How To Produce More Great Work With the Wallas Cycle

Jul 3, 2024 | Better Writing

We all want to write better. We strive to produce more great content more easily. That’s more likely to happen if you have a reliable writing process, and that writing process is more likely to be effective if it’s based on tested methods and scientific validation.

Almost a century ago, Graham Wallas published The Art of Thought. In that landmark book, he laid out a four-step process for getting good ideas. I wrote about the Wallas cycle in 2018 in a post titled “A Research-Based Process to Improve Your Writing.”

The four steps in Wallas’ cycle were preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification. Here’s a review of the steps and what you can do to use them effectively to write more great stuff more easily.


Preparation involves gathering information, researching, and defining the problem or creative challenge. There are two kinds of preparation to consider.

There’s general preparation. That’s everything you’ve done up to this point. That’s your experience, the things you’ve read, and the discussions you’ve had that stimulate your brain. The richer your inputs, the better your general preparation. The better your general preparation, the more likely you are to develop clear and novel expressions and to create rich prose.

Specific preparation is the extra work you do on this particular project. Cast your net wide and keep your mind open. Use good information sources to identify experts, then use those experts to gather more information and identify more information sources.

Bring all your specific preparation together in one place. Use digital tools to collect links to good information. Use other digital tools to organize the material. Brainstorm. Use mind maps and outlines to try out different organizational schemes.

You come to the end of the preparation phase in one of two ways. Sometimes, your schedule determines the time. I know, for example, that my basic blog post preparation needs to be done by Friday of the week before I post.

At other times, preparation ends when you feel you’ve got all the information you need but haven’t yet figured out how to present it helpfully and compellingly.


In the incubation stage, you stop working intensely on the project and move on to other things for a while. You may touch the project occasionally, even daily, but concentrate your work time on something else. That lets your magnificent brain do its thing and come up with insights and solutions you would never have reached with intense, focused effort.

In my experience, many writers don’t allow enough time for incubation. That’s sad because incubation is where you let your brain come up with creative ideas.

The best way to do that is to do something that puts your body on autopilot and leaves your mind free to roam. Take a walk, a drive, or a shower. Eliminate distracting input. That means don’t listen to audiobooks or podcasts. Let your mind marinate in your thoughts. When you do that, good things happen.


You’ve probably seen those pictures of a cartoon character with a little shining light bulb above the head. That’s meant to indicate sudden inspiration. That’s illumination.

You don’t know when inspiration will strike, so make sure you have idea-capture tools at the ready. I use a combination of a small digital voice recorder and index cards. The voice recorder is my primary means of capturing ideas, but sometimes, I’m in a place where talking would be rude, so I capture my ideas on index cards.


Verification is where preparation and illumination meet the craft of writing. You’ve already done a good deal of research. You’ve received good ideas about content and structure. Now, it’s time to get down to the work of writing.

Remember that all great writing is iterative. You may try several ways to start your piece until you find the one you want to use. Multiple drafts are how we turn a bunch of stuff into a polished piece of writing. Don’t expect it to be quick or easy.

Want to produce more great content more easily? Enrich your inputs, do your research, then let go. Let your brain help you by coming up with good ideas while you attend to something else. Once you’ve got those good ideas, turn your attention to detailed planning and writing. You may have a couple of false starts before you find the right opening and organization. You are sure to require several drafts if you want to produce great work.

That’s simple, but it’s not easy. Are you up to the challenge?

Sign Up For Blog Posts Via Email