The one thing you should be doing that you probably aren’t

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 You should be spending every second of your free time either writing, editing, or reading. Right?


You’re missing a crucial part of the creative process. The key to everything from fixing plot holes to breathing life into your characters, to finding that one-in-a-million first sentence. In fact, it’s basically the only fix-all there is for writing. And all it takes is a little time and paper.

This secret, powerful, indispensable weapon is…


Some ideas come to us out of the blue, but nine times out of ten we can’t wait around for that to happen. I used to wonder how people in advertising could be creative on command. Now I regularly work with a team to come up with three completely different concepts for a campaign, write headlines for multiple pieces of each campaign, and get it all looking good for the client—in two weeks’ time. How do we do it?


And I learned this: some of the best ideas come when you simply take the time to think.

So that’s why you should brainstorm—what about how?

  1. Actually take the time

An hour or two away from writing, reading and web surfing. I promise it is not a waste.

  1. Use a blank piece of paper

Or a new Word doc.

  1. Have a clear goal

Do you have a plot problem that needs solving? Has that one character’s dialogue been bothering you? Is the title of your book awesome or average? Pick one specific goal and start writing ideas down.

  1. Turn off the filter

Cheesy? Write it down. Stupid? Write it down. Impossible? Write it down. Reassure yourself that no one else will see it. And write it down. If you toss out ideas before you’ve even started, you will kill the creative spirit. Sometime ridiculous ideas lead to amazing ideas. Sometimes the idea that completely turns you off at first could be the idea you fall in love with five minutes later. You just have to think it through.

  1. Enlist help

If possible, get your critique partner to join you, maybe with their own brainstorming goal, and work on both your goals (one at a time) together. You’ll find the creativity increases exponentially.

  1. Have a blast

Seriously, you will get some amazing ideas out of this. So enjoy!

From the depths of my own notebooks: examples!

Excerpt of plot brainstorming. Names were changed to protect the innocent:

B must have also told W about the E, yes? Because that was how Y found out. Anyway, Y has W under his thumb somehow…Since W is, in effect, now working for the V (really Y, but you know), he has to make it look like he’s just following orders…This is his way of beating Y and K because he’s totally foiling their plans and they don’t know it! Actually, he may not know about the E…not sure.

A recent list of ideas for adding depth to a character in my second novel:

Mocking smiles


She doesn’t cry at the bar

She works really hard, exhausted, to the point she doesn’t care about anyone else

More examples of childhood with F

She has an okay figure, okay face, but guys generally aren’t attracted to her because she’s very cold–and not in the introverted librarian kind of way.

She should constantly remember stuff F said

Also: more ways to brainstorm.

Do you brainstorm? How has it helped you?

About Stephanie Orges

Stephanie is an award-winning copywriter, aspiring novelist, and barely passable ukulele player. Here, she offers writing prompts, tips, and moderate-to-deep philosophical discussions. You can also find her on and Pinterest.
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  1. Fantastic, advice. Thinking really is underrated, but too much can also kill the piece. A delicate tightrope that is helped by brainstorming to know you have options, lol.

  2. Brilliant Post! 🙂 This is excellent piece of blogging advice and totally spot on – the beautiful thing is it’s reminded me of things I used to do, but don’t do any more – and really should start doing again! Superb!

  3. #4 is so important. Sometimes I read my old notes and cringe.

  4. Wow, nice one! How about… keeping a notebook in your bag all the time so you write down random things that happens in your life, as you travel to and fro work/school. I did that, and one idea became the issue for my college essay!

    • Definitely! I always carry a notebook, and I used to keep an email draft open at work all the time to make notes of ideas — change this in my WIP, write a blog post about that, write a short story with this first sentence — then send myself the email at the end of the week. But then the notes emails were piling up in my inbox, so I switched to an evernote ( account – you have multiple notes you can edit from any computer. So much easier than emails!

  5. For me the biggest hurdle to GOOD brainstorming is the filter . . . same problem when I’m writing!

  6. I argue with myself and ask questions of the paper when I do this… it’s kind of humorous to read after the fact. I get the feeling that if someone went through my notes the men in white coats would come for the crazy lady who argues with fictional people on paper. Do you find yourself doing this sometimes?

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