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  • Writer's pictureLinda Pizzitola, Kauai, Hawaii

Let it incubate, germinate, marinate…

Updated: Apr 18, 2023

incubate, germinate, marinate ideas

Our language of nouns and verbs contributes to the illusion that we

(the subjects) control the creative

process (the object). But in the act of creation, there are unseen, unconscious forces doing the heavy lifting. Our job is sometimes to give our analytical, judging brains a rest and let the muse, our intuitive wisdom, our DNA, the collective consciousness speak.

I’ve long been a believer in immersing myself in information and images related to a design or writing project, then backing off, focusing on something completely different. The material then simmers and churns in my unconscious mind, connecting the dots (as Steve Jobs would say), generating new associations and relationships, insights and revelations.

After 20+ years as a designer, I finally learned to relax into a receptive space, to trust the natural ripening or gestation process.

Stephen Nachmanovitch’s half-inch thick book, Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art holds the record for number of stickies per page I’ve ever stuck in a book. I marked dozens of passages I wanted to re-read and re-think. (See also Free Play and Creativity)


In a chapter called “Ripening,” Nachmanovitch writes, “In one phase of the [creative] process we exercise technique and try things out step by step. In another phase the conscious working of ideas sinks down and assimilates with the unconscious. Then there is the seemingly magical part of the process in which the material resurfaces, enriched and ripened by its unconscious sojourn. It is not, of course the material that resurfaces, it is we who resurface, more ripe and ready to bear the material.”

Our stuck places may well hold the greatest potential for creative breakthroughs if we can surrender, drop the struggle, and walk away. The process then goStephen Nachmanovitches ‘underground’ to cook, incubate, germinate, marinate (choose your metaphor…) the raw material and emerge with fresh connections, insights and aha moments.

“Like a birth, creative expression bursts out, of its own accord, when you and it are ripe.”      -Stephen Nachmanovitch

Solutions usually come when we are NOT focused on the problem. Answers usually come when we are NOT focused on the question, but when we are mentally relaxed and open. We could be showering, driving, taking a walk, meditating, lying in bed, floating in the ocean.


Take breaks. Chill. Let go. Trust. It’s one of life’s paradoxes that the secret to creative productivity is ‘non-productive’ down time, incubating, germinating, marinating ideas. And I find that having faith in the mysterious creative process is good practice for building faith in the perfect unfolding of life in general.


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