You’re Not Dried Up, You’re Just Incubating

A Guest Post by Melanie Rothschild

Good news: Just when you think you may have had your last good idea, that your glory days are behind you and creatively, you’re as dry as a bone, cheer up … what you’re experiencing as dramatic paralysis may actually be an essential part of the whole creative process. It’s called incubation.


Paint and Air Chandelier, 2012
Acrylic and latex paint on metal frame

Among the many different ways of looking at, and constructs for thinking about creativity, there are models which consider “incubation” to be an integral part how it all works.

Below are some of the terms which are used in a variety of combinations to describe various parts of what I’ll call “the creative arch.” Many of them have overlapping meanings:

Inspiration –the stimulation of a flowing of ideas

Preparation – collecting ideas and/or source material

Incubation – a seemingly dormant period, but one in which disparate ideas are “working behind the scenes” to come together and form new ideas and solutions. The forming of connections between ideas and concepts which were previously unconnected is the fundamental principle in creativity and that’s as likely to occur when we’re fast asleep as when we’re fully conscious.

Illumination – when all the idea pieces come together and allow things to move forward

Clarification, Distillation, Evaluation – refining ideas, narrowing the choices, often making tough decisions

Perspiration, Implementation – the hard work of actual “doing”

Rothschild The Creative Process

Chandelier Detail

I have enough years behind me to remember so many times when I sank into despair thinking it was all over artistically, that the curtain had come down on my creative life, only to miraculously find that eventually, the gears got back into motion. Before I understood about incubation, I just thought of it as suffering. A slight shift in perspective here really makes all the difference.

Rothschild Creative Process

Chandelier Detail

And so, thinking of this step as part of the process rather than a ride to the edge of the cliff is, for many, a dramatically different way of looking at how work, works. Not only should it inspire you not to panic, it’s even better than that: it’s understanding that this period of incubation is often part of what has to happen for ideas to fully blossom.

More than just a “hall pass,” this is a formal invitation to sit back, relax and enjoy the fact that next time you feel you’ve hit a wall, you might just unwittingly be going through one of the most salient—and magical—parts of realizing your creative self.


Melanie Rothschild is a self-taught artist whose elaborate interior accessories have been sold in stores throughout the United States including Neiman-Marcus, the shops at the Smithsonian Institution, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center and hundreds of others for almost two decades. Her work is shown in fine art galleries and has been licensed to Target. She considers moxie, an irreverent nature, and a respect for mistake-making to be the tools of her trade. Melanie has a master’s degree in the Study of Creativity and an undergrad degree in Anthropology. She is from and lives in Los Angeles. “Like” Melanie on Facebook today!

Click here to see more of Melanie’s artwork and a short preview of her documentary, MISTAKE.


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One Response to You’re Not Dried Up, You’re Just Incubating

  1. etaylor20539 says:

    What wonderful, optimistic and uplifting advice. I can’t count how many times I’ve hit the wall creatively only to find that what felt like a fallow period was actually the gears of my own creative process grinding away in the background, too softly for me to hear.