Sunday, May 12, 2013

Brainstorming, Part 1: Finding Where You're At

Brainstorming Strategies for Any Writing Problem!

What Is Brainstorming?

Spitballing, note-taking, thinking outside the box.  Brainstorming is taking time at the start of a project (or any other rough patch) to come up with new ideas and sort out which to use and how to apply them.  Most of us have been subjected to this process since elementary school.  We'd squish our desks together and try to come up with stuff that didn't get us laughed at, all the while a teacher circled the room, telling us there were no wrong ideas.

But in fiction-writing, more often than not, you're working alone.  No teacher, no peer group.  Just you and the blank page.  You have a story to tell, but something keeps you from going forward.  So you pull out a blank notebook and try to generate new ideas and solutions.  This is brainstorming for the writer.

Simply put, brainstorming is daydreaming with a purpose.

Why Should I Brainstorm?

Let me tell you a secret.  When I first began work on my epic fantasy novel, I refused to brainstorm.  I thought it was a big waste of time.  More than that, I didn't think it actually counted as writing.  I was afraid I'd get caught in a note-taking trap and never actually write.  So I diligently sat at my computer desk in 110 degree heat, typing and typing, no matter how often I got stuck or how little I had to say.

Eventually, I grew to hate my story.

I don't want that to happen to you.  I want you to use every tool in your writer's kit to get your story working.  And that's what brainstorming is, in the end: a wonderful tool.  Whenever you get stuck, whenever you have a bad feeling in your gut thst something's wrong, whenever you feel lost, whenever you want to write but feel you have nothing to say--brainstorming is there for you.

More simply: Brainstorming is a cure for writer's block.

I have your attention again.  Great.

But brainstorming is sort of a swiss army knife.  There are many different parts and they all have their different uses.   That's why I've come up with different strategies to help you brainstorm.  Hopefully, these strategies will get your mental juices flowing and help you on your writing way.

What Are Good Brainstorming Strategies for Me?

Only you can figure out what really works for you.  But it would be cheating if I left it at that.

In the ten years or so I've been working on my novel, failing to write, getting frustrated, wringing my hands, stomping through the yard, throwing papers aside, crying, screaming, calming down, and picking up my pencil once again, I've stumbled upon certain brainstorming strategies that work for me.  Maybe they'll work for you.  Who knows?  Try it and see.

So what are these strategies?

Well, first things first.  Where exactly are you in the writing process?  Why do you feel the need to brainstorm?   To find out, I've constructed a handy-dandy little quiz, to figure out what brainstorming frame of mind you're in.

Quiz! Quiz! Quiz!

1. How do you feel about your writing?

a. I hate, hate, hate it!  I can't stand looking at it.
b. I like it in general, but this one aspect has been frustrating me.
c. I love it.  It will be the most beautiful, fascinating, wonderful story... once I start writing it.

2. What is your biggest problem with your story?

a. The whole thing.  It's stupid.  Also, I suck as a writer.
b. ______________________________ (Fill in the blank.)
c. There's not enough of it yet.

3. Brainstorming is good for:

a. avoiding looking at my *@#& manuscript!
b. solving a problem.
c. figuring out what to write.

If you picked mostly As: I Can't Identify My Problem

Right now, your gut is telling you something is wrong with your writing.  Unfortunately, you can't figure out where the problem lies so all your anger is spilling out as general (and generalized) frustration.  The good news is that you have lots of passion.  You just need to channel it into something more productive.

If you picked mostly Bs: I Can Identify My Problem

Congratulations!  You know what the problem is--now all you need is help solving it.  You clearly have a great deal of knowledge about your craft, and logic and analyzation are in your corner.  If you can free up your creativity, you may find the solution to your problem in no time flat.

If you picked mostly Cs: I Have Nothing to Work With

You're just starting the writing process and that's okay!  You're powered by enthusiasm and would dearly like to write... if only you knew where to go.  Hang onto that excitement--you're going to need it in the days to come.  Your brainstorming may be ongoing, but keep at it and you'll have plenty of substance for that story.

* * *
In the upcoming sections, I'll discuss brainstorming strategies finely-tuned for each particular problem.  Of course, you're free to use any strategy that works, willy-nilly of where your problem falls.  Part of creativity is using whatever works.  Try new things and adapt to whatever suits your needs. 

Happy brainstorming.


  1. Nice post. Interesting that you never get too old for that voice circling you, telling you that there are no wrong ideas. That's terrifying to a writer faced with too many options to advance a story.

    Looking forward to Part 2.

  2. Great post, Becky! Depending on my WIP, I'm A, B, or C at any time! d:)

    1. Thanks for the comment. Glad you liked my quiz. :)