Classic Brainstorming Techniques

The right tools in hand can make the process of classic brainstorming a lot simpler and more rewarding. Picking up a pen and writing your ideas down on a piece of paper is the easy part. Finding these ideas and thought patterns can prove to be a lot more challenging.  

Mastering a few classic brainstorming methods and brainstorming techniques can make the process of putting ideas to paper a lot easier.

Let’s define brainstorming as the process of thinking in different ways until you are able to come up with many new ideas.

Buzan's iMindMap

10 Classic Brainstorming Techniques

1. Listing

Think of a subject and list all of the ideas that come to your mind about it. List anything that lingers; words, sentences, headlines, phrases etc. List these ideas as they pop into your mind in no specific order. Keep adding to the list as new ideas are generated. This is one of the easiest ways to find many new ideas.

2. Mind mapping

A classic brainstorming approach and the brainstorming technique I find to be the most effective. It is also called clustering or webbing. This is a more visual brainstorming approach moving away from simple words and allowing writers to see things differently and branch off in new directions. Start off your mind map with a single image in the centre of the page. Draw lines branching out from the centre of the image in any direction. Write a single word on each branch. Complete your mind map. If you like to do your mind mapping on a computer try Tony Buzan's iMindMap, by far the easiest and most creative way to create a mind map and my personal favourite.

3. Free writing

Free is just as it name suggests, the process of writing freely uncensored, without any correction. Select your topic and write freely for 10 to 15 minutes. Write without stopping preferably in long hand without lifting your pen from the page or if you are using a computer type without pause. Do not make any corrections to spelling, punctuation or grammar. Do not stop until your allotted time period is over. When your 15 minutes are up, go back and read what you have written. Select one or two sentences that show promise. Start with these to point you in the right direction.

4. The five sense approach

Use the basic table below as your starting point. Paste or write your topic into the header box. Close your eyes. Think of your topic and imagine the scene before you. Describe it in detail using the five sensory words in the first column. Here is an example: "You are at the hospital. Listen to the beeping of the heart rate monitor, smell the disinfectant, feel the crisp white stand issue hospital gown on your skin. Taste the anaesthetic as it creeps into your body. See the white lights flickering overhead."







Now go back and read what you have written. Select the most descriptive and evocative words as a starting point for your story or keep them all scattering them throughout.

5. Experimenting with format

Most people can start talking to a friend without a moment of hesitation. You can describe a situation to them easily and seldom find yourself at a loss for words. Use this technique as a way of having a brief “written” conversation with a close friend or family member. Now go back and read what you have written. Transform this writing into something else; the start of a story, the first chapter of your memoir, a poem or the first act of a play.

6. Inception point

We always start at the beginning, but breaking the rules can often bring inspiration. Try starting your story in the middle or even with the conclusion and working backwards. This works especially well if you still need inspiration for those gripping first few words.

7. Reversal

Write down your topic or subject and list a few random ideas, you can also use the list you have created in method 1. Challenge your first thoughts by creating a new list. Reverse each assumption and think of differing viewpoints, list as many opposing viewpoints and ideas as you can, these could just steamroller your story off in a totally new direction.

8. Similes or Metaphors

Complete the following sentence ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­_____________ is like/as ________________. Write your topic or subject in the first blank space. Brainstorm as many possible ideas for the second space jotting them down as they occur to you. Review what you have written. Use one of these ideas as the backbone of your story. A simple yet classic brainstorming approach.

9. Questioning

Use idea-spurring questioning words as a starting point for your inspiration. Where? When? Why? Who? How? What? Substitute? Combine? Adapt? Modify? Put to other uses? Eliminate? Magnify? Rearrange? Reverse?

10. Using Charts or shapes

If conventional words and phrases do not bring the inspiration you need try something more visually appealing. Use a conventional flow chart, pictures, diagrams, doodling, graph or table to remove yourself from the realm of words alone and move into a more visually appealing frame of mind. Seeing things from a different angle can also bring inspiration. Brainstorm in squares, triangles or in the actual shape of the topic of your brainstorm.

Use any of the classic brainstorming techniques and brainstorming methods above to jumpstart your creativity. You can stop and try another classic brainstorming technique at any point. Try several different brainstorming methods to find the one you like best.

More brainstorming ideas: Draw a Venn diagram

Print blank venn diagrams

Return from classic brainstorming to the homepage

Download free mind mapping software.

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