8 thoughts on brainstorming (plus: January in review)

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People have different creative processes, but here are a few things that you may want to keep in mind regarding generating ideas.

1. Just like you should set aside time to write, you should set aside time to brainstorm. This is most pertinent to people who, like me, are working on a number of projects and have a pipeline that needs to be maintained. It will be easier for you to work steadily on both aspects of the creative process rather than in spurts and stops.

2. When you are brainstorming for a plot, don’t go with the first or even the second idea that you come up with, but the third or maybe even the fourth. You may think that it’s possible to stay away from what’s already been done by avoiding what you’re aware of, but there’s so much content out there that it’s possible to retread old ground without realizing that anyone had already been there. Forcing yourself to dig deeper can help you to avoid this.

3. Remember that your readers have read many of the same stories as you (and that some of them have also read things that you haven’t, too!). Remember that they are not only familiar with the age-old twists but that they might be able to anticipate that clever double twist that you came up with.

4. In other words, not only are you not writing in a vacuum, but you are writing in a world whose continents are only partly known to you. If you want to subvert expectations, your first couple of thoughts about how to subvert those expectations are likely going to be had by other people that share your intent. Even if you publish first, you’re going to be quickly followed by other people who didn’t even copy you, just went down the same path that you did and wrote it up a little more slowly. In order to avoid this problem, you will often need to push further than most people do.

5. Besides, your first couple of ideas are probably going to be shit. Learn to generate a lot of thoughts about something without becoming attached to them. It’s easier to kill your darlings when you have a dozen of them and some of them are mutually exclusive with the others. At the point, it isn’t so much “kill your darlings” as “munch popcorn while they kill eat other.”

6. Death is only the beginning, and you don’t have to bury your darlings. If you really like an idea but know that it just won’t work out with everything else, then put it in a document with other ideas. I’ve written several stories that began as Frankensteinian monstrosities stitched together almost entirely from bits and bobs that I had to sever from other projects. This post is about brainstorming more than the actual writing process, but I’ve even saved specific lines that I loved but which just wouldn’t work, and successfully transplanted them elsewhere.

7. Don’t question the value of an idea while you’re still in the brainstorming process. You shouldn’t edit a story while you write it, and you shouldn’t critique ideas while you’re still making them. It’s fine to stop if you’re hit by gold from Heaven, but otherwise you should exhaust yourself and then evaluate what you’ve come up with.

8. If you aren’t sure where to go with a story, or what to put into a world, then try to walk through what you have so far as though you were one of your readers. When you get to the place that’s left you hanging, ask yourself what the reader would expect to find, and then keep asking. Find something that’s plausible, that fits what has already been established, but shouldn’t be at the top of someone’s list of predictions.


January 2018 in Review

I’m behind my schedule in a lot of ways: I haven’t written any short stories, didn’t write as many Lists of 108 Things as I planned for, etc etc. A fair amount of this can be chalked up to productivity failures, which I’m made plans to deal with for the coming month, but much has to do with moving out of my apartment, fulfilling commissions, and so on. My word count for the month is 31,356 words, which exceeds my monthly goal of 25,000, so I wasn’t so much “unproductive” as I was “less productive than was totally possible, and productive in unexpected projects.”

I don’t feel great about January, but I feel okay.

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