What is brainstorming? Merriam-Webster defines it as:
“…the mulling over of ideas by one or more individuals in an attempt to devise or find a solution to a problem”.
Brainstorming is used by groups and individuals for problem solving, to generate ideas for writing, work or school projects, and other creative pursuits. It’s also an avenue to create new products, services, or simply a fresh perspective on a common item, thought, or method.
The process of brainstorming doesn’t have to be a formal or complicated one, it may be simply a method to shape ideas and move forward on a concept or project. Jotting down ideas, researching, discussing thoughts, alone or with others can all produce useful material for whatever project or work lies before you.
Whether your brainstorming produces ideas large, small, or somewhere in between, it can help to use various methods to get the creative juices flowing. The following methods just might assist you for that next big idea.
Freewriting is just what it sounds like, writing freely to see what ideas you can generate. It often helps to set a time limit (like three minutes), and write down anything related that comes to mind. Even if you can't think of anything to write, start scribbling something whether it’s related to your topic or not, and then see what flows next. When your time limit is up, review what you’ve written. Some content won’t be useful, but it might surprise you to see that there may be good ideas or threads on which to build. Save potential ideas and toss the rest.
Clustering, also known as mapping, is when you take a word or two from the topic, write it down in the middle of a blank piece of paper and circle it. Write related words around the main word/s, circle them, and draw a line from each to the main word/s.
For example, if the topic is teen cell phone use, related words might include texting, convenience, communication, data plans, billing overages, texting and driving, etc.
Any and all ideas are acceptable here because you never know when one idea will generate another, and then lead to that one great idea you need to proceed. Seeing our thoughts clustered or mapped out like this can generate more leads than you’d think.
The Five W’s
Who, What, Where, When, and Why – these are the questions that journalists use when writing an article of most any type. These words guide writers through the process, making sure that all the important points are covered and conveyed properly to the reader.
To use them as a brainstorming tool, list these five words on a sheet of paper. Then answer each one using thoughts about the topic. The answers do not have to be extensive to help spark good ideas, just write any thoughts that come to mind that might apply. The 5 W’s can help round out the points for your idea, helping to make sure you’ve covered as many angles as possible. Here again, this can offer a means for you to find the way from point A to point B for your topic, providing more ideas than you’d expect.
The Flip Side
Another perspective often offers great insight into an idea or topic. So why not consider your topic from a different angle? This is especially helpful if the topic is a controversial issue. It can lend great insight from beginning to end, and shed light on the topic in new ways.
Say, for example, the topic is requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets. Consider this thought from both sides. Why do people think it is important to wear a helmet? Why do opponents feel that they shouldn’t have to? What motivates either opinion? What other factors enter into play here?
Turning an idea or concept around, examining it from other sides or all angles can offer refreshing insight. New ideas and direction can form and help gain great material for your project.
You Might Be…If
Another way to generate thoughts relating to your topic is to finish a related sentence. It might allow you to break out of your thinking rut and expand the idea’s vocabulary.
For example, consider this portion of a sentence:
You might be an artist if...
How would you complete this thought? How could you expand it into a paragraph? What other ideas might follow?
Sentence ideas such as the following could produce the same for other topics, too.
You might be late for work if…
You might be a blogger if...
You might be a musician if...
You might be a fiction fan if...
You might be a firefighter if...
You might be from the northeast if...
You might've been born in the 70's if...
There’s sure to be a “sentence starter” for whatever topic you’re brainstorming. Create one, fill in the blanks, and see where it leads.
Writing prompts are another way to lend help when you’re short on ideas. Many writers use them to get their brain in gear. They might seem intimidating, but that is not their intent. Prompts are simply another means to find the words and ideas needed for the job.
One common misconception about writing prompts is that when you use one, the content you write has to be just so. Unless it's an assignment for a class or for a specific project, there are no rules. They simply provide an opportunity to produce interesting ideas, write, and even build better thinking and writing skills.
One of the simplest types of prompts is a sentence. It can act as a story starter, headline, or a hook to draw the reader in. Best of all, it’s a fresh brainstorming tool that can cause all sorts of ideas to come forth.
What compelling ideas might come from the following simple prompts?
She should have listened to her grandmother.
He stared at the marigolds in the garden.
“You did WHAT?”
One prompt, often a favorite among writing instructors, is Hemingway's Challenge. Someone once challenged Hemingway to write a six-word story. This is what he wrote:
For sale, baby shoes. Never used.
That certainly makes you wonder about the story behind the story, doesn’t it?
Writing prompts are a great brainstorming tool. They can take us in unexpected directions and offer compelling input for most any topic.
Ideas are everywhere, but sometimes the brain needs a little nudge to get that storm going. Next time you need ideas to help complete a project or topic, why not give one of these methods a try? You never know what great ideas might surface in the process.
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