How To Understand the Creative Process - #3 Illumination

In my last post, I talked about the Incubation stage of the Creative Process - when the ideas that you have immersed yourself in are played with and combined - often in subconscious ways - over a period of time.

Each of the stories I shared ended up with this Incubation stage finishing, and a moment of illumination - an "Aha!" moment - which is the focus of today's post.

This Illumination stage is the often the highlight of the Creative Process, accompanied with emotional relief and excitement, as it has come at the end of a period of time when no progress has been made. This is the stage we long for - and we must be prepared to maximise!

British composer Howard Goodall relates the story of his creative process in 1992. He had been commissioned to compose a choral piece for a touring choir and was making no progress. As he drove around France, seeking inspiration and incubating various ideas in his head, he stopped at a small village called Embrum, which contained the oldest working organ in France. Goodall decided to enter the church and have a look at this piece of musical history.

As he was leaving, the bells began to chime. Goodall noticed the starting F# note, and suddenly other church bells began to resonate around him. Goodall paused, and listened for 15 minutes as a flurry of notes surrounded. Suddenly, these bells and the ideas he had been playing with combined in his head to form the inspiration for his piece Missa Aedis Christi. 

Immediately, Goodall wrote down this piece in musical notation - a task taking him from 7:30pm till 1am that night. Upon awakening, he then proceeded to play through the music (in his head) again, combining new ideas and seeing new problems - starting the Creative Process over. Many cycles of this continued in his process of refining his musical inspiration.

Goodall's story highlights two important facts about the Illumination stage of the Creative Process.

1 - The Illumination stage rarely only happens once.

Normally, the new idea that you receive will drive you back into the initial Preparation and Incubation stage. The first great idea that you come up with is not necessarily the best idea, and will need further refinement. Too often, people settle for their first idea and attempt to get others to engage with this idea as well. Once flaws in their thinking are revealed, their future creative processes are weakened.

When you have a moment of Illumination, celebrate it and then re-start the Creative Process. How does this new idea solve the problem? What ideas does it link with? What ways does it not solve the problem? How else could these ideas be combined?

Spending just a little bit more time with your idea could be the difference between it developing into a great innovation, or being 'just another idea'.

2 - Carry a pen. Everywhere you go.

That may sound facetious but I can't stress this enough. The human brain has a remarkable capacity for creating new ideas, and a remarkable capacity at forgetting them. I have met with countless people who have talked about the idea that got away as they forgot to write it down when Illumination struck.

Often, these ideas seem to occur at night, so keep a pad and pen by your bedside. Jot down your ideas when they strike and give yourself the best chance at remembering the Illumination when it occurs.