Free Writer’s Workshop Wednesday: Brainstorming

Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.

– Orson Scott

Where do your ideas come from? Writer’s often get asked that question as if they have a magical pool that provides them with limitless ideas that are all gold. I’m here to let you know that while, yes, writers often have a parking lot of ideas constantly percolating, they aren’t eternal wells of great ideas. They have a few tricks that you can use to develop the skill of generating ideas. It’s called: Brainstorming.

I love brainstorming. I think it may be my favorite part of writing, because it taps into your thoughts and imagination. Everyone has thoughts, and everyone has a wild imagination. The key is to bring these two together to help create ideas that can translate into stories, poems, books, or articles. I’ve complied a few tricks to help get those thoughts flowing and kickstart your writing.

Go for a Walk

Or a run. Or take a nap. Or do whatever you need to do to let your mind wander. Movement always helps, and you’d be surprised at how many writers walk to generate ideas or kick their brain out of a writer’s block. I prefer to run. Whatever you choose to do, this is time dedicated to thinking, day dreaming, and playing out all your thoughts.

Free Writing

Free-writing is exactly what it sounds like. Grab a notebook and a pen and go. Set a timer for 10-20 minutes and just keep the pen moving. Allow your thoughts to stream from one idea to the next, uninterrupted. You can start with a prompt, or just write down whatever’s on your mind. The point is to keep the pen moving and see just where you thoughts take you.

Word Association

Probably the easiest trick for brainstorming can also become a crazy game to use in your classroom. Word association is simple: start with a word, and just say the next word that pops into your head. You can journal it, map it, make it a game–it doesn’t matter. The point, again, is just to get ideas flowing and see what strange connections you can make.

Ask “What If…?”

I’m willing to bet that just about every great story started with a “what if?” question:

What if an elephant could fly?

What if toys came to life when you left?

What if a man and his family were trapped in an isolated hotel?

What if a group of boys were stranded on an island?

What if you gave a mouse a cookie?

Start with a simple question: what if? Let your mind create bizarre and wonderful situations and scenarios that answer your “what if” question.


Sometimes the idea is right in front of you if you learn to pay attention. Stories contain characters, and characters are people. Watch how people act, react, talk, move, think, and problem solve. Listen to the conversations around you. What do people care about? What are their struggles? What motivates them to do what they do?

Observe everything from events to settings. Notice the things that most everyone else doesn’t pay attention to.

Tuck these observations into a safe for future character building and development, setting description, and plots.

Retell an Old Tale with a New Twist

One of the best ways to start generating ideas is simply to write and get your head into that creative space. But what do you do if you have no idea to get you started?

Simply retell an old tale with a new twist.

Fairy tales, folktales, and tall tales are fanatics stories that you can use and make your own. In fact, many authors retell folktales or fairy tales and actually publish them!

Change Your POV

One of my most recent favorite reads is The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. What makes the story so wonderful and amazing? Part of it is the simple, beautiful story telling, but it’s also the point of view from which the story is written. I plan to do a book review on it so I won’t give it away here, but it’s told from the point of view of Ivan, the gorilla.

Changing your point of view allows you to see things from a different perspective and can open doors to ideas. Write a journal entry from the point of view of your dog. Write about the time you were pulled over from the POV of the police officer. Chang your POV and the stories are limitless.

Pick Three

If nothing else, use the tried and true: Pick Three

Pick Three works like this: Answer these three questions using any combination of things:

Who is the story about?
What do they want?
What is standing in their way?

It doesn’t matter how you answer, in fact, the weirder the better! But these questions give you a character, a motivation, and conflict which help you create plot and a story.

Pick one of these tips to help you get started. You’ll find that the more you write, the more ideas will generate.



The Writing Process
Should You Write Fiction or Nonfiction
How to Deal with Rejection as a Writer


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