Ever heard of the hero’s journey? It’s a term for the popular storyline or pattern that has been used in innumerable writings since human beings first felt the desire to preserve stories by the written word. It details the journey of an underdog into the person they are destined to become. There is a similar pattern or arc for a creative project. We can name it “the creative journey.” Like the stages of grief, some stages may meld together; you may double back to a certain stage. The transitions are fluid and changing, but in any creative project, you will touch upon them all in one moment or another. Whether large or small, every creative project has a journey, and this is mine.
“I’m going to sew my own wedding dress.” Hardly surprising if you know me. I teach sewing in a junior high, after all. (That is a journey of itself, but for another day). The fact that I am going to design it and sew it all myself in a matter of less than 3 months? Also not surprising if you know me. In my creative journey, this is the first stage. It may manifest differently in each person. For myself, it is marked by an overabundance of confidence in my own abilities.
Any person who may try to dissuade me or point out even the most logical of counterarguments will serve as fuel that I, and I alone, will accomplish the task, or die. I can do anything, I tell myself. I will do whatever it takes. I have considered all of the pros, rejected all of the cons and am ready to take on the world, er…my project. The fire burns in me and I imagine in the end being able to tell someone that I did this. I created it. The search for this kind of validation serves as a motivator. It will be incredible, and everyone will know it.
Phase two: design and planning. In my specific case, it involved trying on wedding dresses. I wanted the authentic experience, so I did not tell the stores that I was planning on making my own, which resulted in a few awkward “hm, I’ll let you know…” moments. This step was vital in my journey because it gave me a base from which to jump into the creative realm. The stage may be identified by sketches, comparisons, timelines, etc. Something a little more serious creeps in as you weigh the pros and cons and all the work comes into clearer focus, but still the general feeling of invincibility remains.
Then comes the work before the fun work. Athletes will practice for hundreds of hours for each one they spend in game time. Musicians will play a thousand repetitions for a single performance. In any endeavor, there is generally much more prep and an incredible amount of work that goes into making something appear effortless. Stage three is the "practice before the game" so to speak. The muslin that is cut and adjusted and pinned and adjusted and cut and stitched and adjusted. The base and the under garment and the shape and form and silhouette that all contribute to the final project, but none or few of which will ever see the light of day, much less be appreciated by the outside eye. Necessary “evils.” No fear, the project is materializing and the flame of wanting to create still burns, if a little less brightly.
By this time, in the thick of the work, the invincibility complex has worn off and the worrying thoughts set in: did I pick the right fabrics, where are my scissors, will they come on time, have I made it too small, will it actually fit, where did I put that needle, is my custom dress form really my size, holy crap, I only have a month and a half to work on this, I really should have tried the dress on myself before I constructed the entire base but I didn’t so hopefully it fits, hmmm, that fabric isn’t quite right let’s order some custom that will come three weeks before the wedding sight unseen. You cry over silly things like sewing the zipper in wrong, or said zipper breaking. You seriously debate quitting. You may search for rush order shipping on a wedding dress from China.
The only reason why you do not quit in stage three is because you can see the barely glimmering light at the end of the tunnel, which is the stage four “fun” stuff. The design stuffs. The outer layers that everyone will see and ooh and ahh over. The seven effing yards of lace that you trim and piece around the bottom of your dress and train, painstakingly hand sewing each and every inch (thank you for your help mom). The gorgeous, custom made, beaded fabric that did not come until you were counting the days before the wedding and requires that you hammer—yes, as in, legitimately use a hammer—the beads to break and remove them from the seam allowance. Warning, glass bead shards can cut you.
The fifth stage generally manifests itself as you are in throws of stress in stage four. It is doubt. It is wondering why in the world you ever attempted this. It is wondering why you had to be special and make a dress when everyone else just buys one. It is panic work. It is feeling like the hand stitching will never end. It is little knots tangling in your clear, invisible thread—what makes it useful is the same as what makes it so annoying. Things push you to the verge of tears even though you know deep, deep, deep down in your logical brain that a little knot is nothing worth crying over. It is guilt/stress when you are working on anything else. It is questioning every solitary choice in your life that led you to this point.
While you may vacillate between stages four and five many times during a project, there is generally a distinct moment when you pass into stage six. Maybe one specific part of the project finally gets completed. Maybe, despite your doubts, you've just kept working and suddenly you can see how it will come together. Your deadline is in sight which may still cause some stress, but some of the old spark comes back because you are out of the woods if not out of the ditch. Enough has materialized out of your hard work that the original vision returns.
Stage seven: completion. You are done. You are exhausted. You are proud. You are battered and bruised. You are very dramatic. At the end of it all, you know it is worth it. Not in the cliché, Pinterest quote kind of way, but in a truly and deeply satisfying way. There is something divine about creation. Participating in creating something new, even in the smallest sense, is one of the most authentically satisfying feelings in the world. In an awesome sense, every parent can attest to that. In a much humbler sense, so could every crafter, painter, seamstress, architect, engineer, designer. Any person who has at some point in their life been a creator, knows the power of the three little words: I made it.