Archive for the ‘brainstorming’ category

The art of brainstorming: Part two

March 8, 2008

Here is another technique to help you access the imaginative, creative, and unconscious part of your mind, to discover deeper memories and information for your personal history.

(Today’s post was graciously written by my personal history colleague, Lissa Forbes.)

Focused free-writing

Start with a simple phrase, something that comes to you in the shower, while driving, or walking down a tree lined path. Often it will be the result of reflecting on recent experiences, a movie you watched with your partner, a song you heard in the grocery store.

Try some of these:

Where does the music take me?
You can’t get off the highway until you get to the exit
What if my parents came home early?
If it hadn’t happened just that way …
The reflection in his tears …

In my experience, I start with a simple phrase and I often end up someplace very unexpected. In some cases, I end up dreaming and future projections are really more about dreams, but the essence is true. I call this “fictionalized truth.” Of course, to have your life story be totally accurate it may be necessary to include a lead-in paragraph explaining things or simply lift the bits that are true. But don’t let that stop you from writing whatever come from the inside because one line in your free writing exercise may be the nugget for you story.

An example: Write about what’s around the corner (example of a 20 minute timed focused free-writing exercise)

As I follow the winding creek, flanked by virgin powdery snow, I see it disappear into the horizon at a single point. I wonder, what’s around the corner? Initially, I can’t seem to get past the white tree trunks of the aspen trees, the tufts of short round brush, the setting sun, and the crisp evening air.
I stop and dream for a moment—as I round the final curve of the creek, the one that ended at a single point not long ago, I discover a quaint cottage nestled in the woods. It is surrounded by the bareness of winter’s fallen leaves, but I can imagine in spring the lush green foliage cloaking this haven. Then in autumn, the colors changing to red and gold. I approach the cottage to see if its appearance of abandonment is true. I knock. No answer. I turn the knob on the front door. It’s not locked. Pushing slowly, peering into the dark one-room building I find it completely empty. My imagination soars. This is perfect. Just the place I’ve dreamed of. A place I can write and imagine and create. A place my dreams will come true. I imagine the cottage is mine. I sit in a comfortable padded chair on the porch in the spring. A bunny rabbit sits statue-like for more than five minutes. I can’t imagine sitting that still for so long. A doe makes crunching sounds as twigs break underfoot while passing by. A raccoon comes almost to the front door looking for scraps.The sky is crystal clear. The creek gurgles as the water flows on its way somewhere. I am pleased. My first book, Write from the Inside, has sold 5000 copies in its first year. Simon & Schuster has contacted me to publish its debut on the big publisher’s circuit. And they’re requesting a second book! In addition, I’ve bought my new silver Toyota Camry with charcoal grey interior and a CD player installed so I don’t have to use a cigarette lighter adaptor. And best of all, I’ve taken in a new friend. A little chocolate brown terrier mutt. His name is Coco Puff. He curls up beside my chair, alerting me to passers by, both the two-legged and four-legged types. Yes, he’s my best friend. He amuses me, takes care of my by watching for danger, and comforts me when I feel lonely. But most of all he loves my stories and keeps me writing “Around the corner” is what dreams are made of and it’s vital to keep looking, keep watching, and keep noticing the details.

Timed focused free writing exercise by author of Write from the Inside: Dig for Treasures, Discover Yourself, Leave a Legacy, Lissa Ann Forbes, owner of The Elemental Press, speaker, author, niche publisher, and workshop facilitator in Lafayette, Colorado.


The art of brainstorming: Part one

March 4, 2008




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!