The task of incubation, whether in a premature baby ward at the maternity hospital, a bacteria-breeding laboratory or a writers’ imagination, is to provide the environment in which growth can be best nurtured.
As writers, we have our place in the creative process but we do not ‘make it happen’. Thinking we do, taking a controlling approach, getting anxious about ‘progress’, trying to force the pace, can actually impede growth. Just as it would if a nurse kept taking the baby out of the incubator to see how she was getting along.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart has given us a wonderful insight to what he needed to encourage this most enigmatic stage of the process: ‘When I am… completely myself, entirely alone and of good cheer — say, travelling in a carriage, or walking after a good meal, or during the night when I cannot sleep; it is on such occasions that my ideas flow best and most abundantly.
‘Whence and how they come, I know not; nor can I force them. Those ideas that please me I retain in memory…[and] if I continue in this way, it soon occurs to me how I may turn this or that morsel to account…
‘All this fires my soul, and, provided I am not disturbed, my subject enlarges itself, becomes methodised and defined, and the whole, though it be long, stands almost complete and finished in my mind, so that I can survey it, like a fine picture or a beautiful statue, at a glance… What a delight this is I cannot tell! All this inventing, this producing, takes place in a pleasing, lively dream.”
Incubation: The Challenge
The challenge of this stage of the process is to foster the conditions that, in Mozart’s words, ‘fire the soul’ and evoke ‘the lively dream’. To find regular time to be alone and of good cheer, to learn what activities and routines stimulate and invigorate our imaginations — and then provide them for ourselves.
Try This: Mould your mornings. A nurturing morning routine is crucial for any writer who wants to be productive. Important at all stages of the process, it is particularly so at the beginning, when we are most in danger of wimping out, giving up or turning back. We all have rituals to our day, particularly our mornings. Become conscious of yours. Do they feed and foster your creative intention(s)? You’re looking for activities that induce a dreamy, somnolent connection to your ‘Deep Mind’ and ‘Beyond Mind’ — activities like meditation, yoga, running or walking, f-r-e-e-writing, doodling or moodling (see below).
Try This: Meditation. The single most useful tool in the writer’s armoury. Here is a free e-book guide to my favored method for artists and writers, Inspiration Meditation: A Guide For Writers Artists & Everyone.
Try This: Consciously adopt a creative approach. The creative process is messy, seemingly chaotic. Don’t try to rein it in, especially at the start.
Try This: Do something strange/outlandish. There’s a reason why creators are considered eccentric, mad, bad and dangerous to know. They don’t conform. They break the rules. WB Yeats was part of a magician’s cabal; film director Peter Jackson turns up for media interviews in bare feet; inventor-entrepreneur Dean Kamen owns an island off the coast of Connecticut that he calls North Dumpling, with its own flag, currency and navy; it also boasts a mutual non-aggression pact with the US signed by Mr Kamen and ex-president George Bush Snr. The same streak that causes such behaviour is what allows great poetry, movies and inventions. So go on, nurture your whacky side and see what yields.
Try This: Move. Nietzsche said, “When my creative energy flowed most freely, my muscular activity was always greatest.” Think of the romantic poets tramping for miles across the lake district, Dickens prowling the streets of London, Joyce Carol Oates on her daily run: show me a prolific author and I’ll show you somebody who enjoys some form of aerobic exercise.
Go on a word diet. ”Prisoners who never wrote a word in the days of their freedom will write on any paper they can lay hands on,” says Dorothea Brande in her classic, Becoming A Writer. ”Innumerable books have been begun by patients lying on hospital beds, sentenced to silence and refused reading.” While you’re incubating your project, forgo newspapers, books, magazines and the Internet as much as possible.
Meditate. Here’s a free e-book about Inspiration Meditation.
Play. Creativity tutor and author of The Artist’s Way Julia Cameron, recommends a weekly Artist’s Date, “an hour or longer weekly block of time spent on yourself and with yourself, doing something festive”, fun and creative. “Aquarium stores, museums, cathedrals, flea markets, or five and dimes… vintage films, lectures on the odd, the improbable, or merely interesting… musical performances by traveling Tibetan monks, a trip to a riverside spot — any of these can function as an Artist Date.” This creates inflow, new images and perspectives and thoughts that are there when you need them, back at your desk.
Consciously adopt a creative approach. The creative process is messy, seemingly chaotic. Don’t try to rein it in, especially at the start.
Take up a solitary hobby. Horseback riding, floor polishing, solitaire, gardening, whittling… So long as it’s silent, repetitive and your idea of fun, it will help you incubate.
Open a Space. Don’t push, don’t pull. Mull.
Live the Question. Be willing, as the poet Rainer Rilke put it in his Letters To A Young Poet, to “have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language… The point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”