The art of brainstorming: Part one




Photo by Gogler John


The creative process is a process of surrender, not control.

Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way


If we write personal history only using only what is in our conscious mind, our writing runs the risk of being superficial or boring. That’s because we’ve literally only engaged half our brain. The other half contains our creativity and our unconscious or no-longer-conscious memories.

I use three methods of brainstorming when I write. (They’re not original with me; I learned them by reading books and taking writing classes.)

Today’s brainstorming technique is “listing.”

I begin with a topic that I am interested in exploring. Often the topic comes to me in my daily experience. For example, my recent blog entry about childhood memories of playing in snow was triggered by going outside and unexpectedly seeing snow falling.

At the top of an 8.5 X 11 sheet of paper I write a word or theme. Then quickly—I don’t stop and think about it—I make a list of everything I can think of that’s connected to the topic, until I run dry. Using the example of snow, most people find that first listing all the obvious associations with snow (white, cold, flakes, skiing, etc.) gets those out of the way and frees the writer to find his or her own memories.

Today my list related to snow might look like this

Sledding on Albion Street

Playing with saucers at the canal

Big snowstorm when I was 2

Driving in blinding snow on the way back from college

Halloween blizzard

Armistice Day blizzard

Trying to teach Laura to ski

Skiing in the Boundary Waters

Skiing near McGregor

Sliding down a glacier in the summer on my raincoat

Making snowmen

Building forts

Johnny wrecking our igloo

Dad teaching me to drive in snowy conditions

Bill’s gift of cross-country skis

Blizzard in late April that I went through once in Denver and again in St. Paul

Snowball fights.

Rock in a snowball thrown at a car. Trouble!

Bad storm the day of Mary Kay’s birthday party.

I could go on with more associations, but by now you have the idea. Usually I come to a spot where I feel I’ve run out. But often if I just pause for a minute or so, there will be more. If not, I know I’m finished (for today).

Try this out and see how it works for you. Please send me a comment and let me know!

Explore posts in the same categories: brainstorming, creativity, Julia Cameron, life story writing, listing, surrender, unconscious mind

3 Comments on “The art of brainstorming: Part one”

  1. PatricH Says:

    Creating lists works great for brainstorming ideas, but if you want to take it a step further you might consider creating some graphic organizers with the information you are brainstorming. They not only display the thoughts like a list does, but group it in a manner that is easier to associate with or understand when you go back to decipher everything you have thought up.

  2. Peg Thompson Says:

    Thanks for your excellent comment. Would you like to elaborate on what kinds of organizers you might use? I think my readers would be interested.

  3. PatricH Says:

    Hi Peg,
    Well I think that deciding on an organizer includes a lot of personal preference for determining what works best for you. However, with that being said, it is my opinion that Cloud and/or cluster charts tend to work the best for brainstorming. The reason being is that they allow you to place the information in a manner that is not quite as a hierarchal as say a pyramid chart for instance.
    You always want to try and allow the same amount of importance to each thought during a brainstorming session initially anyways, but to much hierarchy could potentially stop a good idea before you have the opportunity to fully analyze it. has some free organizers that you can print off, if you or any of your readers are interested in trying this method out. Hopefully this answers your question.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: