Many people try to dive right in when faced with a writing project. However, before too long, they realize that they are drowning in ideas and are not sure how to make sense of them. Trying to write with insufficient preparation can lead to wasted time and frustration. Therefore, it is important to take time to brainstorm before beginning a writing project. Brainstorming can be a fun and creative experience as a writer dreams about the potential of a written text. Furthermore, writer’s block should be an expected part of the brainstorming process and, thus, should not be feared.
Brainstorming is the first major step in the writing process. However, before brainstorming can occur, a writer must understand the writing expectations; review the related writing guide called Understanding Writing Expectations. Once a writer has a clear grasp on what is expected, brainstorming can commence. Brainstorming seeks to generate ideas and provide initial direction for a writing project, and it can take many forms. Regardless of the form, brainstorming should not be rushed. For that reason, writers should leave ample time to brainstorm for any writing project. There are countless ways to brainstorm. The method will depend on the writer and the writing prompt, and methods can be combined. Some brainstorming methods are briefly described below.
|Freewriting||Freewriting might involve journaling any ideas that come to mind, whether good or bad. It is a good place to start before moving on to more structured forms of brainstorming.|
|Lists or Charts||Lists or charts cater to hierarchical representation of ideas. It is often easiest to move from a list/chart to an outline.|
|Mind Maps||Mind maps might involve bubble charts, diagrams, or even sticky notes; the goal is to group or link similar ideas. (e.g., MindNode)|
|Questions||Asking questions can guide a writer in narrowing his/her ideas; the classic journalism questions are helpful (Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?).|
|Researching||Preliminary research can be very useful in narrowing one's ideas and/or generating more ideas. Preliminary research often involves reputable tertiary sources that provide simplified information on a topic.|
|Collaboration||While two heads are not always better than one, collaborating with another person can be a helpful way to generate and filter ideas when brainstorming.|
During the brainstorming process, most writers experience writer’s block. Writer’s block is not to be feared; it is a natural part of writing, especially at the initial stage of brainstorming when creativity is most needed. Below are some common methods for resolving writer's block.