Did you know that research has shown that brainstorming on your own is actually more productive than brainstorming in a group? While there are times that a team can help generate a lot of ideas, don’t discount the idea of brainstorming on your own. With a clear process and a little bit of practice, you can brainstorm like a rock star! (Assuming rock stars brainstorm. Which they probably don’t. Well, maybe about song ideas.)
Brainstorming is definitely a tool you need to be an author. Use the steps of this process to get your book started today.
Prepping for Brainstorming
Never underestimate the importance of planning — and that goes for way more than brainstorming! When you’re actually brainstorming, you don’t want to get distracted by things like how you’re capturing everything. Taking some time now will ensure that your brainstorming session not only is productive, but it feels productive. If it feels good, you’ll want to do it again.
1. Schedule Your Brainstorming Session
Yep, schedule yourself. Plan your brainstorming session with yourself several days ahead of time. Set a date and plan how much time you’ll spend brainstorming. And make sure you can work uninterrupted. This gets your brain primed to start thinking about the topic. You may not even realize it, but your mind will be working in the background. When the day comes, you’ll be ready to start capturing your ideas.
Another option to make your brainstorming session productive: Try a different location. Your local library. A coffee shop. Something that’s out of the ordinary. Different place, different thoughts — it’s worth a try if brainstorming is something you struggle with.
2. Have a Clear Purpose for Brainstorming
If you sit down with the idea that “I have to generate 100 ideas in one sitting!” you’re only going to set yourself up for failure. While brainstorming should be free-flowing and expansive, putting some kind of structure around your brainstorming time will help you be more productive. You’ll want to sit down and figure out the main topics you want to cover in your book (and it wouldn’t hurt to make notes about what you DON’T want to include).
The end goal would be a solid outline that you can use as a plan to write — not every single thing you know about your topic.
3. Capturing Your Brainstorming Ideas
Remember that your goal is generating ideas, not getting caught up in how you’ll capture them. But make sure you have a method that’s going to get everything down in a way that provides value to you later on in the process.
You really don’t need anything more than pencil and paper. Or you can use sticky notes: You can use the smaller ones (2″ x 2″) and create a note for each idea that you can stick to a wall. That’s helpful if you are a more visual thinker and want to move items around. You could also use the larger sticky notes (like these or these) that give you more room to work on.
If you want to go the digital route, that’s fine too. There are plenty of mind mapping software options (I like MindMeister). BUT! Make sure you play with the software and understand how it works well before your brainstorming session. You don’t want to get caught up in learning new software when you’re supposed to be brainstorming. (This may or may not have happened to me. My lips are sealed.)
Don’t limit yourself to just words. If you prefer to draw or sketch or create a collage, feel free! You will want to make sure that you can turn your ideas into words at some point. In other words, you don’t want to sit down to start writing trying to remember what the heck you were thinking when you drew that flower.
Your Brainstorming Session
The biggest thing to remember at this point is quantity over quality. This is NOT the time to agonize over an idea you have captured. This is YOUR time for “I can do anything I want no matter how much it costs!” thinking. Indulge yourself.
3. Brainstorming Is A Judgement-Free Activity
This is probably one of the most important things to know about brainstorming. Your goal here is to generate as many ideas as possible. Editing and refining can happen latter. You will need to be ruthless about this; the natural tendency will be to think of 512 reasons you couldn’t write about the idea you just had. Don’t let that happen! Once you start evaluating your ideas, you’ve lost the brainstorming mojo.
You have no constraints when brainstorming and can conceive of literally anything you want to do. Stay focused on letting the ideas happen!
4. Reward Yourself for Brainstorming
I’m serious — celebrate! Do whatever it is you like to do that makes you feel happy or satisfied. You just did a really hard thing and you rocked it. Feel good about your accomplishment. Your brain will start to associate good things with brainstorming, making you more likely to schedule another brainstorming session in the future.
As I mentioned, this is an essential tool for your writing toolkit. Create good habits around brainstorming and they will serve you well.
5. Review Your Brainstorming Results
When your scheduled brainstorming time is over, take a look at what you have. You’ll probably be surprised with what you’ve accomplished. If you’ve set aside the time, kept yourself from editing as you go and really thought as big as possible, you probably had a hard time keeping up with everything coming out of your brain.
If, on the other hand, you’re not so crazy about the results, you have options. Allow yourself a little bit (and I mean little) bit of editing and evaluating. Are there ideas that you could expand on? Does one of your brainstorming ideas lead to something else?
Or maybe you can get some help. Ask friends, family, co-workers; it might actually be easier with someone who isn’t familiar with your topic. They may have whole avenues of thinking you haven’t considered because you’re too close to the topic. It doesn’t hurt to ask. (Major tip: Kids are especially good at brainstorming, because they haven’t learned to edit or censor themselves yet. Use that to your advantage!)
Making Your Ideas Actionable
Okay, so you brainstormed your heart out. Now what? All that work is going to go to waste if you don’t do something with all that content you generated. There is SO much you can do with it!
It might be helpful at this point to let the results sit for a day or two. Go on to something else and let your brain rest. You’ll have a fresh perspective to analyze what you’ve done if you do something else for a few days.
6. Analyze Your Brainstorming Results
This is the fun part! One of the easiest ways to start is to categorize your ideas. What goes with what? Do you see connections? Patterns? This is your opportunity to really play around with the ideas. Try re-arranging ideas and moving them around. Let it get a bit more messy before it starts to shape itself into something meaningful.
Remember way back in Step 2 you set a purpose for your brainstorming. How do your brainstorming results help you fulfill that purpose? Now you can do more editing. You probably did come up with some ideas that just won’t work for one reason or another. Put them aside and focus on what is doable.
Keep playing until you have something you’re really happy with. Don’t rush this part.
The more structure and organization you add at this point will make your writing that much easier.
7. Create an Action Plan to Start Creating Content!
We’re almost there! Your brainstorming session has most likely given you lots of ideas. Is your brain about to burst with possibilities? You need to create an action plan to move on to the next steps.
Make sure your action plan is SMART. Your goals should be :
Specific — The more specific the better. It’s really easy to determine when you’re done with a specific goal.
Measurable — “I’ll use my ideas to for Chapter 1.” isn’t really measurable. “Write a chapter outline based on the big idea.” is measurable.
Achieveable — You want to write a book and your content outline is done, thanks to your brainstorming session. Fantastic! But it’s not achievable to write the book in a month. Setting an unachievable goal is setting yourself up for failure.
Relevant — If your intent was to brainstorm for a book, but your brainstorming resulted in a new recipe you want to create, it’s probably not relevant. (Tasty, maybe, but not relevant.)
Time-bound — Put a date on it. Seriously. Goals without dates are just wishes.
Brainstorming can be a fun and rewarding experience if you do it correctly. And you can generate tons of ideas with just a few sessions. Try it for yourself and let me know how it goes!