So you weren't totally satisfied with my crossword puzzle metaphor because the process involves a single, correct solution, and the creative process does not. Ever.
Here's the Party Patio Metaphor instead.
The lower two-thirds of our back yard is taken up by my labyrinth. For years the upper part was just blah grass.
This was to change when our son announced his engagement. My lovely first wife, who loves nothing more than to PLAN ALL THE THINGS, decided that on the evening of the wedding we would need to be entertaining people, and so the upper tier needed to become a party patio.
Furthermore, she knew EXACTLY what she wanted. On her morning walks, she had become enamored of the front walk of a home a couple of streets away, now occupied by a surveying company. This front walk was made up of randomly sized, parti-colored chunks of concrete, installed some time last century. That's what it needed to look like.
And so we hired a guy, who had some guys—Cow-tip, Squirrel, and John—level the area and get to work Making It So.
The problem was that Cow-tip, Squirrel, and John had not ever done this harlequinade kind of tiling. They weren't sure exactly what the lady wanted. They had the paving stones, and they painted them the colors the lady had picked out, and they cut the squares into random shapes, and laid them out:
This was incorrect, we were informed. This was patchwork; we wanted harlequinade. European farmland, not Kansas.
Cow-tip, Squirrel, and John were nonplussed. They were not sure how to proceed. They looked to me for guidance, for salvation.
I took a sledge hammer and gave a good hearty whack to a fresh paving stone. I used the resulting fragments to rearrange the Kansas landscape into messier, nonlinear patterns. "There," I said. "This is what she wants. I think."
It was in fact what the lady wanted, and so we proceeded, ending up with:
Pretty spectacular, yes?
So here's the metaphor: there is no way that Cow-tip, Squirrel, John, nor I could have planned the result. We had our broad outlines, we had whatever it was inside my lovely first wife's head, we had materials. We did not have a blueprint.
So starting with the ABORTIVE ATTEMPT—which, again, was wrong—we SUCCESSIVELY APPROXIMATED our way from the back of the patio to the front.
GESTALT? Oh yes: I would anchor our design with full squares of paving stone, placing them in some kind of random fashion, then standing back and seeing whether it all looked balanced. Does that red one need to be green? Switch 'em out. Fill in the gaps with random shapes.
Likewise, as we filled in sections, we would step back and make sure there weren't too many of one color in an area, or that it wasn't looking too regular. Harlequinade, you guys.
Even after we got the whole patio filled in, I kept moving bits and pieces around until it was time to ABANDON it and set it in concrete. I have to say, Cow-tip, Squirrel, and John all got into the process, becoming quite adept at it.
The point is that we did not know what we would end up with—we couldn't know. All we could do was work and keep working—keep looking at what we had done and keep double-checking whether it seemed to be moving in the right direction.
Each little SUCCESSIVE APPROXIMATION moved us forward, each GESTALT gave us a clue about where to move next.
And in the end? We had a lovely party patio unlike any that Cow-tip, Squirrel, or John had ever seen. And they were proud of what they had done there in my back yard.
Go thou and do likewise.