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Creative quotes and quotations
On Incubation...


Graham Wallas, in his 1922 book ‘The Art of Thought’ describe four stages of creativity: preparation, incubation, illumination and verification. Incubation means giving your thinking so far to your subconscious and then sitting back and waiting (or better, giving the conscious mind something useful to do.

See also

ideas, letting go, subconscious*, surprise, time, unpredictability


‘I was on automatic pilot; ideas for gadgets kept coming, fed by a force of energy flowing through me and around me.’

Trevor Baylis

‘Alas! I do not believe that inspiration falls from heaven.  think it rather the result of a profound indolence.’

Jean Cocteau

‘The poet is at the disposal of the night. His role is humble, he must clean house and await its due visitation.’

Jean Cocteau

‘Patience is a necessary ingredient of genius.’

Benjamin Disraeli

‘One should never impose one’s views on a problem; one should rather study it, and in time a solution will reveal itself.’

Albert Einstein

‘No great thing is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer you that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.’


‘The air is full of ideas. They are knocking you in the head all the time. You only have to know what you want, then forget it and go about your business. Suddenly the idea will come through. It was there all the time.’

Henry Ford

‘The casual phrase dropped by a friend in conversation, the paragraph in a book, the incident observed by the roadside, has some special quality and is accorded a special welcome. But having been welcomed, it is forgotten or at least ignored. It sinks into the horrid depths of my subconscious like a waterlogged timber into the slime at the bottom of a harbour where it lies alongside others which have preceded it. Then, periodically–but by no means systematically–it is hauled up for examination along with its fellows and, sooner or later, some timber is found with barnacles growing on it. Some morning when I am shaving, some evening when I am wondering whether my dinner calls for white or red, the original immature idea reappears in my mind, and it has grown…’

C. S. Forester

‘I back away from conscious thought and turn the problem over to my unconscious mind. It will scan a broader array of patterns and find some new close fits from other information stored in my brain.’

Art Fry

‘If you happen to be one of the fretful minority who can do creative work, never force an idea; you’ll abort it if you do. Be patient and you’ll give birth to it when the time is ripe. Learn to wait.’

Robert Heinlein

Problems, however, are rarely solved on the spur of the moment. They must be organized and dissected, then key issues isolated and defined. A period of gestation then sets in, during which these issues are mulled over. You put them in your mind and consciously or unconsciously work at them at odd hours of the day or night — even at work. It is somewhat analogous to trying to place a name on the face of someone you’ve met before. Often the solution to a problem comes to you in much the same way you eventually recall the name.’

Bill Hewlett

‘The "germ," wherever gathered, has ever been for me, "the germ of a story," and most of the stories strained to shape under my hand have sprung from a single small seed, a seed as remote and windblown as a casual hint.’

Henry James

‘The mystery of creation works this way: We work and plan and break our backs for it. And then, in the ashes of our struggle, it appears like a gentle wind rustling through blades of grass. To find it seems impossible and yet, once here, it is as if it has always been this way.’

Michael Jones

Learn to pause, or nothing worthwhile will catch you up.’

Doug King

‘You've been thinking about something without willing to for a long time...Then, all of a sudden, the problem is opened to you in a flash and you suddenly see the answer.’

Rita Levi-Montalcini

‘Reverie is when ideas float in our mind without reflection or regard of the understanding.’

John Locke

Ideas, I find, come most readily when you are doing something that keeps the mind alert without putting too much strain on it.’

Lenox Riley Lohr

‘In order to receive an ‘inspiration’or a ‘hunch’ the person must first of all be intensely interested in solving a particular problem or securing a particular answer. He must think about it consciously, gather all the information he can on the subject, consider all the possible courses of action. And above all, he must have a burning desire to solve the problem. But, after he has defined the problem, sees in his imagination the desired end result, secured all the information and facts that he can, then additional struggling, fretting and worrying over it do not help, but seem to hinder the solution.’

Maxwell Maltz

‘A young man must let his ideas grow, not be continually rooting them up to see yow they are getting on.’

William McFee

‘I waited for the idea to consolidate, for the grouping and composition of themes to settle themselves in my brain.’

Claude Monet

‘When I am travelling in a carriage, or walking after a good meal, or during the night when I cannot sleep; it is on such occasions that ideas flow best and most abundantly.’

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

‘I was doing a campaign once for a manufacturer, and I couldn’t think of an ideas, and I was kind of desperate about it. The night before I had to show something to my client I had a dream, an interesting dream. I woke up and for once in my life I wrote it down and went back to sleep Next morning I went to the office and had that dream out into a TV commercial which is still running thirty years after and which has made that particular product the leader in its field.’

  — David Ogilvy

‘Often when works at a hard question, nothing good is accomplished at the first attack. Then one takes a rest, long or short, and sits down anew to the work. During the first half-hour, as before, nothing is found, and then all of a sudden the decisive idea presents itself to the mind.’

Henri Poincaré

‘The worst is that the very hardest thinking will not bring thoughts. They must come like good children of God and cry, "Here we are." You expend effort and energy thinking hard. Then, after you have given up, they come sauntering in with their hands in their pockets. If the effort had not been made to open the door, however, who knows when they could have come.’

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The mind ought to sometimes be diverted that it may return the better to thinking.’


‘I have found, for example, that if I have to write upon sum rather difficult topic, the best plan is to think about it with very great intensity–the greatest intensity of which I am capable–for a few hours or days, and at the end of that time give orders, so to speak (to my subconscious mind) that the work is to proceed underground. After some months I return consciously to the topic and find that the work has been done.’

Bertrand Russell

‘There is a moment of conception and a moment of birth, but between them there is a long period of gestation.’

Jonas Salk

‘It takes a lot of time to be a genius. You have to sit around so much doing nothing, really doing nothing.’

Gertrude Stein

‘You cannot go into the womb to form the child; it is there and makes itself and comes forth whole–and there it is and you have made it and have felt it, but it has come itself.’

Gertrude Stein

Ideas, like young wine, should be put in storage and taken up again only after they have been allowed to ferment and to ripen.’

Richard Strauss

‘Investigation may be likened to the long months of pregnancy, and solving a problem to the day of birth.’

Mao-Tse Tung

‘It is looking at things for a long time that ripens you and gives you a deeper understanding.’

Vincent van Gogh

‘Muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone.’

Alan Watts

‘All the really good ideas I ever had came to me while I was milking a cow.’

Grant Wood



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