Whether you’re thinking of writing a book, creating a new recipe or radically overhauling your career, life or leadership style, the principles of creativity are the same. And we get tripped up mostly in the same way.
It’s the quiet phase of incubation that we don’t like.
During the incubation phase, we don’t get to do as much with our intellect or hands, so we feel we’re wasting time or we’re inadequate in some way. And that can lead to a lot of anxiety and doubt.
Doubts like “who am I to do this?” “what’s the point?” “it’s already been done”, etc. come to fill in the gap between the initial creative idea and the finished, external product.
Personally, I hit a bump last month in my writing process for the book (meant to bring together the Wise Wednesdays that have helped people the most and the coaching process I use). It’s been in incubation for a year and I felt a surge of creativity towards the end of the summer.
I had the book idea, the plan, the timetable and I enjoy writing, so what could possibly stop me?…
Austin Kleon, who’s written extensively about creativity (in three New York Times bestsellers, I believe) helpfully illustrates the creative turmoil of his most recent book:
Note the three solid years of angst corresponding to less than two years of creative output in which he wrote, published and marketed the book.
The ideal here would be to reduce the length of the angst period or at least minimise its intensity!
“Happiness is to be irreversibly creative” - Sangharakshita. Founder of the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, who passed away, yesterday.
Our culture separates between those who are “artists” and ordinary folk living in the industrial, knowledge economy who are expected to squeeze their linear, rational thinking and physical abilities rather than tap into their creative, imaginative abilities. So we’re not taught the dynamics of the creativity.
I believe that with an understanding of the creative process, we can let go of some of the angst we experience during the quieter, initial phase of incubation.
We can find some motivation to reign in the impatient doer who gets restless at not having something to do.
We can let go of the self-punishing, inner-critic berating us for “not knowing what to do”.
We can exercise our right to creative thinking and benefit ourselves, our communities and society.
[See the video below for a few tips to reduce creative angst.]
MAGICAL THINKING VERSUS REAL-WORLD CREATIVITY
Models of creativity (and learning) talk about a preparatory incubation period before you get an insight. Only then can your energy be fruitfully invested in action and implementation. Not a second before.
Your brain needs to go into this incubation phase. It’s a brainwave state corresponding to the following: relaxation, downtime, reverie, boredom, meditation (I get great ideas in meditation!)
It’s as though the brain is sifting through all its files to try and bring different pieces of a puzzle together into one single brilliant idea.
It doesn’t mean you have to be silent or in meditation but that your hyperfocused (and obsessive) left-brained thinking is switched off to make room for the more diffuse and imaginative right-brain processes.
MORE SPACE, LESS FRENZY:
You’ve probably experienced mini-incubation phases: when you’re in the shower, in nature or doing something unrelated to your project and the next brilliant insight comes. Eureka was exclaimed in a bath tub after all!
So whether it’s a book, a passion project or a reinvention of your career and life, take some time to do nothing. Your creative genius is waiting for a little headspace to shine through and deliver the answers you’re looking for.
In fact, a bright doctor I coached recently wrote to say that within a week of taking the pressure off having to constantly perform immediately she unlocked more of her potential including boosting her sports performance in unexpected ways.
Yep, it works.
For me, after almost a month of “procrastinating/incubating” with this latest cycle of book writing, I took a step back and let go of it completely. Then, the insight came and I knew what to do to move forward. Pretty quickly and effortlessly the first draft was completed.
Does it mean it’s a straight line from here? Of course not. The creative process can’t be rushed. And that’s OK.
Let go. Breathe. Have fun. Then act swiftly when the insight for your next step comes. That’s all you need to do.
Have a great week,