Creative Process Exercises (Step 1)

There are lots of creativity exercises that can be found in books or on the internet and classes you can take to enhance your creativity. Many of them are geared toward helping you develop a creative approach to your work or personal life. Others seem to be directed at helping you solve problems creatively. That’s different from creating—making something from nothing.

The creative process works best when you complete the three steps—conceptualization, visualization, and manifestation—in order. And creativity exercises seem to be more effective if they’re matched to the appropriate step in the process. With that in mind, here are some exercises that lend themselves to Step 1.


At the conceptualization step, you want to give your Inner Critic the day or the week off so it doesn’t prematurely shoot down your ideas. Delete the words “practical” and “realistic” from your vocabulary. When you think you’ve exhausted the possibilities, keep going. That’s often the point where you strike gold.

According to Tony Buzan, who wrote The Mind Map Book, mind-mapping uses “radiant thinking to maximize your brain’s untapped potential.” A mind map begins with a blank sheet of paper—the larger the better—and a pen or pencil. Write a central word, phrase, or question in the middle of the page and draw a circle around it. Allowing yourself to free associate (no censoring allowed), add lines (branches) radiating from the center to develop your themes. One word or phrase often triggers another. Words and phrases that relate to your themes are twigs branching off from them. You can mind map in black and white or in color. You can use words only, or you can add images. There is even software available to help you create a mind-map on your computer. Take your time and allow your mind-map to unfold. Some examples of mind-maps can be found here.

On a large sheet of paper, draw three boxes—one small, one medium-sized, and one large. Using markers, colored pencils, or crayons, draw something that you want in each box. The small box can represent something that has lesser value to you or it can represent something that has a great value but is small in size. You assign the value to what’s in each box. Again, don’t censor yourself. Be honest. Don’t draw something you think you should want. Remember, no one has to see the results of your artistic attempts. When you’re finished, write a caption for each box. If you want to go further with this exercise, you can flow-write about what you drew, either about what’s in each individual box or about your experience as a whole.

This is a list-making journal exercise that can help you get past your surface thoughts and responses to a deeper level. Lined paper works best for this one. Write “I Want…” at the top of a page, then either number the lines (50 or 100) or set a timer for somewhere between 10 and 20 minutes. As in flow-writing, the idea is to keep your pen moving—even if you repeat yourself—and to not censor yourself. It’s usually in the last third or quarter of the list that the surprises show up.

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Enneagram types 1, 2, and 6 may have more difficulty with this step than the other types. The best antidote for that is practice, practice, practice. You can experiment with the exercises using safer or less highly charged topics. For example, you could mind-map a trip or a vacation you want to take. In place of making a list of things you want, you could make a list of things you enjoy—or things you need to pack for that vacation. Play with all three exercises and find one you feel comfortable with. You can’t really do this “wrong.”

One response to “Creative Process Exercises (Step 1)

  1. Pingback: Creative Process Exercises (Step 3) | Nine Paths

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