The Basics: Brainstorming
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.