Stages of Creativity
Creativity is a process, one that can repeat as you refine some aspect of problem-solving. If you recognize where you are in this cycle — in what stage, you’ll know what to do to engage your creativity with minimal stress. I particularly like a paper written by James Vargiu  that describes the process and envisions it unfolding in these stages:
1. Preparation: You engage in the creative process, gathering information and attempting solutions. This stage alone may not yield an original result.
2. Frustration: After much effort and thinking, if you’re not coming up with an elegant solution, you find yourself increasingly frustrated until you find it harder to concentrate. This is a good time to put the problem aside. Vargiu that at this point if you just relax your mind, you may realize an elegant, original solution, skipping to step 4 in this process.
3. Incubation: Setting the problem aside allows it to incubate. Vargiu likens this to letting iron filings organize themselves into a pattern that has been magnetized by an invisible energy field. I think of the field having been being energized by your concentrated efforts so that each thought has an emotional charge. Leave the thoughts alone, and they will attract, repel or influence each other. If you’ve made sufficient effort in the preparation stage, this should yield creative illumination.
4. Illumination: Here, you arrive at an elegant solution that may seem obvious in afterthought. In Vargiu’s metaphor, the iron filings have shifted into a new and unified pattern. It’s likely to be a more innovative solution because it synthesizes the many aspects you considered in the preparation and frustration stages.
If you’ve given a solution sufficient time to incubate and you’re still not coming up with an inspiring solution, it may be time to go back to the preparation stage, gathering more information and making more effort before letting your efforts incubate again.
5. Elaboration: You’ve realized the overall shape of your solution. Now you take time to create it in a useful and elaborated or detailed form. For example, I knew I wanted to describe the stages of creativity. To elaborate them is to describe them in enough detail that you, the reader, can relate them to your experience.