I love brainstorming.
There’s probably an infinite amount of ways to brainstorm your way through every aspect of a story – from characters to plot twists, to what to name that restaurant your characters are headed to in Chapter 8. Everyone has a different method that works for them, but from personal experience, I also know that some people are completely unaware of what method works best for them.
I like to think I’ve developed my own ‘cheat sheet’ for brainstorming the fast way.
Sometimes, particularly if you’re short on time and you’ve hit a rut in your story, it can be easy to get dragged down by lack of inspiration. It’s easy to read blog posts that suggest things like going for long walks, visit new places, check out a museum… but you’re short on time! If you barely have time to grab a sandwich but you’ve saved one precious hour of your day to commit some words to paper… what can you do?
These are a few tips I’ve found that work for me:
1. Public Transport is Your Best Friend
I know. Cramped buses are awful. There’s always someone with bad BO or terrible taste in cologne, or a guy who’s got a bin bag full of empty beer cans and doesn’t understand that the bus just can’t stop in the middle of nowhere.
But not driving your car to work is great for the environment, and you have time to sit back, plug your earphones in and just listen.
Music is an infinite source of inspiration and you can listen almost anywhere. Walking through town, on the radio, in class (ssh!!). The trick to getting a quick inspiration fix is to use services such as Spotify or 8tracks that are tailored to your music tastes, which cuts down on search time. Personally, I use Spotify. Every Monday, I have a ‘Discover Weekly’ playlist that Spotify automatically updates for me, using magical algorithms I don’t understand to give me music I’ve never heard before – but that they believe I’ll love.
It is, quite frankly, the best thing ever.
Because I tend to listen to different genres for each different story (for example, I tend to go for heavier rock or bass-heavy music when I’m writing Strays, but then I like piano, pop & EDM music when writing Virtue), I get a diverse selection in my Discover Weekly playlist and I can cram in some inspiration for several stories at once. The idea is to close your eyes, hit repeat, and let the song take you some place. You never know what you might find – a scene, a character, a smattering of dialogue? I guess that’s the beauty of it.
So use your daily commute for something useful – cram in those inspiration sessions before you squeeze in that hour to write and by the time you get the chance to put pen to paper, the words will be flowing out your fingers.
2. Doodling Is Not A Waste of Time
I won’t lie – the sales assistant at my local Easons gave me the strangest look last weekend when I arrived at the cashier with every toddler’s dream drawing kit. Washable markers (I like to be optimistic but I still know I’m going to get ink all over my clothes. It’s inevitable. I’ve learned to accept it), crayons, as many sketchpads as I could afford and my favourite triangle-shaped pens.
I’m never going to be the world’s next Van Gogh, I’ll never master that elusive, perfect star shape I seem so fond of doodling, but I don’t care. When you’re in class, when you’re stuck at work on the phone, when you’re spending the whole day staring at a computer screen analyzing data… keep those hands busy. Draw whatever you want. Hell, don’t even look at what you’re drawing.
You won’t be paying attention to what you’re supposed to be doing, but your mind will wander to strange places and voilá – inspiration!
Just don’t do it too often. You want to stay employed.
3. Go to Bed Early
But don’t sleep.
Not yet, anyway. It can be hard to concentrate when you’re tired and you might find yourself wishing you could be more productive at that hour in the evening. You have those spare few minutes you don’t want to waste, but the words just aren’t coming.
So… lie down. Chill out. Close your eyes and think about what happened to your character last chapter. What kind of ending are you imagining for them? Maybe there’s something in their past you wanted to explore at some point? Just play around with them in your head. Listen to their voices.
Your dream that night might seem completely unrelated but I bet you when you’re listening to your music the following day while you go wherever you’re going, you’ll find some way to twist it into inspiration.
4. Eavesdrop on Everything Ever
Music not working for you? Sometimes I’m just not in the mood. Sometimes I forget to charge my phone and I’m stuck with nothing to do but twiddle my thumbs and hope the next hour flies by faster than I know it will.
I find that in these moments, there’s almost always someone around you who won’t shut up. But before you start giving them the stink eye, check out if what they’re saying is of any interest. Or, if it’s not, study the way they say things, the way they perceive the world based on their opinions.
You never know when you’ll need a new character, eh?