Incubation / or: The Value of Real Darkness and Time

Did you miss me?  For I have been gone.

But now I am returned.  And I have brought with me gifts of knowledge and experience.  If you are interested in: where I have been and what I have found, or want to know the true value of Real Darkness and Time then, by all means, read on…

The Most Special Place to me in all the world.

Lover and I left Edinburgh and went on a journey.  We traveled far and wide around the UK.  We visited the one place that is most special to me in all the world (see photo).  We spent good time with people we love,  we drank wine, we ate incredible food, and we consumed heroic doses of the best coffee in the world.  😉

We rented a cottage with a woodburning stove, deep in a place far away from any wifi or phone signal.  We read books, of the paper kind.  When the dark came, the sky was a blanket of stars; which, after becoming inured to the perpetual light pollution of the city, was a source of endless fascination and delight to me.  Real Darkness.  The ubiquitous and all-seeing-eye of the interwebs was thwarted, and screamed (in my mind).  And at night, I would play Ukelele and sing, in front of a blazing fire.

It was a good journey.

All of last year I was working on the album. And I mean all of last year.  It was the first time I had been thru the process of: writing, recording and producing an entire album from scratch.  I had no basis for comparison; no blueprint or experience of how to pace myself.  In lieu of these things, I figured: the more hours I put into it, the better it would end up.  So I didn’t take a day off.

All year.

Given where I was, and the resources I had at the time, this idea turned out to be the right one.  I ended up pushing myself deeper and further than I have ever been, and making absolutely the best album I was capable of.  But it definitely cost me.  After release I was properly spent.

Now, with the benefit of hindsight and a little distance, I am able to look back at the process more objectively and sift thru the ashes of my spent time for things I can use to be a little more strategic as I engage with the Next Big Thing.  One of the best of these little ‘found jewels of knowledge’ is: the absolute creative necessity of incubation.

To my mind, the absolute best metaphor, to illustrate this and, for the entire creative process is that of: The Garden.

In a garden you must first: prepare the ground and make the soil the best it can be.  You have to be aware of the system that you are working in, and have some knowledge of it’s rules and guidelines (the seasons, the weather, etc).  You have to gather and plant the best seeds you can find, trusting that they will, by some force that you do not fully understand or comprehend, grow of their own volition.  You must then tend to them over time, giving them optimal amounts of food and water according to their individual needs, whilst remaining constantly sensitive to the feedback you are getting as they grow and develop.

You have to learn to: give them energy when they need energy and leave them when they need to be left.  The periods of incubation are Key.  Above all you must accept that you are always working on their schedule, not yours.  The process is not one that can be rushed.  You cannot pull something out of the ground halfway thru the season and hope it is ready.  Things are grown when they are grown.  The garden is what it is.  It will be what it will be.

In my practice today (the first since I arrived back on Monday), all the material I was working on before I left is different in a myriad of ways.  It has grown.  It has developed.  It has evolved during the interim.

Incubation.  Time away.  Crop rotation.  Whatever you want to call it, this principle in action is as vital to the creative process as the deep and intense periods of practice that must precede it.

Nature moves in cycles, as does life.

Why would art be any different?


My name is James Radcliffe and I am a 100% audience supported independent artist.  If you like what I do (and can afford it) then please consider buying some of my music.  Each purchase really makes a big difference to me and 10% of every sale goes to a charity which: houses, feeds, clothes, and educates orphaned children in Nepal.

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65 Comments

  1. Having just taken a year off myself preparing my book for publication, I so appreciate this post. I particularly like the part about the creative process being like a fertile garden. I had just recently expressed a similar sentiment and in fact have myself described awakening to Life (something that I think happens when creativity flows uninhibited) as an unplanted fertile ground brimming with potential and burgeoning with the essence required to bring forth something deep within the soul. And yes this planted fertile soil requires nurturing and care. I came to your site and discovered the sweetness of your approach to life and to creativity—your words–but once here was inspired to listen to your music. It is moving and stirs that still quiet place within me. I’d like purchase it and to recommend it to my yoga teacher, but I cannot figure out how to do so in dollars?

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    1. Hey there,
      First, thanks so much. Your beautiful words and the sentiment they carry mean the world for me. I fully agree with you, I have often used the image of a garden in both my explanations and my work.
      In regard to the music – first, thankyou. 😉 And second, the site that I use ( http://jamesradcliffemusic.com/album/present-reflections-deluxe ) will convert the price for you. All you have to do is click the ‘Buy’ button, and as you go thru the payment process you should be shown the dollar equivalent.
      Hope that helps, please do let me know what you think of the music, I have heard that it fits with a yoga practice very well.
      Best wishes.

      Like

    1. Hey there,
      Glad you like it. 😉
      I have absolutely zero tips about Yahoo news tho, I’ve never actually used it. I’m guessing if the site is listed there, it’s just because it gets quite a lot of daily traffic.
      Sorry I couldn’t be of more help. Have a great day,
      – J

      Like

  2. First off, I want to thank you for the ‘like’ for my newborn site. I wouldn’t have found your incredible site otherwise. Reading through your other posts and comments, I realize how important it is to connect with readers. I fail at this terribly. Usually I post what I post, send it off into the universe, and then go back to creating. Us authors/artists can sometimes be introverts. It wasn’t until very recently that I have started to create a voice on social media – as I have lived by the ‘unplug’ mentality. But I have been told that if I want to be an author (which I do) and I’m not comfortable with social media (which I’m not) – then I’m in the wrong business. Ah, curse the business side of it!
    Anywho, I really liked this post about incubation. I believe in it whole-heartedly when it comes to writing novels and creating art. I return as a critic. My eyes aren’t fogged over in the mesmerizing state of creation.
    I can’t wait to listen to your music while I create, it sounds inspiring. Best of luck to ya!

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    1. Hey there,
      Really happy to meet you. You are fully welcome for the ‘like’. 😉
      Yeah, I totally love the whole thing: creating something, throwing it out to the world, and connecting with people. That said, I don’t think there are any hard and fast rules on how to do this. There are loads of ways to be able to do your work in seclusion – traditional publishing for one. Rather than the ‘right’ way, I think it’s more important to find the way that is right for you.
      And: If you love to write, then you are certainly not in the wrong business. 😉
      I’m really glad you stopped by. If I can be of help with anything, then you know where I am.
      Keep up the good work,
      – J

      Like

  3. very much enjoy your insights and experience into the creative process. Wonderful resource for all creatives. Thank you for visiting and liking my post. I’ll be sure to return and read your previous posts!

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  4. It’s akin to allowing the field to lie fallow – it appears as outwardly as if little is happening but under the surface there is a whole different story happening. Rich with new life, art is responsive and truthfulness vibrates in your music and you’re writing. 🙂

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  5. Hello James,
    Your words are beautiful. It was a pleasure reading your experience. I’ve taken trips like this and it’s always enlightening. People just need to disconnect once in a while. Congrats on your album! 😀

    Like

    1. Hey there Vashti,
      Thankyou very much for the compliment, I am glad you liked the post and it means a lot to me.
      And thanks for the congratulations. 😉 The album turned out really well, and I’m very happy with how it’s doing / how many people are connecting with it. I feel very blessed right now.
      Hope you are having a great day. Thanks for connecting yourself,
      – J
      P.S. You have a beautiful name, what does it mean?

      Like

  6. Congratulations on having taken the time to find real darkness and allow for incubation time to manifest. Thank for sharing your story of that journey and your telling of the garden metaphor.

    I will give your album a look and listen. Keep up the good work and incubation. Best wishes with whatever magic you are presently cultivating!

    (p.s. And thanks for “liking” my poems, which while great in itself allowed me to find my way over here.)

    Like

    1. Hey Brad,
      It’s good to meet you. I’m really glad you stopped by.
      Thanks for your kind words about the post. Incubation is something that, whilst not often discussed, is as vital to the creative process as the periods of intense work that precede it. Glad that you got something from it.
      Keep up the good work of your writing. Poetry is a beautiful thing.
      Be well my friend,
      – J

      Like

  7. Wonderfully written and I would so love to take a journey and the one you did. Really glad I came across this blog. Looking forward to reading more and listening to your music.

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    1. Thankyou very much. I am glad you liked it, and that you stopped by.
      Taking a trip is a good thing to do, especially if you are working hard and feel like you can’t spare the time.
      I thoroughly recommend it. 😉
      – J

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  8. Hey James,
    I am completely non artist person. I am too much in business and numbers. Lately I have started writing. Reading is my hobby. I get inspired by your blog. I feel that I too have something to share. Thank you for writing your journey and your experience !!

    Like

    1. Hey there,
      Thankyou very much, I love getting this kind of message, it is very inspiring for me.
      I am glad that you find something of worth in what I do. And I am very glad to make your acquaintance. 😉
      Be well my friend,
      – J

      Like

  9. You’ve inspired me to give this a try. I don’t know how, yet. I’m always afraid that if I stop I won’t start back up again. I’ve said to friends that creativity is like gardening, that you can’t force a plant to grow any faster.

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  10. I’ve used The Garden as a metaphor for Life for many years. You’ve done a beautiful job of speaking about the process we must live thru in order to grow whatever it is we grow. Incubation and the dark times of inner growth are essential. You can’t rush a tree any more than you can push a river. Thank you for a lovely post, and best of luck with your album… 🙂
    peace,
    Steve

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    1. Hey there Steve,
      Thanks a lot for your considered comment. I really appreciate it.
      And thanks as well for the luck, it seems to be holding so far… 😉
      Hope you are well,
      best wishes,
      – J

      Like

  11. I like very much how and what you write about this somewhat subconscious process of incubation.
    In the very interesting book by M. Csikszentmihalyi (about creativity and „the flow“) which I read at the moment , the author mentiones this process as well. He also states some points I find very important and in my experience are directly connected to it – in oder to really make good and helpful „use“ of this time of rest / incubation / being away , one has to be able to either keep oneself occupied with something or be abe to keep the inner self „structured“ f.i. with mediation. Otherwise , thoughts get restless and negative which seems to be a „normal“ human reaction (especially when being alone). When keeping oneself occupied (that is when not going on a holiday) , it is helpful to „cultivate the flow“ in your everyday life , to find a way to really see and feel joy even in little normal activities which sure is something desireable to learn . He suggests to try to see the world through the eyes of a child as often as possible. To take the time to really thoroughly look at unsual things or ideas one comes across , try food one has never tried before, go to unknown places or shs or restaurants in your hometown …. I do that from time to time, but for me it still is a very conscious and necessary planning-decision what to do in an upcoming time of incubation, otherwise it won´t „work“ for me and there will be no „rest“. I find it very helpful to read about this , it makes you aware of what is happening and that usually is a good starting point to influence your own behaviour.
    Again a very insightful and enjoyable post, James

    Like

    1. Thankyou so much, Ms Cris Nemeth 😉
      I really enjoy your comments. They are always so in depth, on point, and well thought out.
      I, also, really enjoyed that book. It is a seminal work I think. And I totally agree. I don’t think that time ‘doing nothing’ is very useful. In fact, I think that you recover faster / incubate more effectively when you are doing something that is complementary to your art. I myself, for example, will sometimes take a week and just create these weird little electronic pieces of music – it is not my main focus in my work, (in fact it is almost like collage) but it is complimentary to it.
      Crop rotation works best.
      Of course, sometimes you will be called away completely, and I think it is important to really embrace those times tho, one should not court them overmuch.
      How was Richard Taylor? 😉
      Big hug,
      – J / Faun

      Like

      1. ah, I was just about closing up for tonight but there you are tempting me to stay up a bit longer
        😉 … I am not surprised you ´ve read that book, too , it sure is an inspiring read. I think I will read some of his other books as well where he focusses more on “the flow” . By the way, I looked up the book you mentioned in one of your older post “The war of art” – the description reminded me a lot of a book I recently read by Julia Cameron “the way of the Artist” which I found very inspiring – and amusing, and you know I like to have a bit of a laugh, don´t you ? 😉 ). Anyway, they do not have it here in our library (which is around the corner, lucky me) but when I get the chance I will read it, it sounds very good. Glad you like my comments, it sure has a lot to do with your preparing the ground properly for me throwing in some promising seeds – if you wrote about red sportscars I´d keep my mug shut;-) .

        Interesting that you consider what you call those electronic pieces of music as complementary to your work, it is still music, isn´t it?! for me complementary – really means more or less doing the opposite- f.i. you are a scientist and your work is well-structured and detailled and quite and solitary, you might choose an incubation where you do capoira or fencing or bungee-jumping.. In your case where your work = art = creative = your life, I can imagine – and I just said it up a few lines – there is no crop rotation in that sense, is there?! You mentioned you played Ukulele and sang at night during your holiday…I am just curious, I find it interesting to dig into those details: can you go for a day without doing or thinking about music? Can a creative person really truely cease subconsciously or consciously being creative/productive in his/her field for a minute?!?! For me the answer is def. yes. I always had many creative and non-creative interests and feel bored quite quickly. If I learn something and know how to do it at a specific level, my interest drops, so I think I crop-rotate all the time ;-)).
        Being “called away completely” for me usually is the best when I am really exhausted, as my restless and relentless brain otherwise will not cease “working on current unsolved problems” or new wacky ideas. Maybe because I am a Gemini?;-)

        PS. My encounter with R.T. is on the way and well prepared – upcoming sunday will be the day!!

        Big and yawny goodnighthug

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        1. Hey Hey you,
          I have read ‘the way of the artist’ also – there are some good ideas in there, tho the structure of the lessons was a little too stringent for me.
          I guess my crop rotation is different to yours 😉
          It’s hard to describe, but I like to stay connected to music thru my practice, this just makes me a better person day to day and is invigorating, not tiring. The harder part is working a specific project thru to completion.
          So, when I went away, I still do my practice everyday, because it’s like moving my body – it makes me feel good and opens me up to the world. If I spent time completely away from it, it would make me sad, a little like leaving a child.
          I’ve always known that, for me to be truly good at something, to truly master it over my lifetime, I would have to restrict the number of things to concentrate on. Depth beats breadth for me. One of my favourite quotes is from the Samurai Miyamoto Musashi, who said that ‘When one understands the Way broadly, one can see it in all things’. Music is like breathing for me, as enjoyable, and as vital.
          Good luck with the RT meeting. I am very very happy for you – you are a lucky girl 😉
          – J

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          1. thank you for your good-luck-wishes, that is really sweet, yes I feel very fortunate and thankful to be able to go on that crazy ride . I will deliver detailled footage ;-).
            your indepth approach to your field of passion is great and I always envied such perception a bit because all my life I felt like being in an disadvantage with my various interests – or had the impression it was seen as such, like not being able to commit to something wholeheartedly and that being a personal lapse (which sometimes was conveyed to me in connection with my CV ;-). ) , One with such variying interests the American author Barbara Sher calls a “scanner”. I read all of her books and found them interesting as she stresses that it is neither good or bad to be either someone who delves in his/her fewer interests skindeep or enjoys different fields kneedeep and maybe one after the other in monthly or yearly bits/projects/jobs, or two a day or maybe return to one after a few years…either way is good and one should accept and cherish it as it is and make the best of it to feel comfortable. I found her viewpoints very positive and reassuring, especially when in doubt which of those interests could be the one that secures your income.
            And hey – in the field of art there is no limit of fantastic and inspiring things and ideas, even for me easily-bored it never ceases to fascinate (my “passion-fields” with different crops always were and I think will always be art, languages and animals) …and you for instance also write so well and your photos are great so thats a good creative + convincing way to support your music / your message. And I am quite sure you´ll always come up with something I need to comment on ;-D

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            1. You are very beautiful and I am enjoying getting to know you. 😉
              We are all different, that is for sure. We all have approaches that differ wildly, yet are all the same on a deep level as well.
              It is so interesting that you scan across such a variety of subjects. I think that I used to do that before I settled on music, altho it was always there in the background. The litmus test for me is that, when I meditate and get very still inside, I naturally want to sing. I do write from that place too tho, and I greatly enjoy physical movement and, given unlimited time and focus, would love to master all sorts of things. But I have found that, for me, nothing feels as good as progressing deeply in something. I am not sure if it had to be music, tho it is now. Maybe it always was. Not sure. Memory is a fallible thing.
              It is good to be fascinated and inspired, and it’s good to work.
              I am enjoying our correspondence, 😉
              – J

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              1. yes I do like to be your penpal as well ;-), very. Each time you mention meditation and how important it is for you and how useful and meaningful, a loud voice inside me screams “you NEED to try that, too!”, sigh, and I will get to it eventually, I am sure, with some more patience, sigh. i agree that memory is a fallible thing and (in part) should be … the “here and now” is most important and actually the only valid reality one can “work” with / react to / influence. But I experience in my phase of redirecting some of my ” perceptions on life” how many behaviours / ideas one has to un-learn that are quite deeply rooted in oneself and can block your way…that can be challenging but also rewarding, when you f.i. experience what different and inspiring people you meet / get along with comparing to former times . have you heard / read about the resonance theory in connection to this? another interesting topic….. 😉

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                1. Have not heard of the resonance theory, but am a big proponent of meditation for sure.
                  Not sure if everyone is the same, but without meditation my mind becomes clogged up and skitters around. It is like driving a car with the handbrake on. Meditation, clears that space, allows effortless deep focus and takes the brakes off.
                  I think that it has literally been the most important factor in: my life, my evolution and my art.
                  Hope you are having a good day Ms Nemeth, 😉
                  – J

                  Like

  12. i thought I was reading a novel ! Your story was beautiful and the use of imagery to explain development of a human-being was impeccable, keep the good work coming 🙂

    Like

  13. This was beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing. You’re very much describing the place I am currently in and it’s always comforting to know that someone understands.

    Like

  14. “But now I am returned. And I have brought with me gifts of knowledge and experience. If you are interested in: where I have been and what I have found, or want to know the true value of Real Darkness and Time then, by all means, read on”

    You had me at this.
    Kindred?
    Mayhap.

    Like

  15. I love the description of the trip at the beginning of the post. And the photo, too. I like the reminder of how important incubation is as well. Sometimes it’s difficult, especially with the reality of deadlines and life’s obligations, to remember to allow time for the pause, for letting ideas sit before sending them out into the world.

    Like

    1. Thankyou very much. I couldn’t agree more, it’s an ongoing struggle and a moveable feast for sure.
      I am not sure if ‘balance’ is actually a real thing, or even attainable.
      I definitely agree with what you wrote about it being challenging to maintain when confronted by life’s chaos, but that is the ‘beuatiful struggle’. No? 😉
      I hope you are well, it is nice to chat to you,
      – J

      Like

  16. What a beautiful post. Glad you had a good time! A well deserved – and needed – break, if ever there was one. That is an equally beautiful photo. Oh, how I love nature 🙂 I can see why it has such a special place in your heart.

    Art is like a garden, I think you’re right. Well said.

    Like

    1. YETIIIIIIIII!! 😉
      I am VERY happy to hear from you, and all your awesomeness.
      I am going to email you VERY SOON with MANY WORDS. So, prepare yourself for that.
      Your message made me happy. Deep down in my feels. 😉
      HUG!
      – J x

      Like

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