The Beauty of Brainstorming

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from Wired.com

Don’t ask me what’s up with the alliteration in my titles lately. Sometimes my brain just goes that direction.

And speaking of the brain. It’s funny how often we have to trick it, isn’t it? For example, I know that all morning while I’m taking care of my kids or writing lesson plans or grading papers or doing dishes, I’ll be wishing I could be writing, and then when I get to my daily writing time, from 2–5 p.m. every day, suddenly I find myself preferring to do the dishes! But if I trick my brain into thinking that I need to be grading papers, then suddenly I can get myself excited about writing again.

Yesterday I was having the usual trouble generating enthusiasm for working on my manuscript. I’d hit a stagnant part that I knew needed to be cut, but the idea of having to write brand new scenes in place of the old ones did not appeal to me one bit. I kept staring at the screen, having no idea what kinds of scenes to write or where to start them. So instead of rewriting the pages, I spent a half an hour semi-complaining about it on Twitter.

Finally, I decided to use one of the most classic brain-tricking tactics known to writers, teachers, and students every where: the brainstorm.

I opened my freewriting document — that place where I’m allowed to type stuff about my manuscript instead of actually working on the manuscript itself — and remembered how freeing it is to just play with ideas for a while without much pressure, to put words on the page without feeling like they need to meet all kinds of descriptive purposes. Yep, I tricked my brain into thinking we were just playing around instead of working, and within a few minutes, I knew what new scenes need to be inserted in the thirty pages I’m about to cut.

I do think half the time “writer’s block” is just that we’ve put too much pressure on our brains and the brains are resisting output. It happens the same way with children: nag them and they complain, drag their feet; turn work into a game, and they work a lot faster and more pleasantly.

art by Jim di Bartolo

If you need extra ideas on surviving the drafting or revision process, check out Laini Taylor’s Not for Robots essays. Those motivate my brain a lot whenever I read them. And she mentions how she always keeps a freewriting document open to trick her brain into thinking there’s no pressure — then once her brain generates something good, she pastes it into the draft document. Genius!

What about you? How do you trick your brain out of writer’s block or artist’s block or whatever stumps you? Any awesome tactics to share?

Leave a comment!

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8 responses »

    • Yeah, “rut” is a good word for it! Especially since I’m switching to 3rd person past tense on this draft, I get in the rut of just altering POV and tense and not wanting to actually change the scenes. And a “jump start” is so helpful!

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  1. When I need to brainstorm, I have to use pencil and paper. Computers are where I put completed thoughts. I also find that napping generates my best ideas. So when I’m brainstorming and feel gravity getting stronger I let myself fall asleep on the desk. Usually I wake up with the answer I was searching for. Sadly, falling asleep whenever I want to as a shortcut doesn’t work. It has to come upon me naturally.

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    • Wow! I want that trick. My eyelids get heavy often when I’m working, and I nap often, but I usually wake up grumpier than I started. But I agree about pencil and paper. I often have to grab a piece of scrap paper if I’m struggling to organize an idea.

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  2. I agree with Diana. When I’m stuck, I try writing on paper with a pencil. For some reason I love taking notes with a pencil, and it feels like handwriting words is a lot less final than typing them.

    Also, I’m one of those people who is totally okay writing a really crappy first draft. I’ll write the most boring sentences just to get me to the next scene. I’ve found that if I give myself the freedom to write crap, then my crap doesn’t turn out to be so crappy.

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