It’s a new year, and the perfect time to recommit yourself to your writing life. Whether you’re still working on your same project, or just opening a fresh notebook or Word document to start a new one, it can be intimidating when you hit a mental block. And that means it’s always a good time to do a little brainstorming about your project—even if that’s a word that you (like myself) might dread.
Below is an excerpt from Susan Reynolds’ Fire Up Your Writing Brain, a comprehensive guide for keeping your brain firing on all cylinders at every stage of the writing process. The book will help you identify the type of writer you are, develop writing models that accelerate your learning curve, hardwire your brain for endurance and increased productivity, learn to edit your manuscript on both a macro and micro level, recharge a lagging brain to gain an extra burst of creativity, and more. This particular passage will talk about specific things you can brainstorm about for your writing, and how to kick off the brainstorming process.
We’ve all heard about brainstorming, and we’ve likely all used it, typically when writing essays and reports in school. You likely had a teacher who showed you how to write down the central idea and then create balloons as offshoots to brainstorm ideas for flushing out, illustrating, or refuting the central idea. It may also spark creativity if you incorporate color and use curved or artistic lines from the primary balloon to the offshoots. Using pictures you found in magazines or that you sketch yourself may also spur ideas. This sort of mind mapping exercise (you can find lots of images online) may feel cliché, but, in fact, it remains effective.
But it’s also true a brainstorm occurs when massive amounts of stimulation (you providing input) produce a tightly woven web of neurons that can be ignited to make writing go well. One way to create a brainstorm and fire up your writing brain is to sit down with pen and paper and start generating as many ideas as you think of related to the story you want to tell.
Gather Your Brainstorming Tools
First, focus your mind and your brain on what you’re going to write and about—and why you are eager to make a massive brain investment in completing the work. When you make clear your intentions, your brain is ripe for the sort of brainstorming that results in plot, characters, theme, structure, setting, and whatever else you need to contemplate to get this story on paper. There are a number of software programs you could use to facilitate this process (and plenty of writers like them), but there’s scientific evidence that the old-fashioned way—writing with pen and paper—taps into slow thinking, which is beneficial at this stage.
Spiral sketchbooks with big, white, blank pages—with texture and space—can be very appealing to your senses and can leave your brain feeling like it has plenty of space to roam; that is, it can fill those spaces with brilliant ideas. Some, like me, prefer blue ink pens with a fine-tip point that lets the words flow across those big, white, blank spaces. Many writers have always loved pen and paper and probably still enjoy spending time in stationary stores (lucky you, if there’s still one near you) selecting paper and pens.
Go on an Artist Date
Julia Cameron, author of thirty books on creativity, developed the idea of going on “an artist date.” This doesn’t mean you go out with another artist, it means you take the artist in you somewhere special, choosing an activity that stimulates your creativity by bringing your artistic self pleasure—examples would be a luxurious day spent exploring a museum or writing at the New York Public Library. Pilgrimages to the homes of famous writers and attending readings are often inspirational. Some writers love running their hands and eyes over handcrafted papers, leather journals, or delighting over writing accouterments (mini typewriters, plumed pens, paperweights), admiring items that appeal purely to their sense of touch and beauty—and somehow speak to their writing ambitions. If you adore old-fashioned pens and fancy an expensive one, spend a few hours selecting and then gifting yourself the writing tools you deserve—in this way rewarding your creativity. Cameron’s books on the creative process are full of ideas. Some of my other favorites include The Right to Write and The Vein of Gold.