Stage two: Incubation
The task of incubation, whether in a premature baby ward at the maternity hospital, a bacteria-breeding laboratory or a writers’ imagination is consistently the same: 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' and trying to force the pace, can actually impede growth. Just as it would if a nurse kept taking the baby 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 your imagination.
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 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.
Try This: Take up a solitary hobby. Remembering Mozart’s observation about being ‘alone and of good cheer’, give yourself some solitary good times. Horseback riding, floor polishing, solitaire, gardening, whittling… So long as it’s silent, repetitive and your idea of fun, it’s good incubation.
Try this: Take A Nap. Neuroscience offers mounting evidence that sleep facilitates the types of memory, associations and learning processes that lead to aha moments. In one relevant experiment, researchers demonstrated that g insight can be dramatically enhanced by a period of intense work on/conscious thought about a problem followed by a sleep. Even 20 minutes was found to make a difference (though longer is better, see below).
Try This: Sleep Longer. Brain Mapping shows that the parts of the brain that govern creative/imaginative thinking are most active during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, the period when we are in deep dreaming. Getting more REM sleep, they conclude will boost creative capacities. How? Essentially, by sleeping longer. REM sleep tends to begin approximately 90 minutes into the sleep cycle, after which we typically experience a period every 60-90 minutes. The first REM period is only about five minutes long — but the duration increases as the sleep goes on, with the fourth or fifth period lasting up to an hour. So if you sleep for more than seven hours, you get a great deal more REM sleep than if you only sleep six hours or fewer.
Try This: 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.
Try This: F-R-E-E-Writing is another great tool for the writer. Keep it easy, fast enough to get beyond conscious thoughts and regular -- ideally daily.
Try This: Go Deeper. Joan Miro: 'What really counts is to strip/the soul naked. Painting or/poetry is made as we make/love; a total embrace/prudence thrown to the/ wind, nothing held back.'