Brainstorming: Inspiring odd connections

I have never been one for brainstorming—just sitting down and pouring out ideas and random thoughts and then looking back to see what interesting connections my brain made. I don’t know why I haven’t done more of this in my writing life. I guess it doesn’t feel natural to me. It was never part of my writing process.

Not to say I have not done unconscious brainstorming. All writers do, because our brains never stop chewing over the details of the story we are working on. Once, while working on a novel, I struggled to explain why a character was acting the way she was. Suddenly, I said, “Well, of course, it’s because she’s his daughter.” Of course, she hadn’t been his daughter until that very second—or had she? Had my brain always known that, and it had only just then come to the surface? Looking back at the WIP, certainly all the hints and details were there to support her “new” parentage.

So I do appreciate the value of brainstorming, even though it is not something I find I can do well on my own. While I do not brainstorm alone, I love to brainstorm in a group or with another writer. My own ideas usually come at a slower pace, but when I have someone else to toss ideas at me willy-nilly my mind leaps to connect all the ideas. New ideas spring to my brain much faster than when I try to brainstorm on my own, and the conflation of two seemingly unconnectable ideas is a challenge I love to conquer.

The way the brain works is absolutely amazing. It fits seemingly random ideas and data together and forms flashes of brilliance, ideas that never seemed possible. I am currently reading Isaac Asimov’s short story Sucker Bait, where they have people called Mnemonics who are trained from childhood to remember everything, to gather any and all data they come across, with the idea that the human brain can and will make connections between data when computers will not–because no sane person would ever ask the computer to pair those particular pieces of data. This is what brainstorming does.

We did a brainstorming exercise in Jonathan Maberry’s Advanced Novel class last week, and my brain hurt afterward. Stretching my mind, breaking out of my comfort zones by thinking up ideas for genres I don’t usually write, and integrating numerous ideas from my fellow workshoppers exhilarated and exhausted me.

Of course, turning on the creativity spigot in class inevitably means my brain will be in overdrive my whole way home. I can’t just turn it off, and my 50-minute drive lends itself to a lot of thinking. This is why I continue to take this Advanced Novel class after all these years – the people stir my creativity, push me to go farther, higher, to be better than I was when I walked in the door.

It’s useful to know that brainstorming works for me in a collaborative setting. I get a thrill, a physical high, from bandying ideas about with people. It can be a tool I use when I need to break writer’s block.

And even better, fellow Author Chronicler Nancy Keim Comley and I are toying with the idea of writing a novel based on one of the ideas we brainstormed in class. We’re at the very start of the idea, and it may come to nothing, or may need to wait until other projects we’re working on are completed, but the energy generated by the brainstorming session will carry me through many hours of work—whether collaborative or alone.

Some people swear by brainstorming – how does it fit into your writing process?


  1. My brainstorming usually happens when I’m least straining for new ideas. These sessions take place in the shower, in a car, on a train. My most recent occurred when my spouse, who’d just read one of my chapters, had a terrific idea about changing the portal into my characters’ world. It helped open me to other changes I hadn’t yet considered. Thanks for the post!

  2. It’s a nifty topic, because watching those new ideas jump into my mind is one of the most fun things about writing. For me, it happens during editing. The good news is that it happens a lot. The bad news is that it requires lots of hours logged into my editing. The longer I slave the more I feel inspired. Go figure.


    • I love those “AHA” moments in editing. And you’re right, the more you get into it, the more AHA moments you seem to find. I guess that comes from letting all that data mill around in your head for so long.

  3. When an inventor comes up with a truly novel idea or insight, he or she has been exploring relationships, patterns, and associations until a productive interplay of ideas, images, and data of all kinds is found. That encouragement signals the brain the chase is on. The mind is to be projected to a special little world encompassed by this project.

  4. There are an infinite number of ideas waiting to be thought of, there always will be. In garages and bedrooms the new Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are already working on products and ideas which will revolutionize the future. “Everything that can be invented – has already been invented” Attributed to Charles Duell, Commissioner of the United States Patent Office, 1899 “Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible,” … Lord Kelvin, President Royal Society, 1895 Some people attribute ideas and creativity to some universal or supernatural force, whatever the truth I know that I can improve my idea productivity by personal brainstorming by positive thinking and by expectancy.

    • Thanks for the reminder that things are only “impossible” until somebody does them! We always piggyback on those who came before, so that eventually the impossible comes within our grasp.

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