The Creative Loop: Movement

July 18, 2011

In part one of this series, I introduced The Creative Loop and described the stages that exist in the loop: Engage, Capture, and Create. In this part, I will focus on the movement between the stages. It is helpful to recognize the stages, but the hard work of creativity happens in the between. It comes out of intentional and deliberate practices that create momentum from one stage to the next. And, especially as we are forming those practices, we will need all the momentum we can produce.

Creative Loop full


The Creative Loop initiates in the lower left as we Engage with whatever may be around us. We move from Engagement toward Capture through the practice of Attending. Attending is the act of paying attention, of being present. As we engage with whatever around us, attending calls us to also experience what is happening in our soul. What emotions are stirring? What ideas are sparking?

It is attending that adds meaning to endless possibilities for consumption that exist in our media saturated lives. We can consume content as mindless drones, or we can engage content with attentive hearts, poised to capture whatever response we might have.

We can also get stuck within the practice of Attending. It can turn into an introspective navelgazing, where our emotions and thoughts never make it out of our ponderings. This is much of what leads to the bottom weighted nature of the Loop. I often convince myself that rocking back and forth between Engaging and Capturing is fine. I tell myself that soon I’ll have enough momentum to roll the thing over. Maybe I’ll engage and capture enough that an idea worth pursuing will emerge.

This is not true. To move beyond Capture, at some point we have to start to


Some ideas might be better than others. Some ideas aren’t going anywhere and don’t merit further energy or time. Often, we don’t move on from Capture because we don’t think and of our ideas are “good enough”. But it’s not a matter of waiting for an idea that is good enough.

To roll the loop over, we have to start drafting. We have to form prose or poetry. We have to put paint on the brush or outline the business plan. It might take many drafts, because the first one is usually, according to the eloquent tongue of Anne Lamott, “sh!tty”.

Most good work takes a long meandering detour through the land of awful. Drafting is your permission to suck. It’s a matter of doing the work of playing with the idea to see what comes of it. The idea will not fully form until given the time and space to express itself.

There are external influences that sometimes help us move toward Creating a work. Deadlines can get us going. Collaboration with others can offer some healthy peer pressure. But none of these let us bypass the act of drafting.

As Stephen Pressfield writes: “Don’t prepare. Begin.”


But if we stop once we have made something, once we have created an artifact, we don’t have a loop. We have a backward C, as Engagement rolls over to Creation. It is the act of shipping that completes the loop. We press publish, we upload, we print, we perform, we share. The artifact that we have created becomes public, where others can engage with it, and hopefully begin the loop all over again. Creative work is not scarce, it is abundant, but only when those who would be creative do the work of drafting and shipping.

There are some things that aren’t worth shipping. Maybe they need more drafting. Maybe they need to be assassinated. But if I had to guess, we all need to ship more and assassinate less. We need to let what we have created stir the souls of others, so that they can create too. The act of creation is itself an act of giving yourself away. No creative act is complete until it leaves the control of the creator for the benefit of those who will receive it.

Anne Lamott says it best in the words below from Bird by Bird. In her case, these were words about writing, but I think they are true of any creative work:

You are going to have to give and give and give and give, or there’s no reason for you to be writing. You have to give from the deepest part of yourself, and you are going to have to go on giving, and the giving is going to have to be its own reward. There is no cosmic importance to your getting something published, but there is in learning to be a giver.

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