Brainstorming and Writing Study Guide

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Updated on Sep 30, 2011

Brainstorming and Writing

I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear. - JOAN DIDION (1934–) AMERICAN NOVELIST AND ESSAYIST

Brainstorming is one of the best techniques for getting your brain (and your pen) started on an assignment. This lesson teaches you how to brainstorm effectively.

All writers, whether, young students or published authors, agree on one thing: The hardest part of the whole writing process is deciding what to write. That blank page, or that flickering empty screen, can make grown men and women cry. How to begin? What to say? How to say it?

These are the questions that plague all writers as they contemplate an assignment, or even sit down to write a self-assigned diary or journal entry. This lesson introduces you to some techniques that may help you get out of that deer-in- the-headlights mood during which you're certain you'll never figure out what to write. The frustrations at the beginning of the process can often be minimized if you use some exercises to get you over the early writing hurdles.

We'll assume here that you are preparing to write an essay on a topic of your own choosing. No specific topic or details exist. Maybe you are going to write a journal entry; maybe you want to add some personality to your web page; or maybe your teacher has given you 30 minutes of free time to write whatever you like. Sounds daunting? Not if you employ some brainstorming techniques.

Group Brainstorming

Brainstorming is a term usually employed to describe a group activity in which several people work together to come up with a solution to a problem. For an allotted time period (usually 10 to 15 minutes), members of the group throw out ideas quickly, never stopping to evaluate or criticize each other's ideas. One member may write the ideas on a whiteboard, or another may record them quickly on a piece of paper. At the end of the timed brainstorming session, the group reads over its ideas and comes up with a plan for moving forward.

Personal Brainstorming

You can borrow the group brainstorming strategy and do it all on your own—in your own brain—as a technique for coming up with ideas for your own unspecified writing project. Some people call this process a personal brainstorm, or a mental self-inventory. Another much simpler term for this process is listing. It is a great way to come up with writing ideas when you have no specific assigned topic. What you do during a personal brainstorming session is ask yourself a lot of questions; any of them might spark a flame and give you a perfect topic to settle on. Here are sample questions you might start with:

  • What is the funniest thing that has happened to me in the past week?
  • What is my favorite activity (aside from school, of course)?
  • Who is the most interesting/annoying/ridiculous person I know?
  • What do I like most about my best friend? My teacher? My mom?
  • What gripes me the most about my little brother/sister?
  • What fantasies do I have about a career when I grow up?

Note that all of these are personal questions that you can answer easily with a little thought. As soon as you find yourself hesitating at one of these questions, stay with it a while. You may have come upon a great subject for your writing project.

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