It’s a question that every writer has been asked at least once.
But no matter how many writers have been asked that question, and no matter how many times, the answer is the same: “Damned if I know.”
If pressed to elaborate, we might add something along the lines of “They just pop in my head.”
One of my favorite personal pieces is short story titled “Via di Porta Angelica”, which was published in Until the End: An Anthology of Love vs. The Apocalypse in 2013 by Horrified Press. The story is about two vampire lovers perched on the wall outside Vatican city, watching their food supply dwindle away as Rome is devoured by zombies.
But while we might not always know where we get our stories, I believe we do know how. I wrote this story after seeing a market listing for the anthology it was published in. Something in that one paragraph listing triggered the initial idea and then I worked out the story possibilities in my head.
In other words, ideas are the result of brainstorming.
It might not always seem like it, but as writers, we’re constantly brainstorming for new ideas. When you see that one random object or hear that one random quote that sparks an idea, you’re instantly brainstorming ways to turn it into a story.
But that type of brainstorming is usually just for the small stuff. When you’re coming up with ideas on the fly, it’s easy to get distracted, forget the idea, or simply ignore the bigger picture.
For brainstorming to be more effective you need to be able to do it intentionally, without distraction, and for a fixed amount of time.
This is one of my biggest problems with the creative process. I do a terrible job of scheduling in uninterrupted brainstorming time.
So with that in mind, here are The Three Most Convenient Places to Brainstorm:
1. When you’re in the car.
This is such a no-brainier, and I’m almost ashamed that I’m not taking advantage of it already. I drive an hour to work four days a week. That means in a typical week, I spend eight hours in the car driving to and from work. There is no reason at all why I can’t use at least part of that time to come up with some story ideas.
2. When you’re exercising.
Much like driving on the interstate, when you’re doing cardio, you’re brain pretty much slips into autopilot. So why not pick out some appropriate music and let yourself daydream up some new story ideas while you’re on the treadmill?
3. When you’re in the shower.
I do some of my best financial planning when I’m in the shower. Don’t judge…. But there’s no reason I can’t spend some of that shower time thinking up my next short story. At least that way I can quit ruining my calculators 🙂
A final piece of advice, regardless of when or where you brainstorm: Write down your ideas as soon as possible. They will not stay in your head very long. If I had a dollar for every potential story I forgot because I didn’t write the idea down, I’d be able to quit the day job.
So don’t forget to brainstorm and if you don’t think you have time, make up for it in the places I mentioned.
What kind of brainstorming tips do you have?