Leo Tolstoy said, “Spring is the time for plans and projects.” This year, American women all over the country are making plans to remove hair that has enjoyed a hirsute hiatus during lockdown. Many of us are also starting new projects, including me. I love crafting bold new endeavors, but I don’t enjoy administering them once they have taken hold. I am what they call “a creative.”
If you’re a creative or happen to know one, I’d like to share with you a spot-on meme that has been around for a few years. It perfectly encapsulates the experience of creating something from nothing:
The Seven Stages of Creativity
This is awesome!
This is OK.
This isn’t working.
This is poop.
I am poop.
Hmmm, this isn’t so bad after all.
This is awesome!
I can see this at work all over my life — relationships, writing and, especially, when it came to the theater. In the early ’70s, I started a theatrical company with friends. We were all women who had plenty of theater experience and knew how much the field was skewed toward men. The norm at that time was that most plays were written by men and featured at best two roles for the gals versus eight for the guys. Worse, our typical parts were either as madonna or whore. Sometimes a play had one of each — woo-hoo! We wanted to create a new kind of theater, a training ground for both us and the audience, reflecting women’s lives as actually lived. And so we did.
1. This is awesome! — Theater of Process debuted in Santa Barbara with the audacity of being comprised of all women, all the time. We also debuted new works written by women.
2. This is OK — As with most projects, reality soon set in as we creatives grasped how much work it would require. We produced three plays opening within weeks of each other to rotate in repertory; just one would be a huge undertaking. And then there was having to sell tickets to everyone and their aunties.
3. This isn’t working — I was in charge of subscriptions because I had a set of highly developed “invite until I drop” muscles. The rest of the company? Not so much. To get butts in seats, I had the idea of running an ad in the Santa Barbara News-Press. It read: “Put a little play in your life! Subscribe now. 19 women nightly. Call 805-555-1212.” Soon the phone started ringing off the hook from men looking for “a little play” … A week later, at a late-night rehearsal, the Santa Barbara PD vice squad burst through the doors to shut us down. We did sell more tickets.
4. This is poop — With three concurrent shows prepped by 19 people, clashes were inevitable. We broke into classic tribalism. The labor people were sure they could run things better than we could in management. Secretly, we wished they’d shut up and just mutiny already. We felt that if their back-seat driving was better than our madly careening around curves, we would happily give up the wheel.
5. I am poop — Much of the discontent was focused on me. I suspect that was because I was not very nice. I get tense and uptight when I’m scared, OK? I didn’t know how to manage my own fear; instead, I got bigger and louder. My management partners had my back, and they were happy I was the lightning rod that took some of the heat off them. I eventually apologized to everyone for getting them into this “All Women Theater” mess.
6. Hmmm, this isn’t so bad after all — We went all-out to invite everyone we knew to our company opening. The party was terrific. The Men’s Auxiliary group was stellar. People had a great time, and we raised enough money to pay everyone in the company … except management.
7. This is awesome! — When the reviews came out, we discovered that they liked us; they really, really liked us! The Los Angeles Times came to Santa Barbara to do a cover story for the Sunday Calendar section. Ms. Magazine ran a piece about our bold experiment in theater.
I know not everyone is into doing big projects that involve other people like our theater did. But the Seven Stages of Creativity apply to any size project, from arts and crafts to writing a short story or a novel, or even making a movie. (Definitely making a movie!)
Meanwhile, have a lovely spring and see if you can start a project of your own using this wisdom. Pass the Seven Stages on to the dreamers in your life. As the great Oscar Wilde said, “The only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on. It is never of any use to oneself.”
Ellen has written a column continuously since the early ’90s. She also coaches writers. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.