Writers sometimes experience a shortage of writing ideas, chaotic floods of ideas or no ideas at all that stalls writing projects. If you are experiencing this writers' peeve, try these proven brainstorming strategies to generate or organize new topic ideas, approaches and revive your stalled projects.
Freewriting involves letting your thoughts flow freely on paper or your computer screen. Set aside a time frame like 15 minutes for writing or determine to write and fill a certain number of pages and get down to it. Write whatever comes to your mind. Don’t worry about typos, spelling or any other surface-level issues of grammar and style. Just write until your time is up or your page goal is attained.
When you are done, read through what you have written. You will no doubt find a lot of filler in your text, but there will also be golden nuggets of insights, discoveries and other little gems in there that you can pick out and develop for your projects. Even if you don’t discover any new idea nuggets, you will stir up your creative mind and unearth tit bits of raw concepts buried deep in your mind you can develop.
Looping takes freewriting a step further with the aim of zeroing in on raw ideas and insights buried deep in your subconscious mind. Move in loops between one free writing exercise of between five and 10 minutes and another until you have a sequence of several freewriting pieces. Make sure you adhere to the rules of freewriting in this exercise so that each result is more specific than the other.
Read through what you have produced in all the freewriting looping cycles and analyze all interesting sentences, ideas or phrases. You will likely discover a recurrent topic idea or theme you are unconsciously thinking about has taken precedence. You can develop this topic idea or theme and use it in your next writing project.
If you want to write about a specific topic or communicate a certain idea, jot down a list of single words and phrases that relate to the general topic you are thinking about off the top of your mind. For example, if you are thinking about producing a work of fiction, make separate lists of elements, characters or scenes you want to convey. If you are writing nonfiction, list facts, arguments, question or any other related ideas you want to cover.
Don’t outline or edit at this point. Let the activity be uninhibited. When you are finished listing, group the items on your lists in a logical manner and provide a label for each group. Write a sentence about each group and you will have several topic or theme sentences you can develop. Build on the topic sentences and define associations of the groups to get broader topics or themes with possible points to write on.
Clustering, also known as idea mapping, is a strategy used to explore relationships and associations between ideas. If you have run out of ideas on a subject or topic, write down the subject in the center of a page. Highlight the subject either by underlining or circling it. Think of an idea that relates to the subject and jot it down on your page. Link the idea to the central subject.
Think of another idea that relates to the new idea you just created. Link this new idea with the previous idea. Repeat the process until you have a web of ideas on the page that are all derived from the main subject. Now you can visually see ideas that relate to your main subject. Identify clusters of ideas that interest you and use the key terms you attached to them as the departure points for your writing project.
Nut-shelling entails discovering and laying out in a few sentences the gist of topic ideas in your head. It helps you distinguish major and minor ideas in your thoughts and identify how the ideas relate to each other. This way you are able to test how different ideas can affect what you want to write about.
Pretend you are being interviewed by someone and they want to know what you want to write about. Start your explanation with a phrase like “I want to write about...” or “I want to show….” Put down your answer concisely in writing. Make your answer no more than two or three sentences maximum to capture the essence of your topic and you will have just developed your topic statement or premise for what you are thinking about writing.
Cubing is a critical thinking process that involves examining a writing project from six distinct angles to generate ideas for your stalled projects. Describe your project: What is it? What is it like or unlike? What makes up its constituents? How can it be used? Finally, what are its pros or cons or how can you oppose or support it? At the end of the exercise you should have an angle or outline on how to approach your writing topic or project.
When researching a story and the angle to take when covering the story, journalists ask the 5W’s and 1H questions: Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How? Use the same technique to generate topic ideas, possible angles to take on the topic and the most pertinent information to include when addressing the topic.
Write each of the question words on a sheet of paper and leave spaces to provide answers for the questions. Answer all the questions relating to your topic in brief and then review the answers. Do you have more to say about one or more of the questions, such as more on the "where" and "why" than the "what" or are your answers evenly balanced?
You will discover that you know more or little about particular question words relating to your topic. Leverage that awareness to generate new writing ideas. Research your topic further to improve on areas you are least knowledgeable in, build on areas you are most knowledgeable in or the best way to organize what you already know to balance your topic more.
Visit the library or go to a writing center near you and browse dictionaries, thesauruses, guide books and any other reference texts that you find. You will be surprised at how much background information, little-known facts and golden topic ideas relevant to your writing projects reference books can give.
Write down past or current events relating to your writing subject, historical or contemporary issues surrounding your topic and any other relevant information you gather in your library research for use in your projects. Also, browse online versions of the dictionaries and reference books to add to the ideas you have already collected.
If one of these strategies doesn’t work, move on and try another until something clicks. Oftentimes, it is a combination of these brainstorming strategies that yields the best results.
Spotlight book of the month
by Francine Prose
In Reading Like a Writer, Prose invites us to sit by her side and take a guided tour of the tools and the tricks of the masters. She reads the work of the very best writers—Dostoyevsky, Flaubert, Kafka, Austen, Dickens, Woolf, Chekhov—and discovers why their work has endured.
She cautions readers to slow down and pay attention to words, the raw material out of which literature is crafted. “All the elements of good writing depend on the writer’s skill in choosing one word instead of another,” she says
Written with passion, humor and wisdom, Reading Like a Writer will inspire you to return to literature with a fresh eye and an eager heart; to focus on language and create unique and powerful people and stories.