Brainstorming and Writing Study Guide (page 3)
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.
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.
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.
Brainstorming on a Topic
Personal brainstorming can also be an effective idea-generating technique to use when you are given a specific topic or a choice of topics to write about. Instead of choosing and then jumping immediately into writing about a topic, it is always wise to take time to think (and plan) before you begin writing. If you have a choice of topics, take five minutes and brainstorm personally about each of the topics in turn. The topic that stimulates the most ideas immediately in your brainstorming session is probably the topic you will feel most comfortable choosing.
Let's assume you have been assigned a topic that is very general, such as global warming. Most large topics like this are completely open ended. The topic itself does not direct you to a way of writing about it.
First Steps in Brainstorming
Here are the essential first steps you might take to begin your brainstorming about the topic; jot down your thoughts about these first steps and keep them in front of you as reminders of decisions you've made.
- Establish your audience clearly in your mind. Are you writing a school essay, an editorial for the school newspaper, a letter to your congress person? As you learned is the previous lesson, identifying your reader is the first step in any writing project.
- Once you've identified your audience, it is usually possible to settle on a writing style. These two are usually fairly connected. You wouldn't want to joke around in a school assignment, but you might well want to crack some jokes in the school newspaper.
- Identifying your point of view is definitely not possible at this point. Instead, you need to narrow the topic dramatically. Global warming is far too broad a topic to write about in general terms. You need to focus your thoughts.
How to Brainstorm Effectively
- Establish a time limit for yourself. Depending on the amount of time you have to write (30 minutes of a timed assignment or one week for a school assignment, and so on), your brainstorming session might be as short as five minutes or as long as 30 minutes one day and another 30 minutes a day later, once you've had time for your ideas to simmer overnight.
- Write down ideas, without editing or polishing them, as quickly as you can. Jot down whatever comes to you—individual words, phrases, questions—and don't worry about their making sense or appearing in order.
- Once your time is up, take a deep breath, and try to clear your brain. If you have time, get up and jog in place for five minutes to activate your energy.
- Now look over the ideas you've brainstormed and evaluate them. Cross out the ideas that strike you as unworkable; underline the ideas and/or words that strike a chord in your brain. Add to the brainstorming list if related or additional ideas come to you.
- Somewhere within your jottings you have undoubtedly written something about the subject that appeals to you as a topic for your essay. Spend another few minutes brainstorming about the topic you've chosen. This further brainstorming will undoubtedly refine your topic further and reveal your point of view about the topic.
Sample Personal Brainstorm on a Topic
Here's a sample of one student's personal brainstorm on the topic of global warming. Note that personal brainstorming can include questions as well as more fully formed ideas about a topic. The questions are often the most useful jottings in a personal brainstorm; they trigger ideas for specific topics.
This student ultimately decided to write an essay about the effect of global warming on polar bears. Can you think of other topics the student might have settled on, given the personal brainstorming she did? She might have chosen to write a more personal essay, for example, by choosing to use her father's experiences at his favorite fishing spot as the starting point for an essay about local effects of global patterns. Or she might have chosen to write about the effects of global warming on a particular country; her mention of Peru suggests that she has some interest in or information about that country.
Do you see how useful personal brainstorming can be in helping you narrow your focus and find a topic for an essay? There are no rights or wrongs in brainstorming. The intent of the exercise is to get your mind juiced up and working.
Practice 1: Practicing Personal Brainstorming
On a separate piece of paper (or on your computer), take five minutes and do a personal brainstorm for an essay on one of these topics. After you have completed your brainstorm, write out the topic, its audience, point of view, and style for your imagined essay.
|1.||Television is probably the most powerful medium in the world today.|
|2.||Social activities are as important to students as their studies.|
|3.||Are computers useful as teaching devices in schools?|
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