At this point, I have a pretty finely honed writing process. Does it work 100% of the time? No. Nothing in writing works 100% of the time. But I’m able to be consistently productive, which is obviously essential in completing a project. I created this process largely through trial and error. Odds are, you’ll probably have to do the same, but there’s a lot to think about at each stage of the writing process.
In order to help you discover your own process, I’m kicking off a writing process series with tips for developing a process that works best for you! Today we’re going to talk about Brainstorming. In the coming weeks you’ll find posts on Drafting, and Revision and Editing.
Keep in mind, the goal here shouldn’t be to do what other people say “works” or to do do what other people say is “right.” The goal is to find a process that makes you productive. You need to figure out what is the best approach for your personality and your life. Don’t be afraid to try something new and ditch it if it doesn’t help. And don’t be afraid to take these ideas and modify them to better serve your needs.
Now, on to the post! Here are some tips to help you figure out how to brainstorm (and if you even should).
Plotter or Pantser?
There tend to be two schools of thought for brainstorming: pantsing and plotting. If you’re a pantser, then you probably don’t do too much brainstorming, plotting, or outlining–you fly by the seat of your pants. If you’re a plotter, you do brainstorm, outline, and/or plot. Panters like to experience and uncover the story as they write while plotters like to know where their story is going before they dive in. So, how do you figure out where you land?
How I learned about myself
I can’t speak for everyone, but here’s how I learned. I used to be a panter. The idea of brainstorming was overwhelming to me and when I had an idea, I wanted to get it out as fast as possible. Pausing to brainstorm seemed like a waste of time.
I was working on a writing project early in high school when I started to see how brainstorming could help me. I hadn’t done any brainstorming on this project, and I had made it twenty-five chapters pretty easily. However, what I came to realize was that in those twenty-five chapters, only about five days had passed. And most of the time, my characters had been wandering around trying to figure out what they should do next. And on top of that, I had absolutely no idea what direction I should send my characters in for chapter 26. So I started brainstorming–not to too much though. Just pausing for fifteen minutes to think of a few plot points I could cover in the next chapter. When I did this, it made writing so much easier for me.
What I came to realize is that I don’t multitask well when it comes to writing. I can’t think about what I want to say and how I want to say it at the same time. Now my outlines are pretty detailed because I learned that the more I think about my story before I write, the easier it is to write. I increased my brainstorming slowly. Once I got used to working with just plot points, I started planning key scenes. When I saw the benefits of that, I started to add more and more detail to my outlines, so now I practically have every scene planned before I write. This may not be right for you, but it works really well for me.
Some tips to help you find what works for you
Check out how other writers brainstorm. Everyone has a different approach and something another writer shares might resonate with you. I always say you should, at some point, try nearly every technique you come across because you never know what might be helpful. I also suggest you go with what’s working until you’re having a problem. Then work to alter your process and add something new based on the problem you’re trying to solve.
In the case of brainstorming, it’s probably easier to start with pantsing (at least, if you can get into your story from the start). If pantsing becomes a struggle, you consistently find yourself frustrated because you don’t know what happens next, or you really HATE the direction your story is going in, then take a stop writing and map it out. Start with only thinking a chapter ahead. If that’s helpful, then pause your draft and plan out the rest of the book. I would suggest you start with only a couple of plot points and add detail as you find it helpful.
As much as plotting and pantsing are the two main schools of thought, they’re also, essentially, anchors on a scale. It’s okay if you fall somewhere in between. If diving in with absolutely no direction has left you struggling to write but a full-blown scene-by-scene outline feels too limiting, try simply coming up with a few guiding plot points to hit at different points throughout the book. And again, don’t be afraid to alter any techniques you come across to meet your own personality and needs.
Somethings to consider
If you follow me on Instagram, you know my process is pretty detailed, but that doesn’t mean your brainstorming has to be. If you’re new to brainstorming, start small. Consider these five basic brainstorming tips and these three basic questions when developing your characters. Know that if you chose to brainstorm, you don’t have to do a lot of it. It might be enough for you to jot down five key moments for your book, fill out a plot structure like this one, or come up with one key scene/idea per chapter. Or you might want to simply take a day and do a free write of your book before you start drafting. All of that counts as brainstorming.
And if you discover pantsing works best for you, try not to completely rule brainstorming out altogether. I have some friends who are solid panters for their first draft but turn to brainstorming and outlining for their second draft. This way, they’ve discovered their story enough by drafting that they can step back and plan how to make it better. If you truly are a hardcore panters, that fine! But don’t feel like you can’t be a brainstormer just because you don’t brainstorm before you write. Brainstorming is supposed to serve your story in any way you need it, even if it’s not until after you’ve written a draft.
As always, I hope this helps! Check back in the coming weeks for parts two and three of this series when we take a look at drafting and revision!
Don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter. You’ll get a bi-weekly email with posts like this one (plus a handful of email exclusives) delivered directly to your inbox!
Now it’s your turn: Are you a plotter or a panster? Have you tried both approaches? How did you learn what works best for you? Tell me about it in the comments!