I’m married to a man who once despised brainstorming. He calls himself a non-writer. I disagree, but that’s a story for another time. Somehow, he’d become convinced that brainstorm was a word on a par with earthquake or tsunami or devastating natural disaster. “Brain storm. That sounds like a neurological nightmare!”
When we tried to brainstorm ideas for solving a financial dilemma, for instance, it quickly became, “Toss that man a life vest. He’s drowning!” The nature of a good brainstorm is to throw out ideas as they come, whether they’re feasible, reasonable, doable or not. My man, who at the time thought a word spoken was an answer–period, would soon start to sink under the weight of too many possibilities and not-yet-matured options.
As a writer and agent, and someone wired like I am, brainstorming has always been fun for me–waterskiing behind a speed boat rather than swallowing seawater as the 40-foot waves crash hard. My husband came to embrace brainstorming, though, when he learned how much fun it was to discover what washed up on shore after the storm. (And no, it’s never a contract-in-a-bottle or a proposal-in-a-bottle, either.)
That’s a secret to successful brainstorming sessions for writers. Do you feel comfortable brainstorming with a fellow writer or writers group? What makes for productive brainstorming?
Allow for rabbit trails.
But only if they eventually connect back with the main path. Rabbit trails in brainstorming are like venturing into the woods while you’re looking for seashells on the shore. You may find a flowering plant of interest, but if you linger too long in the woods, the seashells you sought may have washed back out to sea.
Agree (even if just with yourself) that no idea is too lame to consider.
The lame idea may not be “it,” but it will often lead to the thought that is it.
Don’t edit during brainstorming.
Reserve that task for later. While in idea collecting mode, leave the misspelled words, the repetition, the bad grammar. Be brave. You can ignore the incomplete sentence for now. Let your mind be free to explore all possibilities.
Find a system that works for you.
Record the brainstorm finds in a notebook, a computer file, on poster-sized sticky notes, on cocktail napkins like all the famous architects, or any other way that is comfortable and clear for you. Make sure your method is rooted in the idea of “capturing before it disappears,” which might mean taking a photo of your pages that could be susceptible to coffee spills.
Move to Phase Two.
Once you’ve brainstormed your concept, tone, how it fits your brand, your target audience, their felt needs met in the book, the reader takeaways, setting and characters (for a novel), let the collection of thoughts breathe. Stand back and observe what you’ve written. Resist permanently erasing or deleting anything at this stage. Look for the common ground, for patterns, for natural dovetailing.
Soon you’ll notice ideas that seem unrelated to the rest. Set those pieces of “driftwood” aside. They’re not for this project.
Now, you can begin to create your proposal or write a few chapters. You have somewhere to begin…and what was once a collection of what washed ashore during the storm has become a lighthouse beacon to guide your project home.