The Lonely Brainstormer


Searching for the Right Ideas

Brainstorming, created by advertising genius Alex Osborn, is meant to be a group activity, a way to encourage everyone to participate. It’s usually set up with rules that encourage ideas, even if they are wild, while discouraging any negative comments which might stem the flow of ideas. What it encourages is the flow of ideas, without concern for quality.

But what if you’re alone, or no one really knows what you’re working on and you want to keep it that way?’m still working on brainstorming my ideas for a novel and here are some things I look for:

Prompts. Randomness is good. By adding in random tidbits here and there, you have a better chance of creating something new and fresh. That’s where prompts come in. For example, Natalie Goldberg has many odd (in a good way) prompts in her book about writing memoirs, Old Friend from Far Away. It almost doesn’t matter as long as you try to relate each piece of writing toward the idea you have.

Tools: Beyond brainstorming, there are literally dozens of structured ways to search for new ideas. The idea-generation techniques may be intuitive or structured, systematic or random. I like this book as a reminder of various techniques: Thinkertoys: a handbook of creative-thinking techniques by Michael Michalko. Or for fun, try his ThinkPak card pack.

You know what I like best about this time when I’m starting a new novel? I’m never wrong. Right now, before anything is committed to paper, the new story is all possibilities and that’s so nice. No critiquer can tell me I’ve done something poorly. At least not yet.

Here’s to fresh, exciting, high concept and fun ideas.

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  • Andrea
    March 3, 2010

    I find brainstorming useful for taking my idea from a snippet of thought to a more fully fleshed out problem. Your positive attitude about the time before you start is interesting; sometimes I find that when an idea is so new and exciting, it can be frustrating–any words I write aren’t adequate to express the perfect idea.

  • Darcy Pattison
    March 3, 2010

    Andrea: I’ve got a positive attitude most of the time, but believe me, every step of writing a novel has its own frustrations. One of the biggest, for sure, is the worry that my words aren’t adequate. We all feel that way sometimes.