Today, I’m continuing my How to Prepare for NaNoWriMo series by talking about brainstorming. What to write about? It is a real question, and a question for writers must answer before they can get down to the nitty gritty of writing. Fortunately, there is not a right or wrong answer to this question.
The place where a writer will start and process of how to begin will vary from writer to writer. An excellent starting point would be to first select a genre. By selecting a genre, this will narrow one’s focus.
Next, select a theme. Some writers will become stalled at this point, and the brainstorming will begin here. This is a particularly difficult place to be stumped; although, it should be noted that a writer may become blocked at any point in the writing process. And trust me when I say, there is not minimal amount of time a writer can be blocked at a single point. Some writers have been stuck for years. Most times, sitting around awaiting a resolution to magically pop into one’s brain doesn’t happen. It’s not impossible, but it’s just rare. And awaiting an organic solution is rather passive. Being active will likely produce a solution faster. This is not to say that a better organic solution will not occur later. That has been known to happen, too. However, if the writer has a theme in mind, then his/her task has been made even easier and narrow down the brainstorming even further.
In previous posts, I discussed genre (specifically the romance genre) and tropes/themes at length. I’ll try not to duplicate too much here. To read my NaNoWriMo prepping post regarding genre and tropes, click on the following link.
So now, let’s move onto brainstorming. What is brainstorming? Braining storming can be defined as a problem-solving technique that a person (or group of people) list/contribute spontaneous ideas to devise a solution that increases productivity. There are many forms of brainstorming. Some people outline while others make bullet lists. Some people use a mapping or association technique. Some people time their brainstorming sessions while others may collect ideas over several days. Again, there is no right or wrong answer to brainstorming as long ideas are being formulated. Some ideas my be farfetched or nonpractical. During the brainstorming stage, none of that matters. The objective is to create as many options as possible.
Now, if everything in this post is sounding pretty basic at this point, it is because it is. Often writing is a building process. Each step is additive. One of the reasons I failed at NaNo so many times is because I never started at the basics. I thought because I had an idea in mind (or even the beginning of a story), I would be fine in achieving a goal. The problem was… well, honestly, there were a couple of problems. First, I’m a pantser which is self-explanatory when it comes to how I feel about outlining and plotting. Being a pantser works well for me but not when I only have thirty days to work with. As a pantser, I sometimes… (who am I fooling?)… many times, write myself into corners that take me a few days to work out or backtrack. Rarely, do I write a story in order from start to finish. I also tend to be wordy, which again works for me because I get all the fluff out in editing. However, when one only has thirty days, that time spent text that is going to be cut is a waste of time.
Okay, brief aside here. I know some may be asking why write something I know will get cut. Well, at the time, I don’t always know that it is material that needs to be cut. For me, it’s sometimes a think on paper moment that I need to have the story happen or shape itself. Later, I won’t need it. For example, I may spend far too much time on a character’s backstory or begin a story far sooner than it should. Heck, sometimes, I just change my mind about something that changes the entire story. This is my process. It works for me and not for everyone.
So, getting back to my point, staring with basic information a writer to address any areas that may trip him/her up in his/her journey to being successful. It also highlights which areas a writer needs to include or omit from his/her preparations. Besides, reminders never hurt. Now, let’s dive a little deeper.
My biggest problem with brainstorming is the inspiration itself. I remember in grammar school, the teacher would say we should brainstorm a topic, and literally, my mind would go blank right then and there. The teacher would instruct to name the first thing that came to mind, and I’d say something like ice cream cones and the topic would be the Byzantine Empire. It would be a complete and utter disaster and the teacher would chastise me for attempting to be funny when in reality my brainstorming skills flopped. I didn’t understand why this was and disregarded brainstorming as useful. This brings me to the first point.
- Don’t discount brainstorming as a waste of time. Having this attitude will guarantee the task will be a failure. Many writers are eager to begin writing but then sit clueless in front of a blank computer screen or worse, write a bunch od dibble. If you’re baffled for story ideas or the direction a story should take, set aside time for a brainstorming session (or more than one if necessary) and have confidence the process will work. Write down random thoughts, ideas, and interests.
- Environment. Ensure that your surroundings are inducive to creativity. In short, visit places that inspire you or is known for creative energy. These may be places such as art galleries, concerts, plays/theatre productions, movies, beautiful countrysides, beaches, monuments/parks, mountains, festivals/carnivals, etc.
- Activities. Do things that you know cause you to be more creative. Some people get ideas while exercising or cleaning. Listening to music, eating certain foods work for others, meditation, and visualization methods that work for other people to increase their creativity. Just don’t become so involved in the activity that you forget to think.
- Bookstores. Walk around a bookstore in the genre you’re interested in and view subgenres. There may be topics that you’re interested in but hadn’t considered writing. Or maybe…
- Personal Wishlist. I’m going to use an adult word here that is likely to stir up a bit of dandruff, but don’t come at me too hard. Bear with me and hear me out. The word is fetish. Hang on. Don’t run off. It’s not what you’re probably thinking. (Or maybe it is.) According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, one of the definitions of a fetish is an object of irrational reverence or obsessive devotion. This sounds pretty negative, and for that reason, many people keep their fetishes a secret. But when the number of people with fetishes are added together, that number is not small. They may not share the same fetish, but they have a desire that isn’t mainstream and that isn’t being discussed. In the same light, there are books that aren’t written because the subject matter isn’t in the mainstream. Someone proclaimed that no one wants to read that type of material (whatever the subject material may be). However, there is an audience for everything. So, if you have a desire to write something, write it. In the words (kinda) of Field of Dreams, if you write it, they (readers) will come (read). Thus, write what you would like to read. Brainstorm what interests you personally.
- Uniqueness. Don’t worry about producing for trend unless what is on trend is truly a passion. I’ve discussed this subject in past posts as well. In short, when a writer chases a trend to make a quick sale, there are several issues. Writing for a trend can backfire. To break this down for NaNo where writers are attempting to complete a 50,000 manuscript in thirty days, if the writer is not into the story because of passion towards the story, he/she may stumble writing a unique story. In short, he/she may find himself/herself regurgitating a book already published. Take the Twilight series. There were plenty of books written about vampires before it. However, the author, Stephanie Meyer, created her own unique spin on vampires. The success of her series made the vampire trope very on trend. As a result, there is a barrage of vampire books many of which uses Meyer’s formula. Of course, publishing houses are going to pump these books out because they are in it for the money. Many of the books are quality, but some are poorly written cash-grabs. The market becomes saturated, and after a while, readers bore of it. And what new readers must remember, if first impressions mean a lot. Branding means everything. If someone says Stephen King, what is the first word that pops in mind? For me, it’s a book or movie that about to scare the crap out the reader/audience. If a new writer publishes a vampire book because it’s on trend and the then his/her next book is about a civil defense attorney fighting a corrupt nuclear plant that is polluting a town’s water system, that is going to convolute branding for that writer. Readers like to know what to expect from authors. That’s what makes a lot of readers return readers. Thus, when brainstorming, formulate ideas that will be unique to you and not what is on trend. Besides, by the time you complete the manuscript and have it polished for publishing, the trend may be at its end. Then, the writer is stuck with a book that’s not going to generate much interest.
- Dream Journal. This isn’t exactly a part of brainstorming, but it’s worth mentioning. Dreams are a wonderful source of writing material. The issue is that many people do not remember their dreams. One way to help remember is by keeping a dream journal beside you bed to immediately write down any dream before it fades. These dreams may be a jumping off point for brainstorming.
- Questions. Ask yourself questions. What is it that you want your story to say? What point of view do you want your story told? Do you want it to be dramatic or humorous? Where (location) do you want your story to take place? What is the time period? Who are the characters? What is the main plot? What is the subplot? What events happen in the story? Think of all the questions you will need to answer in order to be able to write your story, and answer each of them thoroughly.
- Internet. Aw, I’ve come to that unspeakable demon seed that I cannot exclude. The internet can be helpful to developing ideas for a story. It is perhaps the grandest of all brainstorming techniques/tools. However, it can send you into a spiral of unproductivity. I need a Pinterest intervention group. And let’s not even talk TikTok. But if you’re someone who has much self-control, there are many websites that list story ideas. Read through them and see if any spark interest.
- Research. As a pantser, this is an area that will grab me in a chokehold death-grip in a heartbeat. I may come up with what I consider a brilliant topic and begin writing a story. Then, I realize I don’t know a certain element that I need to know in order to make the story authentic. For example, when I wrote a medical romance about an ENT, I realize there were some aspects of procedure that I did not know. I thought I did because I’d seen many movies with ENTs. The one day, I watched a broadcast about one of my favorite movies whose main character was a first responder. Many of the scenes revolved around his job and coworkers. And do you know this broadcast had the audacity to point out factual flaws in the script? I say that sarcastically because this broadcast was spot-on correct. I hit up several ENTs and questioned the procedures in the movie and quickly realized that I couldn’t go on what I’d been watching. The reason I bring this up in the brainstorming prepping phase for writing is that putting off research can slow the writing process. If I need my ENT to talk about a medical condition, I need to know about the medical condition. I write sports romance. Occasionally, rules change, and those changes may be important to a story. Now again, because I’m a pantser, it doesn’t bother me to stop writing to conduct research. However, having only thirty days to complete a story throws a monkey wrench into the mix. There have been times when it has taken me several days to find the proper answer to a question. Finding some answers is like searching for a needle in a haystack. And when the answer is finally discovered, you may need to brainstorm the answer further.
- Garbage. No brainstorming session is garbage even if it may seem that way on the surface. Do not throw away any brainstorming ideas. Sometimes, a writer will have a good idea that does not click with him/her at the time he/she has the idea. However, later it may come together. I once found that I had two story ideas but get kept getting blocked in writing either one. I later realized that my two main characters belonged in the same story as adversaries. I didn’t have two stories after all.
- Don’t Put the Cart Before the Horse. I’ve mentioned this previously in this post, but it’s worth mentioning it again. At the brainstorming stage, do not evaluate or critique the validity or substance of ideas. It’s too soon in the process for that. You’ll have plenty of time later. The purpose of brainstorming is to create ideas, not to eliminate them.
- Grouping. Once a writer compiles a list of ideas, he/she should group them together or combine like ideas or concepts. Many ideas may overlap. This may be a good thing because the it may reveal what interests the writer most. It also reduces the number of ideas, making it easier for the writer to focus.
- Word Association. Write down a series of topics/subject and list words that you associate with them. The more associations once can make, the stronger the concept becomes.
And those are my tips on brainstorming and what I’m using to prepare for NaNo. I’m sure there are plenty more out there. Did you find any of these helpful? What strategies do you use? I’d love to here your opinions and suggestions in the comments below.
And also, don’t forget to pick up a copy of my new steamy romance, Ice Gladiators, guaranteed to melt the ice. It’s the third book in my sports romance Locker Room Love series.
Taz has problems: a stalled career, a coach threatening to destroy him, a meddling matchmaking roommate, and a thing for his other roommate’s boyfriend. The first three are manageable, but the last… well, that’s complicated. Because as much as Taz is attempting not to notice Liam, Liam is noticing him. Grab your copy of Ice Gladiators at https://amzn.to/2TGFsyD or www.books2read.com/icegladiators.
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Defending the Net can be ordered at www.books2read.com/defending. Crossing the line could cost the game.
Locker Room Love is a steamy standalone gay romance/ MM romance series revolving around professional hockey players. Set primarily in the Cajun and Creole bayous of south Louisiana, these love stories have a diverse cast of characters. These sexy athletes are discovering their own voice and the best romance of their lives, even if that isn’t their intention. Find tales of friends to lovers, enemies to loves, billionaires, bad boys, forbidden romance, first times, gay for you, and more. These alpha males are guaranteed to work up a sweat and melt the ice.
For more of my stories, shenanigans, giveaways, and more, check out my blog, Creole Bayou, www.genevivechambleeconnect.wordpress.com. New posts are made on Wednesdays (with bonus posts sometimes on Mondays), and everything is raw and unscathed. Climb on in a pirogue and join me on the bayou.
If you have any questions or suggestions about this post or any others, feel free to comment below or tweet me at @dolynesaidso. You also can follow me on Instagram at genevivechambleeauthor or search me on Goodreads or Amazon Authors or BookBub.
Until next time, happy reading and much romance. Keep safe.