board and pipe cleaners and yarn and googly eyes I’ve stored up?
I am paring down, but I’m not getting rid of everything. For example, I’m keeping a small wooden treasure chest in which my son, Wendell, had stored flattened pencil ferrules that he remembers using as currency. I’m keeping it because 1. It’s a great example of childhood creativity, 2. It’s a great example of how children are good at coming up with alternate uses for things, and 3. It’s very small.
It has also gone through all the stages of creativity already. At some point, he must have thought about what metal he had available to use as coinage, surveyed what he had access to, had the brilliant idea of cannibalizing parts from pencils, and he put all that into action. It was fun, so he verified it for himself, and all these years later, I’m charmed by it, which is a final layer of verification.
As for everything else — I don’t have much time or patience at the moment for clutter. No more preparation. This stuff has incubated long enough. Unless something else occurs to me, my main inspiration is to purge. And the verification will be whether or not there is room on my screened-in front porch to use the space as something other than a closet.
Marnie Dresser is a poet, creativity researcher and English professor at the University of Wisconsin-Richland. She lives in Spring Green with her husband and son and contributes to this space on a rotating basis ideas about creativity and education.