brainstormEvery term as I start teaching new writing classes, this topic is always on my list, regardless of how much else I have to teach, regardless of the eye rolls that I see from some students.

I can imagine what they’re thinking, and confirm it through a show of hands: they’ve done this before.

Also, they’re so impatient to get on with the business of writing that sometimes they don’t see the point. Okay, I have an idea (they say), what’s the need to write around it? Just get going.

But as I suggest to them and believe myself, brainstorming can only help to deepen your ideas, and help to focus a concept, come up with a better angle, or even a better idea.

Here are the techniques we use in class:

Freewriting: write stream of consciousness style in sentences for five minutes about your topic. The challenge here is not to censor yourself, but let the ideas flow. See how different your final thoughts are from your first.

Brainstorming: the most traditional, I think, and my personal favourite. Write down ideas, fragments, anything that comes to mind. Again, avoid censoring until the end.

Clustering: a variation on brainstorming, this involves going deeper on particular ideas, putting the major ideas on the page and then for each additional idea that pops up doing a mini-brainstorm around that. So, if you brainstormed the concept of writing, you might think of editing, copywriting, and technical writing, and then cluster those additional topics.