Posted by Jonathan Eric Peterson

The Evolution of the Creative process

"Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes; Art is knowing which ones to keep."

-Scott Adams

We’ve all heard or referenced the Heraclitus quote, “The only constant in life is change.” I have long held the belief that creativity, like so much in life, changes as well. Writing, I’ve concluded is an evolutionary process. It was a fascinating observation once I realized this was true. I would love to say this was a “road to Damascus” revelation of my own making, but I cannot. One of my early screenplays was read by a studio Executive who scribbled a note across it that simply said, “There’s too much of you in this story – not interested!”

I was forced to take a long hard look at my story. It took a few years, and many false starts to realize, I was reliving my own life struggles through my creative process, and they were too "on the nose.” I have been writing for many years and find it difficult to look back on material I wrote back in those early days, without thinking it no longer resonates with me. Either for the time and place, experience, or content that I wrote.


The Evolution of the Creative Process


Unearthing the Facts

I believe writing, particularly fiction writing, is one of the most vulnerable forms of artistic expression. In my process of writing, I have created entire worlds, expressing through visual means the inner lives of my characters. A big part of this creative process requires me to delve into my own experiences to provide the substance of my characters. As a result, there is a raw exposure in displaying my life for public consumption. I believe this is why rejection is honestly the hardest part of writing. It’s as if the criticism stands not only as a statement of my story, but an inditement of my very being. The argument can be made that in the early days, I just lacked maturity. This is partially true, but I hold still that my writing had to evolve to improve.

First, I Got Out the Shovel

This wasn't to bury all my past writings, but I won't lie; I considered it; no, in fact, it was to dig into out how much of "me" was in my art. My writing had reflected my own dating life, mental health struggles, and the Evolution of careers or friendships. This was not easy to do but essential in the progression of learning. I found most of my early stories sounded flat and pedestrian. It was hard to admit, but they just weren’t great. They didn’t resonate with me and struck me as limited in scope and wisdom. I was working through my struggles through my art as if my writing were my therapist. I'm not saying this is wrong, but it provided a limited canvas in which to create.

Is anyone else out there?

Over the years, I’ve met many other writers and been with them along their respective writing journeys to see their transformative process on full display. It was refreshing to know; I wasn't alone. In my networking, I noticed that many writers begin by writing what is familiar — digging into the rich context of their own inner lives to tell their stories. I've seen a few writers who remain in this place and "self-identify" with their own story, writing time and time again along with these same themes. There is nothing wrong with that, especially if you've found your unique voice in those words. For me, however, after some time, it felt self-indulgent, perhaps even narcissistic.


The Evolution of the Creative Process


Where I took action…

It's one of the reasons that I hold that some level of therapy, whether in a group or individual, is an essential aspect of writing. For my part, individual therapy has aided tremendously in my creative process. A voracious appetite for reading books about digging into archetypes and personality groupings: I have taken the Myer’s Briggs personality test and read up on the results to better understand the way my mind is wired.

My Own Seven Habits of Writing

You’ve heard of the book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People?” Well, using the idea of habits, I decided to come up with seven “editing” habits I would take when writing any story to remove the “me” from the tale. And no, I am not proposing I am a Stephen R. Covey or even a “Highly Effective Person” by any means, but I had just read the book and determined that habits and the number 7 resonated with me.

  1. Read, read, read: - If you find a particular genre or style, you want to write than bathe yourself in it. For example, if it's Film Noir, then read every script from Double Indemnity (1944) all the way to Drive (2011).
  2. Write the First Draft: – As Brene Brown calls it, write your FSD (Your First Shitty Draft). Giving myself permission to just write out the story and not try and govern myself made for a freeing first draft.
  3. Find and hide your emotional core: - As you dig into the first round of editing, find where the emotional center or arc of your story resides. I usually find that in my early draft, the emotional core is too obvious. Begin the process of layering on top of it, not burying completely, but hiding it, so it’s disguised with subtext.
  4. Increase the tension: It's highly likely, as a result of taking action in step 3, you'll be increasing the pressure, but if not, make sure to up the ante. Make the goal of the protagonist wrought with even more obstacles and challenges. I take this step because I find I’m typically too easy on my main character, as if making his/her journey easier will mirror my own.
  5. Go on an “Identity Quest”: This is what I call it. I see it as a search for me in the story. Are there moments, whether in dialogue or character development where I have inserted too much of myself. If I find it, the debate is whether it lends to the story or needs to be overridden.
  6. Organize a reading: I have come to find this the most cringe-worthy and yet necessary parts of my creative process. I organize a group of people, preferably actors, to read the story aloud. In particular, listen to the dialogue – that super poignant line you wrote late one night, may sound completely flat when read by an actor.
  7. Seek out feedback: There are plenty of outlets to get paid or even unpaid feedback. I have found it to be an invaluable part of evolving my writing and have gotten some of the best-suggested changes from such evaluations.


The Evolution of the Creative Process


Over time my writing has matured. I’ve learned to imagine myself in the shoes of my respective characters. I seek out the nuggets of gold in their struggles. I find their emotional arc and bury it behind complex, sensitive content. I have learned to apply my own experiences subversively or, better yet, visualize being the character and moving past the "what would I do in their shoes" application into empathy for their plight or circumstances.

Like anything, there are always exceptions to the rule, and of course, this doesn't apply to every person. But I do believe based on years of my writing and closely observing other writers around me that this is an evolutionary process is real.

Since, as Heraclitus says, “change is constant," my creative journey is far from over. I'm fascinated to see where the next stage takes me. I hope this has helped if you find yourself wondering or wandering in the world of screenwriting. Until then, enjoy the journey and keep on writing.


About Jonathan Eric Peterson

The Evolution of the Creative Process

Screenplay and television writer. Enjoy drama, action, and dark comedies. Looking for collaboration and networking opportunity with fellow writers.



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