For the past two days, I’ve been absorbed in the mechanistic-but-nervewracking process of upgrading my main server (which, for the geeks among you, runs Slackware Linux) by two full operating system versions.
The Slackware upgrade process is generally straightforward and robust, but nonetheless it makes me very tense. In the past I’ve made various stupid mistakes or omissions that have left the server unbootable and me in an utter panic, and that unpleasant prospect looms large whenever I contemplate a version change-up.
This week’s double-upgrade went smoothly (apart from a database server SNAFU, now worked-around) so I’m very relieved, but I’m now feeling washed-out and completely lacking in creative oomph. At times like this, I like to remind myself of Graham Wallas’ model for the stages of the creative process:
- Preparation (preparatory work on a problem that focuses the individual’s mind on the problem and explores the problem’s dimensions),
- Incubation (where the problem is internalized into the unconscious mind and nothing appears externally to be happening),
- Intimation (the creative person gets a “feeling” that a solution is on its way [Ed: Just like this, in fact])
- Illumination or insight (where the creative idea bursts forth from its preconscious processing into conscious awareness); and
- Verification (where the idea is consciously verified, elaborated, and then applied).
Quoted from wikipedia
The telling thing about this model is that three of the five stages – the middle ones – are pretty much wholly out of our conscious control. We don’t consciously incubate a new idea; we can’t summon up an intimation or an insight on demand. If we haven’t got something we’re already working on, then even the verification phase is out of reach; all we can do is prepare.
I’ve learned that when I’m tired, and particularly when I’m emotionally wrung-out, the most useful thing to have (and in fact the only thing that’s achievable) is a Preparation Day. This is a low-output day where I clear the mental decks (by doing dull-but-necessary tasks like tidying my desk or filing the contents of my in-tray), and re-seed my creative processes (by reading or watching a movie, or ideally – but, I admit, all too rarely – by going on an Artist Date.)
Sometimes I try to fight the need for a Preparation Day because it feels like “wasting time” – but struggling desultorily forwards in some futile quest to force the creative process is an even bigger waste of time. So, onwards – tomorrow.