Throne of Agony

Posted inDesign Inspiration

By: Sally Hogshead | September 29, 2011

Why does it have to be so damn hard to come up with breakthrough ideas?

Earlier, I gave you a hands-on look at the 5 stages of the creative process: Possibility; Doubt; Agony; Epiphany; and Finesse.

Hold my hand, and together, let’s return together to that torturous stage I call “the Agony.”

While you’re stuck in the Agony, writhing around trying to find your big idea, it makes sense to loathe the Agony. You want to hurry through it, and get on to a more comfortable stage.

Courtesy of Sally Hogshead
Courtesy of Sally Hogshead

But here’s what I want to propose: The Agony is the most important part of the whole process.

The Agony is where new ideas come from. Here, in the struggle, you have a massive opportunity to create something truly new. You can do something breathtaking that the world has never seen.

Agony is where inspiration lives. The Agony is the ecstasy. Do you want an epiphany? If so, you need to sit your butt in the throne of Agony.


Anyone can come up with a bunch of boring ideas. That’s easy. The question is: do you have the tenacity to keep going, to keep pushing through the Agony? Fascinating ideas are never easy. They’re not supposed to be easy. If they were easy, they wouldn’t be so valuable. That’s why boring ideas are cheap, and fascinating ideas are precious.

There’s a reason it’s called a “breakthrough.” You have to break through something.

Are you sitting in the throne of Agony? If you can expect that there will be a point in the process when you feel discouraged, if you can anticipate the struggle and stop resisting, then you can actually start to create.

The next time you feel yourself struggling in the creative process, pause for a minute. Recognize that now, finally, you have the potential to start creating something truly extraordinary. Now you’ve worked through all the easy ideas. Now is the stage when things can start getting really good. And stop beating yourself up for feeling insecure, because the truth is, just about anyone who’s ever tried to create something big and real and meaningful has struggled with the fear inherent in this stage.

Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

The reality is, creativity is sloppy and imperfect. Creativity simply isn’t a rational. It’s sweaty and red-blooded. Tempestuous. It wakes up at 2 am struggling whether to tweak a headline one hundredth of an inch, or start over entirely.

The best results do not follow a rigid or predictable process.

Technology keeps getting faster. But creativity will always operate on its own timeline. Just because it’s possible to take a digital photo in a few seconds doesn’t mean that the amount of time required to actually create a spectacular image is any shorter.

If you can anticipate that the Agony will be part of your creative process, then you can approach it with the purpose and respect it deserves. The Agony is a valuable, healthy, and necessary part of creating anything worthwhile. And it’s worth it.

For all its maddening imprecision, creativity always triumphs.

Information comes and goes.Transactions can be outsourced.Technology becomes obsolete.Opinions change, and tastes change. But creativity will always be essential. And rare. Because it has to come from you.

While everyone is fawning over Google and Apple and Twitter, remember this…


There’s a reason it’s called a “breakthrough.” You have to BREAK THROUGH something.

RT @SallyHogsheadNot Google. Not Apple. Not Twitter. YOU are the ultimate technology.

RT @SallyHogsheadCreativity will always be essential. And rare. Because it has to come from YOU. @SallyHogsheadIf you want an epiphany, you need to sit your butt in the Throne of Agony.

RT @SallyHogsheadTechnology keeps getting faster. But creativity will always operate on its own timeline.

RT @SallyHogshead

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