How to Brainstorm Effectively and Conquer Writer’s Block

By Kelly Tabbutt

Photo by Per Lööv on Unsplash

Writer’s Block Can Be a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Facing a creative block — often called writer’s block — can be stressful. When writer’s block happens, our first inclination might be to work more and overanalyze a given topic. However, overthinking can actually make writer’s block worse.

Oftentimes, we get so caught up in trying to come up with the right answer — or the best idea — and become so distraught over impending deadlines or our perceived inability to come up with anything that we actually block our own creative process. We get a sort of tunnel vision (without a sharp vision of what we’re focusing on) that keeps us from seeing the value or potential in our ideas.

Brainstorming is one of the best ways to overcome writer’s block. #writerscommunity #productivity

When this happens, brainstorming is one of the best things you can do to open the floodgates to creativity. Read on to learn more about brainstorming and how it can help you with the writing process, as well as how to conduct an effective brainstorm session.

Why Do Writers Brainstorm?

Brainstorming is an important tool for creatives as it can boost creative output and productivity in the face of things like writer’s block (or even simply being pressed for time). Brainstorming facilitates creative problem solving and idea generation in three ways:

  1. Brainstorming allows you to relax the thought process and evaluation of ideas, allowing a greater flow of thoughts and ideas.
  2. Brainstorming compels what is called lateral thinking: this is the process of approaching a problem indirectly by viewing it from all sides and examining related questions or issues.
  3. Brainstorming has a domino effect on ideas, where each idea you produced becomes a springboard for the next idea, creating a chain of interrelated, but unique, ideas. This chain of ideas can then offer a broader perception of the topic or question at hand.

There are many different brainstorming techniques for both groups and individuals. Here, I will focus on my go-to technique, which is called “rapid ideation brainstorming.”

The main benefit of rapid ideation brainstorming for writers is that it facilitates the generation of many different ideas and concepts in a way that can help writers overcome writer’s block.

Essentially, rapid ideation brainstorming is a practice in focused stream-of-consciousness. It is a way to allow your brain to generate and “dump” ideas on a particular topic without worrying about overanalyzing or filtering the value of each individual idea.

Photo by CJ Dayrit on Unsplash

How to Brainstorm Successfully

The keys to a prolific rapid ideation brainstorming session are:

  1. Note EVERY idea generated.
  2. Do not edit or filter your ideas, just get them down.
  3. Do not get side-tracked – focus only on the topic or question at hand.
  4. If you do not have a specific topic or question in mind, try to brainstorm by type of writing (for blog content writing, this could be by categorizing the brainstorm session by topics, such as research, how-to, summaries, reviews, etc.)

Again, the purpose of rapid ideation brainstorming is to create a focused stream of consciousness, where every idea can act as a springboard for the next creating an interconnected web of ideas. In order to allow space for this process, you need to set aside a period of time (I suggest 30-60 minutes), and put yourself in a location where you will have no distractions. That way, you can focus solely on the topic or question at hand.

Although this may not always be possible, it can be useful to plan ahead for your brainstorming session in terms of time and location. Choose a time when you are most productive to brainstorm. For many people, this is the morning, though if you’re like me, it will be afternoon or late evening. Choose a location that is comfortable and enlivening and creativity-inspiring. I suggest choosing your den or office. Make sure that, whatever location you choose, you are away from distractions such as the television, outside noise, or animals, children, or housemates. Treat this brainstorming session as a sort of meditation.

The Two Stages of Rapid Ideation Brainstorming

There are two stages to this brainstorming. First, develop a concept map. Then, come up with your rapid-fire idea lists. Let’s examine both of these steps in detail.

Effective brainstorming can help break through writer’s block. Two ways to brainstorm effectively are: 1) developing a concept map and 2) coming up with rapid-fire idea lists. #writerscommunity

Brainstorming Stage 1: The Concept Map

The classic method of rapid ideation brainstorming is to create a basic concept map. What is a concept map? It is used to organize key ideas and themes. Usually used in note taking, the concept map method can be applied to brainstorming as well. You will need pen and paper (or its high-tech equivalent, such as a tablet computer) for this first step in the creative brainstorming process.

Here is a completed sample concept map. You start at the center of the map (illustrated in green) and branch out (to the blue, and eventually red parts of the map). In this way, you are putting together a web of ideas that can help you with your creative projects. Keep reading to learn more about how to make your own concept map.

brainstorming concept map
Brainstorming concept map

Use the template shown above to help you build your concept map. Here are the steps involved in creating your own rapid ideation brainstorming concept map:

  1. First, draw a circle in the center of the page. In the circle, write a word or two indicating the topic or question about which you are brainstorming. This step is shown in green on the template concept map above.
  2. Draw a few circles around the core topic. I suggest three to 10 circles depending on the complexity of the brainstorming topic. These circles are depicted in blue in the figure above.
  3. In each of these surrounding (second tier) circles, write a word or two indicating an aspect or question related to your core topic/question.
  4. Draw lines connecting each of these second-tier aspects/questions to each other where they connect.
  5. If you feel the need, you can repeat step three to create a third tier of aspects/questions related to the those in the second tier and interconnect them as applicable. The third tier in the creative brainstorming process is depicted in red above.

The value of the concept map method of rapid ideation is that it allows you to focus on one topic or question at a time — whether that is your core topic or any of the related aspects, topics, or questions. At the same time, the concept map method of rapid ideation brainstorming allows you to step back and think about and see how these ideas interconnect.

The concept map is ultimately a map of the terrain around your core topic, and focusing on examining this terrain is exactly what leads to the lateral problem solving discussed earlier.

Brainstorming Stage 2: Rapid-Fire Idea Lists

Depending on the complexity of your core topic, or the related aspects or questions arising from your core topic, you may need something more comprehensive than a concept map will allow. For example, you may have come up with some great ideas in your concept map that you can expand upon, but you may not have space on the concept map to draw all of your ideas.

In these cases, you can turn to what I call “rapid-fire idea lists.” This is exactly what it sounds like: idea lists created focusing on a single topic, aspect, or question, which are produced by writing down every idea you come up with around any of these. Alternatively, you can begin with this kind of list and convert it into a concept map.

Creating a rapid-fire idea list is a very straightforward process. Here’s how to create your own list of rapid-fire ideas:

  1. Title separate sheets of paper with each topic, aspect, or question that you want to think about, making sure to be as specific as you can be (but keeping the title to one to three words).
  2. Focus on one topic, aspect, or question at a time, simply write down every idea that comes to mind.

The rapid-fire idea list is an excellent way to “brain dump” on a single topic without the distraction of other related topics, aspects, or questions. Once you have these ideas down on paper — the most challenging part of brainstorming — you can move to the next step — writing.

Moving from Brainstorming to Writing

The next step after brainstorming your ideas is to use them to create a well-thought out and compelling blog, essay, or article. Before you can turn your ideas into prose, you need to turn them into a coherent outline. First, once you have put together your concept map and/or idea list, read back over it and try to see where the ideas connect to each other both within and across topics, aspects, and questions. When you see the connections, you can produce overarching ideas that connect these.

Use the ideas generated from your brainstorming sessions to look for connections between these ideas and come up with an outline for your writing project.

This is the point in the process when you can begin to evaluate your ideas. This is the time to decide which ideas to keep and which to ditch. Some ideas may be valuable, but not immediately relevant to the topic or question at hand. In this case, you can set those ideas aside, and use them to spark your next writing assignment. It may be helpful to keep a paper list or a Google Doc with ideas you have generated in brainstorming sessions to help you with your writing projects.

Once you have come up with an overall theme for your writing project using the concept web and idea lists, and have decided which ideas or questions are immediately relevant to your core topic, these overarching ideas can then be put together into a coherent outline. You can use the specific concepts, aspects, or questions that you produced in your brainstorming session as notes in each section of your outline. Once you have your outline and notes, you can get down to writing.

Conclusion

Writer’s block is one of the most frustrating aspects of writing. The more creativity and freedom there is for the writing assignment, the greater the threat of writer’s block – which is ultimately a block in creativity. Worse yet, writer’s block turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy that can derail productive writing efforts if one does not develop techniques to break the block. Brainstorming, and as discussed here, specifically rapid ideation brainstorming, is an ideal way to break through creative blocks, producing numerous valuable ideas and gaining greater perspective on the topic or question at hand.

Writer’s block turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy that can derail productive writing efforts if one does not develop techniques to break the block. #writerscommunity

For more information on tips and tricks to spark creativity, and how-to guides for writing anything from blogs to research articles, please visit Fancy Comma, LLC’s Resources and Helpful Guides pages.

Photo by Jasper Garratt on Unsplash

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