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The Basics: Brainstorming

September 30, 2008

Of all the things we writers do, all the steps we take from blank page to finished story, brainstorming has the odd distinction of being the thing we know how to do correctly, but most often allow allow ourselves to do incorrectly.

If you ask a writer how to brainstorm, most will be able to tell you that you have to shut down your inner critic…never say any idea is bad. But when we try to put in in action, we generally let our inner critic run wild, editing nearly every thought we commit to paper.

This is because once most of us have sat down to write a story, we have a vague preconceived notion of what we want to write. It may not be a storyline or a character, it might be something as vague as a feeling you have when you think of the story. And when we brainstorm, instead of letting ideas rain down upon the page, we try to control where our thoughts lead us.

The subconscious pull to choose the path we are walking is a strong one, and it’s far too easy to cheat and tell ourselves that just this once we know better…next time we’ll do it the right way.

Often, this will be just fine. Sometimes out preconceived notions make a pretty good story. But in these cases, we’re not really brainstorming, we’re refining ideas.

So how can we stop guiding ourselves down a path of our choosing? I’ve found one of the best ways is to brainstorm with a friend or another writer. While your subconscious may have a hold on you, it’s going to be less talented at pulling two people down the path of least resistance.

And, at least for me, I’ve found that it works best if I don’t write down my ideas. At least not right away. Instead I brainstorm aloud, and let a recorder capture the session. I’ve found that I give myself much more freedom to say something stupid, than to write something stupid—so by doing it all verbally, I let myself wander much farther afield than I would with a pen.

Find whatever works for you. Experiment…stick with one technique…it doesn’t matter. As long as you find the way to shut off your own inner critic. Otherwise you’ll never come up with anything truly original.

3 Comments
  1. September 30, 2008 3:39 am

    Sometimes I find a scene from an everyday routine and picture it out until it creates a story, I’ll daydream about it for days and weeks until I find the right time to write it down. Most of my best scripts or stories come from real life frames and sometimes just over a cup of coffee or beer with a friend.

  2. September 30, 2008 7:49 am

    I kind of do the same thing as The Countess – events from my everyday life lead to days of ideas rattling around in my brain. When I finally start to write, my first goal is to get everything on paper – the good, the bad and the ugly. Then, during the editing process, I can weed out the ideas that just don’t work.

  3. September 30, 2008 10:21 am

    Bobbi,

    But of course in the situation you describe, you are largely skipping the brainstorming stage, and moving directly from idea to rough draft.

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