Do you have a writing project that just doesn’t seem to be going anywhere? Do you know what you need to write but not what to put on the paper? Or worse, know you have to write but can’t think of what to write? Are you suffering from good old-fashioned writer’s block?
The next time you’re in an ideal draught, why not try a brainstorm?
Brainstorming is a creativity technique that helps you to develop ideas. It can help you to break out of the box and let your creative juices flow. Cool. You can learn about brainstorming in any number of ways. That’s the easy part.
Unfortunately, the real question is how to make the most out of brainstorming for a writing project.
Which is what this article is going to focus on. To make the most out of brainstorming for writing you need to consider four questions.
1. When should you brainstorm?
Let’s face it not every task in the writing process needs brainstorming. In fact, the actual writing for example is a task you should avoid brainstorming in. Why? Because it should flow directly from the design. So when can brainstorming help? You can use brainstorming to create a profile of your target reader. You can use brainstorming to identify possible topics. Brainstorming works well when determining how much of the topic you already know a great deal about. You can use brainstorming when identifying the chapters for your book. And you can use brainstorming when filling in the points you wish to write about.
2. What is the process for brainstorming?
Getting the most from brainstorming means you need to have a good handle on the process and why each step is done the way it is. There are two type of brainstorming. The first is generic brainstorming. The second is structured brainstorming. Together they can be quite powerful. Generic brainstorming is primarily a creative technique. That is you make a list of all the possible ideas without questioning their validity or reasonableness. Ideas create ideas as your mind identifies relationships and bounces from one idea to another. Once you’ve created as large a list as possible you then take and eliminate those that are obviously unworkable. You then rate the rest and select the best ideas.
Structured brainstorming says that you need to create between four and nine ideas at each stage. So once you’ve created your initial list you summarize the result into sets of results. The idea is that four to nine sets contain all the alternatives. You can then develop each of the sets by repeating the process.
3. What tools should you use?
Brainstorming works because it separates the tasks that the brain has to perform. The brain is very good at linking ideas together. It’s also very good at bouncing from idea to idea. In addition, it’s good at structuring ideas into order. And it’s good at qualifying and judging ideas. What it isn’t good at is switching between each of those tasks. By limiting the switching, you improve the overall result.
The tools you use need to support that decomposition of multitasking. One of the most useful tools for this is the semantic network diagram (SND). There are four types — each useful for different situations.
Line-based SNDs are better known as mind maps. They work best when you are starting from one core idea and developing related ideas.
The Google Wonder Wheel is a form of Node-based SND. These work best when creating an overall map of ideas where no one is definitely the core idea.
Finally, there are hybrid and structured SNDs. Hybrid SNDs mix both line and node-based elements and therefore share characteristics and capabilities.
Structured SNDs are a special case. Although theory says they can be any of the SNDs they tend to be either hybrid or line based. The structuring can take the form of a specific number of connections or it can be different types of lines representing different types of connections (or other information).
4. What environment is best for brainstorming?
The environment depends largely on the composition of the brainstorming group. The best brainstorming occurs with a group. However, most brainstorming for writing projects involves a group of one — the writer.
When dealing with a group — for example when writing for a corporate client — the best environment is the typical meeting room. Having whiteboards (especially recording whiteboards) and other support equipment is mandatory. Isolating the participants from outside interruptions is also important. And keeping the noise from disturbing the neighbors is the third requirement.
When dealing with a single writer the best environment is not dependent on the available tools. A simple piece of paper is the only thing that is required. Of far more importance is quiet, solitude, and comfort.