Thursday, February 18, 2010

Brainstorming—by Kathy McIntosh.

Kathy McIntosh, Well Placed Words Today I’d like to welcome Kathy McIntosh to the blog. Kathy is an editor, PR expert, professional speaker, and professed word lover.


Whether you have a novel plotted in your head, or have a few simple thoughts about a character, an event, or a terrific action scene, the end product can benefit from a good initial brainstorming session with trusted writer colleagues.

Brainstorming is particularly useful if you’re both at the point of beginning a new novel.

Brainstorming allows you to dig deeper into ideas and find fresh dirt. When you’re seeking a word or a phrase, the first three are often trite. If you scribble down a few more, you get past the top of mind, often-used, dusty ones to something with sparkle.

The same holds true for your plot and characters. Having one or two trusted friends help you dig makes the work easier and faster, and you get the benefit of someone else’s creativity.

You also have the opportunity for fun with other scribblers, a rare treat for solitary writers.

Suggestions for better brainstorming: 1. Be certain you trust the person you’re sharing your precious ideas with. Although some would argue you risk having your ideas stolen, my concern is for your self-confidence, your fragile writer’s ego. Your team members need to be able to accept your ideas or challenge them, suggest adaptations and alterations, without ever attacking you as a writer (or as a person!). Of course, you need to remember not to take comments personally. This is work and the words and ideas are not you; they are words and ideas.

2. Have a flip chart with lots of paper for taking notes on ideas. Record everything! 3. Come to the brainstorming session with your ideas or problems in mind. No make that with notes on your ideas and problems. These thoughts will be the board you’ll jump from to brainstorm. (Would that then be brainswimming?) This can be just notes you’ve dashed down, stream of consciousness ideas or more structured, depending on your style. Some people even have drawings to stimulate their thinking.

4. Have yummy snacks and easily prepared meals. Do remember to take breaks, possibly a walk. Refresh your creative mind.

5. Spend time before you begin to set discussion parameters: Will one person who is a wiz at brainstorming lead all sessions or will each writer lead the discussion on his or her work? Decide how far you want to go. Some writers think they need only a bare bones idea and then will be able to run with it. Maybe so, but the purpose of brainstorming is to pick the brains of another writer. He or she might head in a different direction and you might LOVE that direction.

6. Follow the rules of brainstorming: No bad ideas, everything is written down. Don’t worry about repetition. The same thing said at a different time may spark new ideas. Don’t stop and discuss. Just record lots of ideas first and think about them later. Do ask for clarification. Be sure what you write down is not edited but is clear to all (a one word idea that’s perfectly clear in the morning may be meaningless by midnight) Before you start, set time guidelines and stay within them. Maybe 50 minutes on each person’s main plot problem and the ways things get worse; 20 minutes on each protagonist and each antagonist; 20 minutes on the secondary characters. If you’re really on a roll that you don’t want to stop, decide together how much more time to allocate to that topic. Think outside the box. If an idea comes to you, don’t let your internal editor tell you it’s silly. Speak up and share it. Trust that no one will belittle your contribution. (And if someone does, provide a gentle reminder of the guidelines)

7. Ways to Generate Ideas Try using the question “What if…” when considering your plot and your characters. What if your protagonist is a dwarf instead of an executive for a conglomerate? What if your villain has always wanted to be on Survivor? Use mind mapping or clustering, too! Start with a word (perhaps a description of your character) in a circle and branch out from there. I posted about mind mapping last year.

8. Be flexible. Get up and stretch from time to time. If one approach isn’t working to get ideas flowing, try another. There will be moments of silence, empty of ideas. Allow them.

Thanks so much for guest blogging today, Kathy! You can visit Kathy at her blog, Well Placed Words. I’m curious to find out everyone’s techniques for brainstorming—do you write it all down? Try to keep it in your head? What works for you?

And please join me tomorrow when Kit Dunsmore posts on Hiking Through A Quilted Garden: Metaphors For Writing Fiction.