A Meditation on the Creative Life-Cycle

Hero Cycle

Art is generated in that dark place where you must travel alone. But you've put off this exploration long enough, so into the forest you plunge, at dusk.

creative cycleBut you find are not alone. Your mentors and teachers and ancestors await you, if only you call out to them. But all the old trolls haunt these woods too: Regret, Fear, Bitterness, Sloth, Loneliness, Grief... Should you run away and hide from them or should you launch yourself at them in full war paint? Your muse is guiding you but it's an effort to hear the voice, to interpret the right path. By midnight you wonder whether turning back would be easier -- "better for everyone" really -- because this struggle is too hard. Why did you start? What were you thinking?

But you press on.

At dawn you find yourself awake, at the forest's far edge, facing the city again -- all your old neighborhoods, all the old distractions, all the old familiar bullies: Pride, Frustration, Greed, Criticism, Envy, Hatred, Indifference.

Here at the edge of the forest, you feel wonderful, invigorated, purified by your night's journey, understanding now how you can create something full of truth and beauty that will make a positive impact on the world. It's tempting to linger right here, clinging to your bliss, wrapped in the glowing cloak of divinity.

But no. The work must be done in the city. You face the day. You are back with your tools and supplies, in the fray, sketching, outlining, planning, testing... laying all the groundwork...

By noon you are already tired. It wasn't supposed to be this hard. How to get this done seemed so clear at the edge of the forest. Now it's a monstrosity. Your audience is shaking its collective head. Or not even bothering to look. Maybe you should scrap this pathetic mess and try again another day when you're more inspired.

But you press on. And the project takes shape. You complete your work. The promise you made to your muse is fulfilled. You celebrate.

But as the evening falls, you begin to wonder... what more does the forest have to offer?


I work on this creative cycle concept from time to time. It incorporates ideas from a variety of sources about those stages we go through to get anything done -- from the grand hero's adventure to latest damn project. Always the inner psychological struggles, always the challenges engaging with the real world, round and round we go.

Joseph Campbell, Hero With A Thousand Faces (1949). (Link) Adopted as my "bible" in college.

George Pólya, How To Solve It(1944). Just discovered that this is the source of the "learning cycle" I used frequently in my former job. Understand, Plan, Do, Reflect.

4.15.08 (Rev. 10.5.10)