I don’t know about you, but brainstorming has been an important part of my work life. We used brainstorming techniques to develop IT solutions to business problems, to come up with ideas for new projects and products, and for strategic planning sessions, just for starters. I taught brainstorming techniques to students who would be working in interdisciplinary teams, and eventually in teams that would include IT specialists (them), business specialists and end users. By definition, brainstorming typically involves a group. Each member brings a different point of view, and if everything works right, the process facilitates the emergence of a better result than any one person could get on his or her own.
Now I realize that as I struggle with a story line for what I hope will be a new children’s mystery story, I am really brainstorming as a team of one. And badly, at that. No wonder it is a struggle. So I am going to try to apply the same rules of engagement to myself that I’ve always used in groups.
Rule #1: Put forward as many ideas as possible (concentrate on quantity first).
Rule #2: There are no bad ideas (at the beginning).
Everyone’s ideas are encouraged, no idea is disparaged, and every suggestion is recorded on a list. If someone’s input is ridiculed, that person may stop participating, and you may have closed down the person with the best idea, or the germ of the best idea.
Rule #3: Encourage over-the-top thinking, “crazy” suggestions. Out-of-the-box thinking adds value; what emerges can always be pared down, but innovation requires new ways of thinking.
Rule #4: Go through the generated list, thinking about combining and improving ideas. Narrow the list down, apply more analytical thinking to the possibilities, improve, reiterate.
As I was seeing every flaw in my new “plot” today – everything that didn’t work – it suddenly dawned on me that I was forgetting Rule #2. I was dismissing my own ideas because I couldn’t see how to get from part A to part B. Instead, I should stop and think about what I can use from my current ideas as I revise this mystery plot into something that works better. I need to come up with a way to apply brainstorming techniques to a group of one (me), with the goal of having this “group” develop totally satisfying plots for children’s stories!
I wonder what techniques others use to work through the flow of their plots. Do you use lists or diagrams, or maybe mind maps? Do you write out your ideas in paragraph form because that’s what comes naturally? Draw sketches first? Do you mull over the threads of your ideas as you run, walk, quilt, drive the car, do the dishes, or wash your hair? Or all of the above? The chief contribution of the practice of brainstorming to the individual creative process undoubtedly is Rule #2: don’t ridicule your ideas or discard them in haste. They may well work later on in the story, in a different story, or somewhat rearranged. That’s my hope!