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Gordon-Conwell Writing Center

Brainstorming and Writer's Block

So What?

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.

Summarized Explanation

  • Brainstorming is the first major step in the writing process.
  • Brainstorming can take many forms.
  • Brainstorming should not be rushed.
  • Writer’s block is a natural occurrence during the brainstorming stage.

Detailed Explanation

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., Jamboard, Miro, or 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.

  • Experiment with a variety of brainstorming methods to see if one yields more results than another.
  • Take a break and maybe eat something to rest the mind and clear any brain fog.
  • Move to a different location; sometimes a change of scenery can get the creative juices flowing again.
  • Pause the process (maybe even for a day or two); it is surprising how ideas will come even when not consciously brainstorming.