Monday, April 2, 2012

A-Z Challenge: B is for Brainstorming

B is for Brainstorming

Good ideas don't just leap onto the page fully formed (sorry, Athena). It takes a lot of work before you even begin writing: this is the pre-writing portion of the craft, or what I prefer to call brainstorming.

There are lots of different ways to get your ideas down before you start cruising on your draft. Since I started teaching college writing, I have become a huge advocate of brainstorming as part of the writing process. It helps me work out some of the flaky ideas and focus on the really good ones. Now, that being said, I'm still more of a pantser than a planner (check back latter in the month for a discussion of these two types of writers!). However, I find value in getting my thoughts down before I truly begin to write, and I want to share some great brainstorming strategies with you.

Invisible Writing: this is one that I learned about while teaching at the community college. According to my textbook, invisible writing is when you open up Notepad or Word or some other writing program, turn off the monitor, and type away for a set amount of time. I love using this on my students: it really pushes you outside of your comfort zone! The words are flowing, flowing, falling into a black hole, but the inner editor can't fuss, because you can't even see what you are writing. If you are someone who gets stuck easily, try this and see if it works. (Obviously, when the time is up, you get to turn on the monitor and see all the squiggly lines).

Plotting: somewhere along the way, I'm sure one of your literature teacher's showed you the ever-popular plot triangle. I like using this to help me structure my story arc before I start writing. Usually, I will go through at least four or five variations of this as I write, changing things as the story evolves. I'm fluid in my brainstorming: if the story has a different idea, I usually let the characters pull me where they want, regardless of any planning I may have done.

Outlining: When I learned how to outline in school, I was taught the linear Roman numeral system that many of you remember. But in writing, an outline can be more fluid than that: it's merely a way of writing out ahead of time the direction and shape your story is going to take. If you want a different kind of structure than a traditional outline, check out these excellent story outlines: there's something for everyone!

Surprisingly, I do my best brainstorming verbally. My husband and I like to walk in the evening, and we have a nice half hour loop around a park in our neighborhood. I have worked out more story kinks on that walk than with any other method of brainstorming. Having someone to listen and throw ideas back at you can be a wonderful pre-writing technique: you get the chance to talk out your plot and hear the holes or problems that might spring up before you begin writing.

So which method do you like? How do you get your creative juices flowing?

Remember to check in with the other A-Z challenge participants!


  1. I've never tried invisible writing, but it sounds like fun!
    Wagging Tales

    1. Charmaine, it is! It's scary at first: writing into a black hole. But my students find it really liberating, too. Thanks for dropping by!

  2. I am also intrigued by this invisible writing idea!

  3. I am an invisible writer, I take the purge of thought and organize later. My ten year old is quite the writer these days and his favorite technique is the discussion.

    Looks like there are important posts here. I'll be sure to drop in again. Enjoy the challenge.

  4. Replies
    1. Thanks! I am still struggling to use them: it's more fun to just go with it ;)

  5. Hi Jen,

    Great to meet you through the A to Z challenge. I love the invisible writing idea. I shall try it sometime.

    1. Stuart,

      Thanks for dropping by! I hope you have good results with invisible writing.