My new (half-serious) litmus test for creative people is to watch their reaction to hearing me recite the Spanish proverb: “How beautiful it is to do nothing, then rest afterward.”
If they scrunch up their nose or launch into a sermonette on the value of hard work, I know we’re going to have an interesting conversation about the value of conscious effort in being creatively productive. However, if they just give me a sly smile, I know I’ve found a creative soul-brother or sister.
One of my favorite parts of the creative process is the “incubation” phase (often mentioned as part of the intuition (or preparation)-incubation–insight articulation of the creative process), because I can actually claim to be doing something productive by taking my mind OFF of a creative project or a thorny, challenging situation.
Such a period, which is often followed by an “aha!” moment of illumination, is the perfect embodiment of the Taoist concept of wu wei, which was explained to me as a teenager as “acting without acting” (which didn’t make much sense to me), but which I have seen translated in the last year as “effortless action” (which makes a lot more sense).
Today, I’m not so much between projects as “incubating” ideas and seeing which ones bubble up to the top of my mind. I’ve done a little idea riffing–playing with concepts, making little mental mash-ups between different ones and catching the results in my journal–but now I’m giving it a rest.
At a previous editing job I had, I always had to take a walk before I was able to write my editorial for the issue. I called the state I experienced before I went for my walk “pre-writing tension.” It was an expected part of the creative process for me.
I could have seen myself as blocked each time I experienced that feeling, but I didn’t. Maybe I really was blocking, but framing it as tension and having a healthy distraction seemed to help minimize any negative effects.
How do you incubate your best ideas? How do you distinguish between incubating activities and avoiding your creative work?