Brainstorming Basics

For writers always trying to squeak in a few extra minutes for writing it may seem counter-intuitive to say that the best way to develop an idea is to stop thinking about it. But at least for this author it’s true.

Very rarely has an idea that I truly loved come from the conscious act of trying to dream up something to write about. The majority of the time the ideas that are captivating come, not from out of nowhere, but from the periphery of my consciousness…an offshoot of another idea or a random combination of ideas that have rattled around, unused, in my head for months or even years.

Unfortunately, most writers have never been taught how to brainstorm. I graduated from college with a degree in advertising. I’ve never used the degree professionally, but it was the heavy instruction in different styles of writing that stoked my passion for writing.

And in the first week of Copywriting class we got instruction in how to brainstorm. It was drilled into our heads that there are no bad ideas…just ideas you may not want to pursue. But the act of writing down all your ideas, even the lesser ones, and keeping them close by allows your subconscious to keep things simmering.

So for all of you who never learned the proper way to brainstorm ideas, here are some tips:

  • There are no bad ideas. You’ll get farther, faster if you stop telling yourself your ideas are bad.
  • Write down ideas no matter how complete they are. Even if it’s just a sentence fragment.
  • Write it all down. Or record it, or something similar.
  • Every once in a while, review the bits and pieces you’ve jotted down.
  • Use cluster diagrams to link similar ideas (write a main idea in the center of the page, then write related idea around it in a cluster, then connect things that go together with lines; you’ll quickly identify the parts that don’t quite fit).
  • No idea is too small. Somewhere in the back of my mind is a story about the dual meaning of the word spell (the correct use of letters, and the use of magic).
  • Don’t give up on ideas. What does keeping an idea around for a decade really cost you? A small scrap of paper, and the time it takes to reread it once a month?
  • Steal freely and unashamedly from others. Both personal and famous. Of course you won’t be able to use their ideas directly, but combined with some of your ideas you never know what it may spark.
  • Have fun with it. Who is going to see all this aside from you? There is no need for decorum.

So what about you? Do you have any advice to add?

This post was originally posted on Write Anything
where six writers talk about the trials and
tribulations of their writing lives. And each
Tuesday the soapbox belongs to me.

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