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From Spark to Slog: Creativity and the power of iteration

“Creativity isn’t a trait; it’s a discipline. Those who say they are not creative are often those who are averse to the hard work of transforming a good idea into something truly magnificent.” ~Bredon Burchard

Engaging the spirit of creativity is less about the unique idea you have come up with and more about how much trial and error you put into bringing it to life.

We all have the initial idea, but we don’t all see it through. We all have the initial spark, but we don’t all make an effort to fan that spark into a flame, let alone into a fire that will spread.

The creative process is real work. Hard work. Creating a finished product that’s polished and beautiful takes time. You don’t just go from spark to fire without the in between slog. Sometimes, often, it takes multiple strikes to even get a spark to catch. And unlike fire, the creative process has even more elements that must come together to create beautiful art.

Iteration is the thing. Repetition is the way. Trial and error is the path. Just as the journey is the thing in life, iteration is the thing in art. Iteration is the slog, the creative toil, the imaginative struggle, the artistic striving it takes to get from just a good idea to a work of art.

Let’s take that spark, that good idea, and follow it through to completion. Sure, it might run out of gas. It might fade into obscurity. It might even fail utterly. But it also might lead to something more magnificent that we could have possibly imagined. We’ll never know unless we grab that spark and take a leap of courage into the slog…

Start with an idea:

“The world needs more writers who don’t give a damn about best seller lists, and who write with their heart’s blood.” ~Robert McCammon

You know the idea. You’ve had it for a while now. Maybe you’ve had it for years, or even decades. You always thought to yourself that it would make a great novel, or play, or movie, or video game. You’ve carried it with you to remind you of your own genius. Maybe you even wrote a couple pages about it and then fear took over and you stopped and never looked back.

It’s never too late to take that idea and push it over the ledge into the slog. Sure, the slog means work. It means venturing into the unknown. It means potentially, probably, failing. But so what? Slog anyway. Work hard anyway. Venture anyway. Fail anyway.

Failure is important. Especially while slogging. But we’ll get to that. For now, reignite the spark. Keep striking until it sparks and takes hold. If your idea is really good, it’s time to prove it. It’s time to go all in. It’s time to go from spark to slog.

Move it, shape it, break it:

“Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative. A writer is someone who has taught his mind to misbehave.” ~Robert Rubin

So, you’ve taken the leap of courage into the slog. The spark of your idea is cradled close to your chest like a baby. Now it’s time to let that baby move. Let it crawl. Let it get dirt under its nails. Let it eat mud. Let it bump into walls, fall off cliffs, pet scorpions. Yikes! But yes, it’s got to hurt a little. Maybe even a lot. Your baby will have to break and come back together again.

Move your idea around. Spin it. Shape it by imaginatively stuffing it into impossible spaces. Keep squaring circles and circling squares with it. Allow the spark to breath, to feed on a variety of kindling, to test its own boundaries. Let it burn, burn, burn. Let it break apart under the intense heat of your imagination. Then snuff it out. But there is gold in the ashes.

Discover something new within yourself and start again:

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” ~Thomas Merton

You are full-on into the slog now. Your original idea, your baby, lies broken in your hands, shattered into a thousand pieces. Your spark, which slowly burned for a time, is now a pile of ashes. Believe it or not, this is a good thing. This is a vital step forward in the creative process. Now the real work begins.

Pain has become your teacher. But now you realize something new about yourself: you can handle the pain. You can now use fear as fuel for the fire. You realize that your idea was a rickety bridge, and though it has crumbled away, it got you from there to here. It got you from a state of fear to a state of fearlessness. Maybe even fierceness.

Now you are ready to begin anew. You are ready to piece your baby back together again with new and improved pieces and a glue made from resilience and rebirth. You are ready to rise from the ashes like a phoenix, resolute and robust, and prepared to adapt and overcome.

See a new vision and jump back into the slog:

“Let the world burn through you. Throw the prism light, white hot, on paper.” ~Ray Bradbury

From your new vantage point, your phoenix-like gaze can see the bigger picture. You see where your original idea was always meant to go. Your baby is now more adaptable to change. Your spark has become a hungry fire on a bed of wise ashes. Your new vision has come into clear focus and you are more than ready to handle the slings and arrows of the slog.

Once again you are moving through the slog. You are shaping your idea, leveraging it, spreading it out. But now you have a vision. Now you have time-tested intuition and clear resolve. The beauty is that the failures of the past have sharpened your creativity and imagination. The tragedy is that you will fail again.

Test it, fix it, break it again:

“Find something only you can say.” ~James Dickey

Your art is now coming into a state of wholeness. But it is not perfect. Nor will it ever be. And that’s okay. At this point, imperfections should give it character. Magnify that character. Test it. Weigh it against reality. Let your baby tips the scales. Let your fire burn through its boundaries. Create new horizons. Fix what fails the test. Leave behind what doesn’t work. Keep pushing. Keep grinding. Keep slogging. But wait, there is more pain ahead.

Once again you must allow your baby to break. But this time it will be a controlled break, a measured shattering. It will be a sacred extinguishing, a reconciled dousing. It’s done with purpose, with deep meaning. It’s a strategic maneuver so that you can get back down to the roots, the core, the soul of the art and reorganize and reprogram old patterns. In the time before your fearlessness, it was a fragile breaking. Now, it is an antifragile breaking. Which makes it, and you, all the stronger.

Hone it, hone it, hone it:

“By nature, men are nearly alike; by practice, they get to be wide apart.” ~Confucius

Your work of art is now robust after it’s controlled break. It has been through the slog. You have suffered the slings and arrows of turning something that didn’t exist into something that’s alive. But the slog is never really over. The work of art will never be perfect, but that doesn’t mean it cannot be honed, stropped, whetted, filed, and sharpened again the whetstone of your imagination.

Hone it, hone it, hone it. Look at it from all angles. Look at it with over-eyes, with the big picture gaze of the reborn phoenix and the reoccurring God of this art. Retest it. Rebreak it. Refix it. As many times as it takes until your soul sees a thing of beauty. Your soul will know. Your head will balk. Your heart will be blind with love. But your soul will see beauty for what it is. Hard-fought-for truth is always beautiful.

Lean into the iteration:

“Books aren’t written – they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.” ~Michael Crichton

At the end of the day, iteration is to an idea what a clam is to a pebble. With enough iteration, enough hard work, enough pressure and struggle and polishing, the pebble of your idea will transform into the pearl of a work of art. Will it be a best seller, a blockbuster, a smash hit? Will it change the world? Maybe, but probably not. Because there is more to success than just going through the tough slog of the creative process. There is timing to consider. There is luck. There is the fickleness of the consumer. There is fate. And fate does not seek your consent.

But that’s okay. You’ve done your part. You’ve proven your worth in the slog. You took nothing and polished it into something beautiful. You took the coal of your idea and pressurized it into the diamond of your art. You breathed air into your spark and created a fire that lights up the world with the unique signature of your creative heat. You did your best.

Onto the next work of art? Why not? Quality does come from quantity. Practice is a virtue. And when it comes to the creative process, iteration is the thing. After all, multiple ideas sent through the slog and transformed into beauty is the only way you will ever achieve an oeuvre.

Image source:

1st image by Beeple

2nd image by Luciana Couto

About the Author:

Gary Z McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide-awake view of the modern world.

This article (From Spark to Slog) was originally created and published by Self-inflicted Philosophy and is printed here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Gary Z McGee and It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution, author bio, and this statement of copyright.


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