The creative process is like building a wood fire. You have to build it over several stages, start small, and slowly make it grow. And you need to attend it, unattended it will die. On the other hand a good fire – and a good creative process – does not need obsessive attention, just a bit of awareness every so often.
Fire building is a wonderful analogy for the creative process. When you build a fire, you are taking actions toward a result. The circumstances are constantly changing, but these are distinct stages of development, from preparation to maturity. The type of actions you take in the beginning stages would not be suitable in the later stages, and vice versa. Also the initial stages have a big influence on how the later stages develop. If you don’t prepare the fire well from the beginning, it will later be difficult to keep it burning.
There is something primal and vital, while at the same time elegant, timeless, and almost scientific about building fires, just as there is with the creative process. Building and tending a fire requires a blend of human skill and knowledge.
Basically there are four stages in fire building. In the kindling stage, you ignite small amounts of highly flammable material, such as newspaper or twigs. Soon you will need to bring the fire to the next stage; otherwise the flame will quickly burn itself out. In the structuring stage, you begin to establish form to the fire. You build a little tower with larger sticks around the burning kindle. In the building stage you then add small logs and make sure to place them so that air will be sucked into the fire. Finally, during the tending stage, you every so often place new logs on the others. These will burn easily because of the already established fire and the build-up of glowing coal from the previous sticks and logs.
Creating also has a kindling stage. Easily taken steps add energy and lead to more involved steps. Smaller acts lead to larger acts in creating, just as in fire building. If you have not used proper kindling, the fire will be hard to light. If you do not take easy beginning steps, the creation will be harder to make. If, once you have ignited the kindling, you place a big log right in the middle of the small fire; the fire will go out before the log will be able to burn. The same happens in the creative process. Too often people want big results too fast. But if the supportive structure is not in place, the fire of the creative process will go out, too.
One of the wonders in a good fire is the amount of space there is in the structure. Logs do not fill the centre; air does. Although you cannot see the air, this invisible force is a major component in the success of the fire. In the creative processes there are many invisible forces, too. Like the interaction between the conscious and the subconscious mind, the tapping into the creative well or inspiration – without defining it here and now. The creative process includes just the right combination of visible and invisible forces.
When building a fire, if you use too much wood, the fire will go out. If you use too little wood, the fire will go out. If you use wood that does not burn well, the fire will be harder to get going and might go out. A good fire feeds on itself. A good creative process does this as well. Energy is generated by what has gone before. In the creative process, conscious choice, actions, learning, adjusting, an intuitive sense of timing and «lucky accidents» can combine in just the right proportions. It is true of both fire building and creating that you begin to get a «feel» for it after a while.