Creative Cycle

Food for Thought

Day 49: For many people, the current crisis has been an introspective moment to rethink what is truly important in their lives. It’s a good occasion, therefore, to explain this idea of creative cycle that I think is quite useful but rarely talked about.

In astrology, there are three “modalities”: cardinal, fixed, and mutable. My mother-in-law is a professional astrologer, so, let’s say I’m just loosely applying this concept to describe the creative cycle—lest she should come here to correct me.

In the cardinal phase, you come up with an idea. In the fixed phase, you execute it. And, in the mutable phase, you put your work out there.

With practice, we can become good at all of them, but not all of them come naturally. Some people suffer from creative blocks because they fear the next phase.

Many people who are bad at the cardinal stage become commercial artists, like graphic designers. They are armed with skills to execute any ideas, but, ironically, they can’t get excited about their own ideas.

Some people I know are idea-machines but lack the discipline required to complete the fixed period. As soon as they sit down to work on their ideas, they become distracted by other ideas.

Some film directors I know have been nursing the same projects for decades, refusing to take the next step. They are bad at the mutable phase (distributing and promoting). They rationalize it by saying their work is not good enough yet.

When you feel stuck in these manners, you need to keep cycling through because your creative energy ultimately comes from the momentum of this circular motion. If the wheel keeps spinning, little humps here and there would not stop you—the momentum would push you over them. And, the more you repeat this cycle, the better and more comfortable you become at all the phases. The quality of your work is secondary to this momentum because, if you keep going, the quality will naturally improve.

So, even if your ultimate dream is to write a big novel or to direct a feature-length film, start small so that you can keep completing the cycle. Eventually, you will be able to expand the cycle without getting stuck.