Do you ever feel like you’ve hit a wall with your writing? Turn your thinking loose in a brainstorming session.
Real brainstorming is free-wheeling, throw-ideas-around-without-judgement fun. Think tanks use brainstorming. Most ideas from brainstorming fall to the wayside, but your brain takes leaps when allowed to create without limits or judgement. And isn’t imagination what takes fiction to another level, even realistic fiction?
There are many different ways to brainstorm, some we don’t often categorize as that. Generally acceptable rules for brainstorming are lack of judgement, building on each other’s ideas, focusing on one idea at a time, and being wildly creative.
Brainstorming with a group
Your own little brain sits all alone in a room, thinking up ideas. Now surround that brain with five more, ten more, twenty more brains! So, why would you not want to harness other brains to help your own creativity?
If you’re a member of a writing group, like here on Inked Voices, you’re already harnessing resources. Every time we critique each other, we’re engaging in a type of brainstorming. When we make a suggestion for a modification, aren’t we throwing our own thoughts into the ring for someone to consider?
I have a lot of different brainstorming groups I use. My family is for pure, old-fashioned brainstorming. As a matter of fact, I talk in presentations on my picture book, ROCK AND ROLL WOODS, about how it took a whole-family session to choose drums as the loud noise that would bother our bear, Kuda. We started with noises you might hear in a woods normally: thunder, large animals, tree falling. But we wanted something different and fun, unusual for a woodland. We threw out all sorts of ideas, brainstorm style. We ended up with drums in our woods, and what a cute story grew from that!
When you see a post on a writers forum asking for ideas, it’s electronic brainstorming at its best, and I see many posts where the person finds the perfect answer for their conundrum.
Six techniques for brainstorming on your own
Maybe you don’t have an easily available partner or critique group. You can still set your wheels turning with a few writer techniques.
- Free association can get your thoughts flowing. It was originally used in psychoanalysis. When you apply it to your writing, you start writing down whatever thoughts you have—no order, no rules. Set aside ten minutes. Just write whatever comes to mind. Don’t censor your stream of consciousness. Or, start with an idea, character, or setting, and free associate based on that. Whatever pops into your head. No filtering. The picture below shows my brainstorm on JFK, and a poem I wrote from his mother’s perspective. I used free association to figure out the POV I wanted for the poem. Instead of Jacqueline, I chose Rose. This took a little longer than ten minutes, but not much.
2. Mentor texts are a wonderful prompt to use before any of these other activities. Looking at other books gets you into the mindset you need. Pick up some books and read opening lines, ends of chapters, closing pages. Then go back to what you want to work on. Chances are you’ll have more ideas scrambling to be free.
- Idea generators are abundant online. Story dice and story cards are available. This is just one site to get you started.
4. Libraries and bookstores are great! I love to “solo brainstorm” in the non-fiction section of the library for new story ideas. I find a fat book like the big books National Geographic does so well. Then I pick one or two ideas to spin off on. I follow that lead down a rabbit hole until I either feel it or not. If I feel it, I add it to my idea file. If I don’t feel it, well, at least I explored something new.
- Deep discount stores stock inexpensive resources for triggering your thoughts. I ran into a Five Below store recently and picked up five little idea generator books, like those pictured below. There are many others available on Amazon, like this one. I see them for sale all the time. There are books of story and plot prompts available. When I hit a wall, I know I’ll find something in one of these to get me started.
- Your personal book collection is a gold mine. For character, setting, or plot inspiration, I’ll pull a book randomly and read a section that might inspire. I also keep a notebook of lines I love from books, and can use those favorite lines to strengthen my own writing. Although I’m depending on someone else’s work, I can do this on my own, in my own time. Read something in your own collection just for the purposes of idea generation—be open-minded and wildly creative with the ideas you spin off.
What are your favorite brainstorming techniques? Share in the comments below.
About Sherry Howard
Sherry Howard lives with her children and silly dogs in Middletown, Kentucky, a stone’s throw from the beautiful horse farms Kentucky is always bragging about. During her career in education, she served as principal in one of the largest middle schools in the US; she and cat-herders share many common skills. Sherry loves to read, write, cook, and sit in the sand watching the waves when she can. She credits her ability to write a complete sentence in English to her training in classical Latin. Now her picture books and chapter books are arriving through Clear Fork Publishing. She also writes for the educational market. You can learn more about Sherry on her website, or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.