Thursday, July 9, 2009


Brainstorming is one of those words I often heard but never really thought about until Christine Rimmer guest blogged with us one Saturday and the full implication of the word dawned on me. With it came the realization of how far I’ve journeyed with my writing.

The Encarta dictionary that’s a part of my Word program, defines brainstorming as to ‘think quickly and creatively; to generate creative ideas spontaneously, usually for problem-solving, and especially in an intensive group discussion that does not allow time for reflection.’

Christine Rimmer’s post gave excellent ideas on brainstorming in a semi-annual group situation she calls a ‘Plot Group’ which fits the above definition well. With experience over time, Christine's group has become an organized brainstorming session of the highest caliber. Ever wonder how these multi-authors produce so many quality books in a year? Well, this is probably one of the reasons.

But just last year, if I had told my premise to anyone, it would only have been because I wanted a pat on the back for my brilliance. I didn’t want suggestions on how to make it better. And I didn’t want ideas to spice up the story. I believed it was a story which I created and it would only stay my story as long as I kept it pure with my own ideas. This was because I likened writing to puzzle making. You see, I love making jigsaw puzzles – especially the 2500 expert challenger ones which take days and even weeks to complete. It’s a matter of pride. And when it’s done, I can point to it and say, I made it. But after all the time I’ve invested in a puzzle, all it takes is someone walking by, picking up a piece and popping it into place to ruin the whole process. And when the puzzle is done, it doesn’t matter if I placed 2499 of those pieces. What matters is because of one measly little piece, I can’t say I did it all by myself.

You see, that’s how I used to look at my writing. If I accepted an idea or suggestion from someone else, then that wip wasn’t totally mine. I had to share the creation of it with someone else. I’d have to admit that I didn’t write it by myself – someone helped me.

Over the winter I heard how a couple of the Prairie Chicks brainstorm via IM on a regular basis. That was nice but it didn’t click in with me.

Then this spring I sent out my wips to my critique partners (CP) as per usual prior to submitting to the Genesis and Touched By Love contests. In one of the following IM chats, my CP offered a suggestion which I couldn’t ignore. She encouraged me to add a scene of just a couple pages to the opening chapter. It would add drama as well as showing the hero in the role of rescuer not only for the heroine but for the reader as well. I thought it was brilliant. I thanked her and I added it to my wip. The flip side of this is during that IM chat, I also offered suggestions to her and I’ve noticed some of them have been incorporated into her wips.

To take this concept further, I answered an invitation at Seekerville one day to comment on our current wips and received excellent suggestions on how to ‘up’ the conflict. And I’ve received constructive criticism from the instructors on my plotting course regarding the same wip.

I discovered how far I’d journeyed when I found myself chauffeuring a carload of 13/14 yr olds last Monday and realized it was a golden opportunity. So, I asked for silence for a few minutes and explained my latest wip involved a 14 yr old boy and I wanted to hear their opinions on how this boy would think and feel under certain situations. Their answers were enlightening. I went further and asked for scene suggestions or ideas which could improve the drama. They didn’t disappoint me. Their ideas ran the gamut from impossible to perfection. Those teenagers and I had participated in a twenty minute brainstorming session.

What this whole idea brought home to me was that being a writer is lonely enough. There are no rules which say we can’t discuss our books with other writers. (Agents are another matter entirely.) The last conference I attended offered 2 brainstorming opportunities at the workshop level and many others occurred over meals, etc. And my CP and I have already discussed setting time aside at the upcoming conference for brainstorming. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to figure this out, but I’m very glad I finally did.

So if you take away anything from this post, I hope it’s this: You deserve to have your name on the cover of the book if you’ve expended the time and energy to create it. And if you’ve been blessed with ideas and suggestions which you’ve incorporated into the book, thank those people on the page provided near the front of the book.

Do you keep your wips hidden away and refuse ideas or suggestions? Or, do you brainstorm in the creation of your stories? How do you brainstorm? Do you have a unique brainstorming experience you’d like to share?


Captain Hook said...

I wouldn't say I brainstorm per se. I do have a critique group and I value all the suggestions I get from critiques (even the ones that initially bring me to tears - those are usually the most helpful), but when it comes to the original idea and first draft, that's all me.

But I don't think the reasons why fall into the "I did it myself" category. It's more that when I'm trying to explain my WIPs to people, I have a really hard time doing it.

Also, if I get suggestions/crits before I'm at least 3/4 of the way through the first draft, I get caught in the continuous revision cycle and never finish the draft. I can't just let comments and suggestions sit while I continue writing on. I have to incorporate the ones I like even if it means never going farther than the first chapter.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Morning Sarah, I see where you're coming from because I did that with my first 4 stories. Basically, you need to root yourself first and get your story down in your own words before you want to start entertaining other ideas. That's a valid reason. I know when I enter the contests, the judges will throw all kinds of ideas at me and some of them would change the intent of the story if I followed through with them.

You're wise to know your limitations and work within those boundaries. Good for you.

Thanks for sharing.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Anita,
I actually really like brainstorming. I love throwing out ideas and getting feedback and energy from the group. I also find critique situations invaluable. Others can often spot weak spots in your writing that you can't see yourself, and can offer new ideas that strengthen the story.

That said, you and Sarah are absolutely right in that you have to have a vision for your story. There's a danger that if you follow everyone's ideas you end up revising the thing to death. I've been in the situation where I've changed a manuscript drastically based on feedback I received, and basically lost my vision for the story. The thing is still sitting on my hard drive in about 3 different versions.


Suse said...

Hi Anita,

I enjoy the energy that comes from a brainstorming session; however, I don't partake in them very often. I think this is for two reasons: one, I don't always know what to do with the suggestions and I get stymied, and two, I don't take time to write very often, so when I do write, I need to just get at it (or at least that's how I feel.) I quite often discuss my ideas with my husband though and he does have some interesting suggestions.

I think the biggest thing I need to work on when brainstorming is to keep an open mind. But as a few people have mentioned, it is important to know what your story is about and how these suggestions can enhance the story. Quite often I don't make a connection between a suggestion and my story, but sometimes, these suggestions give me an idea for a different story.

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Hi Anita,

I definitely kept myself closed off from a lot of input for a while, mostly because I needed to figure out what I wanted to write and that I was confident in my decision. I didn't want any outside input sending me in the wrong direction too soon. I've also found I need to keep recent work to myself until it's had some time to sit. I need perspective so I can be critical rather than protective of new story ideas. I've had Hubby's input the whole way through though, as each chapter finishes.

Now that I'm a lot farther into the ms and more confident in my premise/able to explain it so it sounds like what I picture, I feel better about laying my ideas out for others and seeing what new possibilities other people can bring to the situation.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Jana, you're right - there's something about the energy level of a brainstorming session that seems to incite creativity. I think it's because anything goes no matter how far fetched because you never know what will spark another idea.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Suse, it's great that you can brainstorm with your hubby. I do but not very often because he's so polar opposite me, he doesn't think my ideas are that great until he actually reads what I've written. Maybe it's just in the way I orally speak it, ya think?

Thanks for stopping and sharing, Suse.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hello Hayley, so you're another one that keeps it close to start with.

I'm beginning to wonder if the reason I'm brainstorming so much with this wip is also because it's a new genre for me and I don't have a clear definition of the story yet? It's like I want to find out if people will like it before I write too much. After all, I already have 5 ms's sitting there that editors didn't want.

Thanks Hayley, you've given me more to think about.

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Hi Anita, popping back again. It sounds like the genre definitely has had an effect on your approach, and I could imagine I'd do the same if I ventured into romance or suspense, for example. I'm rewriting the beginning of my ms right now, as you know, to get rid of the dross and tighten up a few snags, and I find that's really made me keen for brainstorming and feedback. I know with so many writers out there, I can find a ton of information on what should be in the first three chapters and what can wait, and I find myself very eager for input and suggestions, so I can take it all in and meld it together. It sounds like we're both at the point where we're confident in our abilities to write our own voice and ideas, but willing to acknowledge that we don't know everything :p

Anita Mae Draper said...

Wow, Hayley - 'It sounds like we're both at the point where we're confident in our abilities to write our own voice and ideas, but willing to acknowledge that we don't know everything'

I think you've nailed it! Thanks for coming back. :)

Janet C. said...

I am one of those Chicks who brainstorms using instant messaging. Like Jana said, the creative energy is amazing when you get going and really dig into what the writer wants to say. Usually a lot of questions aimed at the writer brings the ideas to the table that were lingering there all along. Having someone question you on something you may not have really focused on loosens up the thought process in order for you to see the trees instead of the forest.

And I love to witness that creative process - much like I did when I taught. Brainstorming was an introductory lesson in every unit I taught because it's amazing how much one really can bring to the table, even though they thought they knew nothing about the subject.

Great post - and good luck with the brainstorming sessions :)

Anita Mae Draper said...

Thanks Janet. I would've loved being a student in your class, I think - or even a fly on the wall. LOL

Thanks for taking time out of packing to visit. :)