31 Days: Incubation and how to find your novel’s Eureka moment

This series of articles running through January will explore ways of keeping our head above water in physical, mental, emotional and creative areas. There will be creative challenges, competitions and giveaways. For the full background see here.

To receive all the 31 posts, sign up for email notification on the sidebar. On twitter it’s at @31HAW or @alisonwells. Hashtag  #31haw and #headabovewater.


We’ve all heard of the famous Eureka moment when Archimedes was said to have stepped into a bath and realised how to calculate the volume of irregular objects (since the volume of water displaced was the same as their volume.) Apparently he jumped out of the bath and ran down the streets of Syracuse naked.

You might not want to do just that but writers, especially of longer works are often faced with knotty problems that sometimes are not easily solved. Writer’s sometimes describe themselves as plotters or pantser (making it up as they go along) but in any creative endeavour there are often elements that need to slot into place before the whole makes a leap forward and becomes something cohesive and multi-layered.

We’ve talked already, and you’ve given your own examples about how walking and running can aid in the process of untangling plot points and forming new ideas. We’ve heard how novelist John Boyne found a whole plot within an hours walk.

When we are busy and addled, how can we find the space in our heads to let innovative connections form, and pieces of the puzzle fit? The tunnel vision of stress counteracts the creative process, also focus and absorption can help it. Repetitive and somewhat mindless activities such as brushing the floor or cleaning windows might free the mind (a good reason to do housework!).


The unconscious process which engenders our best ideas is called psychologists term incubation. I’ve blogged at length about incubation in a previous post, so I’m not going to reinvent the wheel. I said…

Psychological research has identified incubation as one of the key elements in creativity. Incubation is defined as ‘a process of unconscious recombination of thought elements that were stimulated through conscious work at one point in time, resulting in novel ideas at some later point in time’ [2]. Seabrook Rachel, Dienes Zoltan (2003). Incubation in Problem Solving as a context Effect (Wiki)

Incubation is the period between your conscious and practical outlining of your piece and the point where you come up with the hook or the usual slant on your proposed story. It’s the time when all your ideas mingle and coalesce and form unusual associations.

Please go on to read the full Incubation post here

Our slightly geeky and aspergian family tremendously enjoys the comedy show The Big Bang Theory. In this clip, Sheldon, the ‘genius’ physicist takes on what he considers a ‘mind numbing, pedestrian job,’ in order to give space to his musings on a physics problem. Worth a look!


Which activities have helped you incubate and find your Eureka moments? Let us know in the comments.

Flash fiction Creative Comp

Don’t forget the 31/131 word creative challenge. Winners will be chosen Sunday 5th. Please comment on your favourite entries. Thank you!

6 thoughts on “31 Days: Incubation and how to find your novel’s Eureka moment

  1. It might sound a bit weird, but I find doing jigsaws great for mulling over plots. I really like jigsaws, so it’s totally absorbing and I don’t get antsy, but I can let my mind wander all over the place at the same time.

    Baking can also be good. Again, it doesn’t engage much of your brain, but it keeps you absorbed and focused. I once solved a very knotty plot problem while cleaning up the kitchen after a baking disaster (springform tin that sprang on the way into the oven)!

    1. alisonwells

      I love these examples. Over Christmas I did a jigsaw with my daughter and sister. It was the first time I’d done a jigsaw in ages. It was fantastic for getting into a chilled out zone. I didn’t get any ideas but it certainly relaxed me. Putting out the washing, having a shower, brushing the floor and hoovering work best for me. I often think of ideas just as I’m about to go to sleep at night.

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