4. Brainstorming


Inexperienced writers are often under the impression that real writers know the entire ins and outs of their characters and plot even before they actually begin writing. This inspires dread, spurred on by procrastination, and together they cause the creative inertia familiarly known as writer’s block.

Like the stream of consciousness, brainstorming is one of the best remedies against writer’s block. Even if your mind is seemingly devoid of ideas, so long as you have that visceral need inside your gut to let it all out and write, brainstorming can help you find your thoughts.

Creative Writing Exercise for Brainstorming

One creative writing exercise to help you overcome writer’s block is to brainstorm in the follow way:

Brainstorming helps you think outside the box.

Brainstorming helps you think outside the box.

  • Write out 20 short (i.e. one-sentence) plot synopses per day, without exception, for at least one month.
  • Review the previous day’s plots before starting your new batch, and put an ‘x’ next to those your dislike, and a checkmark next to those you do like.
  • After one month’s work, review all of your plots. Which themes recur? What do the check-marked ones have in common?

Day after day you must do this without exception, even if your imagination becomes so barren that you write ideas like “beautiful girl forced into servitude by stepmother and two ugly stepsisters goes to the ball thanks to her fairy godmother, enthralls the local prince, loses glass slipper which said prince then finds and vows to marry its owner.” Even if your 20 plots sound eerily similar to your favourite 20 movies, don’t lose your nerve.

Divest your mind of all the ‘amazing’ plots you have memorized from other writers so that you can start peopling it with your own unique characters and ideas. Go on writing 20 plots, until after a month or so, you start realizing that there are some recurrent themes. Perhaps there is this one archetypal character who, under various guises (man, woman, child, monster, alien, etc.) is on a quest to find someone or something that he has somehow lost (mother, father, gold, a book, a ring, the meaning of life), and all of a sudden you finally understand what it was that Joseph Campbell was saying all this time.

Writing really bad plots

The goal of the “20-plots-per-day” exercise is to write enough terrible plots (one month’s work will generate 600+ plots) so that you can start finding out what it is that you find important.

Introspection is key.

You may think that you know what you want to write about, but it is not until you dissect your own plot ideas that you will get a step closer to knowing what it is that gnaws at your subconscious.

If there is one constant idea that keep on recurring, focus on it. How often do we feel the joy of having come up with the greatest idea for a plot, only to feel disenchanted after the first chapter? Falling out of love with your idea means that you were never truly in love with it in the first place—that it was mere literary infatuation. Whether it is a story about a slave facing his oppressor or kittens playing with yarn, the writer is invariably at the core of the story. Our sharpest experiences and deepest convictions (sometimes unbeknown to even us) are subsumed into the storyline, and we find ourselves in the hero, the villain, the alley cat, and everyone in between.

If you feel the need to write, it is because you have something to say; and unless you are writing only because you merely want to achieve fame and fortune, you probably do have something to offer the world. Writers write because they feel that if they do not do it, something will die within them.

Let yourself brainstorm freely and without restraint, and let your subconscious do the rest.

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