Saturday, April 12, 2008


Mike Dunekacke

This research project looks at incubation as a part of the writing process. The purpose of this project is to develop a fuller understanding of the composition process in general, and my own composition in particular. I have often found breaks in the composing process provide the opportunity to develop a deeper insight into the topics I have written about in the past. Such insight leads to more compelling writing. However, I often am concerned whether I am taking advantage of a process that will help (incubation) or I’m simply procrastinating. I thought research into the area might reveal methods to employ in utilizing incubation that would allay my concerns in regards to procrastination. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence touting the benefits of incubation is readily available to the researcher. My research efforts concentrated on finding primarily scholarly works, mostly from the field of composition studies, but I also considered work from the field of cognitive psychology.

Krashen, Stephen. "Incubation: A Neglected Aspect of the Writing Process." ESL Magazine 4.2 (2001) 10-11. Stephen Krashen, Ph.D., professor of education at the University of Southern California, provides a concise summary of early works that consider the aspect of incubation in the writing process. The primary question he looks at in this article is overcoming writing apprehension (writer's block). He questions the use of 'forced writing' and posits that many writers will see success through periods of incubation that follow periods of preparation. Although it includes citations, the work is primarily a feature article with scholarly elements.

Leathers Dively, Ronda. "Incubating the Expert Persona: Theory and Practice for Enhancing Academic Literacy." Writing on the Edge 10.1 (1998) 85-100. Ronda Leathers Dively, associate professor of rhetoric and composition at Southern Illinois University Cabondale, has committed more work to the subject of incubation than any other composition scholar. This article is the prequel to her book, Preludes to Insight: Creativity, Incubation, and Expository Writing, and in this article, Dively presents her information in the form of a personal case study—comparing an early course design which required first or second-year students to compose six three to five page essays on different topics. Her comparison semester requires a similar amount of writing, but on the same topic for the entire semester. The result, Dively illustrates, is improved writing performance by the students, moving from providing summaries of other scholars works, to taking on elements of the "expert persona, an authoritative presence capable of contributing to the scholarly exchange."

In this work, Dively notes the difficulty in studying this subconscious or unconscious process, but her semester-long example does offer results. Dively also offers several writing strategies to introduce into an academic writing pedagogy to "stimulate the level of critical though and rhetorical awareness essential to gaining access to the academic community."

---, Preludes to Insight: Creativity, Incubation, and Expository Writing. Cresskill, New Jersey: Hampton Press Inc., 2006. In this book, Dively sets the stage for further academic research on incubation. If a scholar plans to begin an exploration of incubation, they should begin by reading this book. In chapters 1 through 3, Dively synthesizes previous scholarship, anecdotal evidence of professional writers, work of cognitive science and psychology, and creative theorists. In chapter 4, Dively offers pedagogical strategies for implementing a student writing process that facilitates incubation, in chapters 5 and 6, Dively offers a case study analysis of undergraduate (chapter 5) and graduate (writers). The work in chapter 6 offers more direct insight from the subjects—the graduate students—but chapter, and Dively’s work with novice writers, offers the most promise for consideration by writing programs and instructors. In chapter 7, Dively looks offers pedagogy tips specific to writing—with special emphasis on writing across the college. She also closes with suggestions for further research.

Of particular interest was the exploration, in chapter two, of alternative explanations for incubation. Incubation, as a research topic, is often is avoided because scholars consider it to be strictly a subconscious process. Dively explores theories that are beginning to look at incubation in terms of partial conscious, and even neurobiological explanations.

Researchers interested in exploring the pedagogical possibilities of incorporating incubation into the semester, will want to look closely at chapters five and six where
Dively presents case studies of undergraduate and graduate students. One particular area of current scholarly debate that might be informed by Dively’s work includes the issue of transfer and writing across the curriclum. Dively’s student responses suggest that her curriculum facilitating incubation into a writing course increased student transfer of writing skills to other courses.

Wells, Donald H. "Comment: Forced Incubation." Creativity Research Journal 9.4 (1996) : 407-409. Donald Wells offers a concise comment on the effects of forced incubation. Based on surveys sent to 213 college professors, Wells concludes that professors who intentionally set work aside (for some set period of time to allow for incubation) are more productive. He bases productivity upon the number of published articles in refereed journals.

Gates, Rosemary L. "Applying Martin Greenman's Concept of Insight to Composition Theory." Journal of Advanced Composition. 9.1-2 (1989): 59-68. Gates asks whether the "intuitive movement of mind" (incubation) can be studied, and, if so, what can this add to composition theory and practice? In circling her question, Gates primarily considers Greenman's "theory of insight" and Gates places incubation between the phases of preparation and ending at illumination, or insight. Incubation is conceived as an ongoing, primarily subconscious, recursive process. This melds with the widely accepted recursive writing model.

In the article, Gates advocates "writing to learn." Writing teases insight out of preparation and previous knowledge—to do so, writing is inspired by incubation. Although elements of incubation are discussed throughout, the primary pages discussing incubation directly are 60 and 61.

Coskun, Hamit. "Cognitive Stimulation with Convergent and Divergent Thinking Exercises in Brainwriting: Incubation, Sequence Priming, and Group Context." Small Group Research. 36.4 (2005): 466-498. Coskun's article primarily looks at the effect of convergent versus exercises (during an incubation period) and their effect on the number of ideas produced within a small-group during brainstorming. The most interesting aspect of this article, in terms of incubation, is that it seems to begin from the understanding that incubation works and takes it to, what type of incubation works best. It does so in a highly structured manner and rigorous study. Coskun's aim is to produce small-group brainstorming sessions that generate more new ideas. His conclusion is that, during brainstorming sessions when small groups run out of ideas, the small groups should have an incubation period that includes a divergent-thinking session and then continue the session. This particular type of incubation will lead to more new ideas than an incubation period that includes a convergent thinking exercise.

Emig, Janet A. "The Uses of the Unconscious in Composing." College Composition and Communication 15.1 (1964): 6-11. This is Emig before the accolades; a doctoral candidate in the Harvard Graduate school of Education. In this article, Emig calls for—not even so much as further exploration—but simply acknowledgment that the writing process "involves commerce with the unconscious self." To illustrate, she points to interviews of successful writers—Kipling, Cather, Hemmingway, Lowell, and Stein are some of the authors addressed.

Emig touches on several processes—habit, ritual, writing to learn, and incubation. Although Emig never uses the term incubation, there is little doubt what Amy Lowell is writing about, which Emig quotes, "An idea will come into my head for no apparent reason; 'The Bronze Horses,' for instance. I registered the horses as a good subject matter and… consciously thought no more about the matter…what I had really done was to drop my subject into the subconscious, much as one drops a letter into the mail box." Emig also compares the composing process of Mozart and Beethovan—noting that Bethovan had to struggle into his subconscious whereas Mozart had ready access and could perform on cue. Her point? How can we expect our students to all be Mozarts of writing when we know we (the professors) are pretty much all Beethovans. In doing so, she calls for a change in the instruction and planning of a writing course.

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