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A Quick Idea Generation Strategy

What you need to know if you're starting to write

Brainstorm by categories

Here’s a quick idea generation strategy that you can use any time anywhere, as long as you have a piece of paper and a pen. You’re going to brainstorm by making lists under different headings. If you’re a visual person, pictures are fine too. It’s much easier to brainstorm by category because it gives you mind something to work with. You can take any topic and divide it into subheadings, even topics you think you know very little about. Try it now with ‘the sun’ for instance (forgive me if you’re an expert on the solar system) and I bet you know way more than you think you do. The trick is to allow yourself to delve deep to come up with the categories and to open your mind enough so that you don’t censor your ideas. You can write down anything that comes to you. You don’t have to show your brainstorm to anyone.

Take a large sheet of paper…

So that was the practice go, now let’s do it ‘for real.’ Write your name in the middle of a large piece of paper. Use colour if you like. Now, around it write down each area of your life, each role you play, hobbies, interests, jobs you’ve had, significant experiences you’ve been through, journeys you’ve been on, or what makes you you. These are your categories. Repeat this exercise any time by changing the starting word. So instead of starting with you, you could start with a key word related to whatever you are writing, or even to the things around you in the space where you find yourself.

Make it personal

Let’s stick with the ‘you’ version of the exercise for now, as it’s a powerful strategy – it allows you to mine the things you know well for ideas. Once you’ve got your categories down, take a good look at each. Then under each one, write what comes to mind when you think about it. These can be thoughts and feelings as well as places, facts or events. Say you went on an amazing holiday to Egypt, you might write ‘pyramids’ but you could also write ‘felt close to partner’. You could also write down small details that are personal to you. For example, if I wrote Pompeii, I might write ‘gecko’ and ‘lemonade’ because of the lemonade stand where we saw a tiny gecko clinging to the side of an ancient wall. If in doubt, stick with the sensory details: the taste of the lemonade, the heat, the smell of the sea.

Keep going

Keep going. At first you might find it hard to come up with ideas, but after a few minutes your brain gets to work and generates ideas for you – write them down. The trick is not to think about how you will use them at this stage. The more the merrier. Just get them down.

How to use what you come up with

Once you’ve written at least three things under each category put the paper to one side to let the ideas mellow for a while. In a few days come back to it and start to mine it for ideas. This idea generation technique works whatever you’re writing but you’ll need to adapt it for your own needs. For example, you could write a feature article on how travelling with your partner can bring you closer together, or a story that starts next to a lemonade stand near Pompeii, or a poem based on photos of a trip you took with someone who’s no longer with us.

Here’s a quick video of me explaining the technique:

Remember these three rules

  1. Don’t censor yourself – record everything that comes up.
  2. Keep going for 5 mins longer when you feel like giving up.
  3. Be open to possibilities. Adapt ideas to make them fit what you want to write.

Let me know how you get on in the comments. More soon. Until then, happy writing,

Louise xx

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