Several weeks ago, I interviewed my friend Lynn Downey, an actress in California. We got into the nitty gritty of what it means to be creatives — she as an actress, I as a writer.

That’s when I got the epiphany: The creative process is very personal, sometimes mundane and always necessary to complete your best work.

When you hear the term “creative process,” you may think of an artist swiping brushes of gold across a canvas, or a writer banging on a keyboard as an idea is transferred from brain to document. But those are just the culminating moments. It’s all the other little idiosyncrasies — the things we hate that we do — that actually give a full picture of the process.

The creative process is far more than doing the thing. It’s all the actions and habits that come before, during and after the thing as well. When you can recognize and appreciate that your creative process does eventually take you to the point of a finished product, you can begin to embrace your ticks and love them for what they help you do.

Lynn spoke about how her house is never as clean as when she needs to rehearse for an audition. Then, there’s the procrastination and that thick sense of doom that makes your heart pound before beginning a new project.

Sometimes I wake up early to write, only to find myself rearranging my desk, or knocking a small item off my to-do list before I actually get started. It may be having the perfect cup of extra hot coffee nearby or ensuring you’ve got your best comfy pants on. Maybe it means you sit down to create, but feel like you need a quick jog to get your brain going. Or it’s time to get down to business, but you’ve got to meditate first in order to focus.

Our creative processes are their own beasts. They are often arduous and time-consuming, or seemingly unrelated to the task at hand. Not true! Whatever it takes to get you to the point of creation is part of your process. To berate your process is to slowly kill it, so stop it right there, sister. With this new context in mind, you can better plan for your creative quirks and know that acting on them takes you one step closer to your masterpiece.

There is another, macro creative process at work as well. As a writer, I’m working on articles and blog posts regularly. I publish here and there, develop new ideas and cram in as much reading across diverse publications as possible.

Ultimately, I’m working towards the greater goal of becoming a better writer. I’ve got my eye on a book deal or the opportunity to write for the Wall Street Journal, for example. This creative process for bigger goals takes even longer, years sometimes, but it is another part of the journey.

The larger process for me includes asking a lot of questions, sometimes calling people up for no other reason than to ask them how they got where they are. It means being curious, reading articles and books on any number of issues related to my chosen subject matter, listening to a zillion podcasts, TED Talks and receiving rejection after rejection. Even though sometimes it feels like my pursuits are in vain, they most certainly are not. Without moving forward with supposed failures or gut-inspired questions of those I esteem, I would be failing the creative process that is moving along just as it should be.

Speaking with Lynn, I mentioned how I’d begun my career in journalism but shifted away far too quickly. Now, over a decade later, I’m back attempting to hack it in the freelance writing world where I left off in 2008 — and I feel too old to be this green in a world with others that have been doing it all along.

“I figured it out, ” I said. “Just 10 years too late.”

She cut me off quickly, reminding that all of THIS — these past 10 years of my professional life — are part of my big, brave, creative journey as well. It’s not too late, it’s just right. I may be in my mid-30s instead of my early 20s now, but whoever said artistic dreams have an expiration date? Who ever said our “big magic” runs out when we hit 40? Ever seen one of those stories where a 65-year-old finally gets their college degree — or a 35-year-old begins medical school? Who isn’t instantly inspired by the tenacity and courage it takes for someone to do that? There is no template for what your creative journey should look like.

Be brave and smart enough to embrace each little part of the process, knowing it holds the keys to unleashing your heart and soul into the work you were born to do.

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