Brainstorming (Even By Yourself) Makes a Better Blog

Posted By on March 4, 2013

Brainstorming and mindmapping are time-tested ways to efficiently generate ideas without judgement or criticism. Photo copyright 2012 Cynthia Hartwig

Brainstorming and mindmapping are time-tested ways to efficiently generate ideas without judgement or criticism. Photo copyright 2012 Cynthia Hartwig

Everybody knows that brainstorming in a group puts a lot of ideas on the table fast. But brainstorming by yourself can be just as effective. For a blogger like me, I find thirty minutes of timed brainstorming is the key to a good angle on a tight and focused blog post.

The random process of brainstorming is surprisingly efficient.

If I’m on deadline, I generate ideas by dividing the time into three bursts. I start with a 15-minute timed burst on whatever topic I’m floating; I’ll take a break and then I’ll do a ten-minute burst; after reviewing the ideas that made it on paper, I’ll end with a 5-minute write on “the best ideas so far” which is just as likely to generate a late-breaking good idea that sneaks in under the wire. By the end of the time I’ve set, I generally find myself on the way to a rough draft with 8-10 ideas for angles, arguments and sub-topics.

Brainstorming before you write clears out the chaff.

First ideas are typically top-of-the-head, been-there-done-that ideas. The reason that they’re in the TOP of your head is because they’re ideas that somebody else has had and that you’ve heard a million times. If you want to get to a unique idea and position yourself as a thought leader, you have to go deeper in the refrigerator shelves of the subconscious than the one down front where you keep the milk and butter.

Who knows what it is about lame and halt ideas that make them want to rush out and get naked in the open air? Bad ideas love to fly out and flop around in their half-assed state which is why you must make enough time and space for unique and unusual ideas. In my experience, great ideas like to hang back like shy wall flowers, afraid to show their brilliance.

A successful brainstorm always makes room for all comers; it is critical to understand that “No idea is a bad idea” as long as you are generating ideas. In fact, the only way you can screw up a brainstorming session is rush to judgement too quickly before your non-linear and irrational brain has a chance to weigh in.

Visual brainstorming lets me see connections between ideas

Put the topic of your post in the center of a blank page and set a timer for 15  minutes. Then circle the topic with any and all ideas that come to you without judgement or criticism.

Put the topic of your post in the center of a blank page and set a timer for 15 minutes. Then circle the topic with any and all ideas that come to you without judgement or criticism.

Maybe it’s my nonlinear brain but I don’t like to brainstorm in a list. I like visual brainstorming or mindmapping better because it gives me access to different parts of my brain. I like to ID the topic of my post in the middle of a blank page and then I literally circle my topic with random thoughts all over the page. Tactics mix with strategies; examples mingle with general arguments; word play and metaphors consort with photo and illustration ideas. In short: I give myself complete freedom to generate a hodge podge. When I’m done coming up with ideas (and before I judge them), I look for connections and draw arrows between ideas that are related. That way I can see which arguments can be made stronger and more logical.

I love pen-and-paper; Scapple from the makers of Scrivener works too.

I’m a fan of the novel writing software made by Literature and Latte called Scrivener. It’s what my long-suffering novel is composed on. (It’s what I’d like my long-suffering novel to be revised on, if I wasn’t so busy blogging and blabbing!) The fine folks at Literature and Latte also make mindmapping software called Scapple (very reasonably priced, at only $10) for OSX. Scapple emulates a big piece of blank paper and lets you generate ideas and connections to your hearts content.

I happen to prefer a pen and paper for both brainstorming and writing–not because I’m a Luddite–but because I still love to feel words roll out of the pen like writers have for centuries before me. These are intuitive, and heart-felt acts, so the key is to figure out which paths lead you deeper into the labyrinth of what you really think and believe.

Cynthia Hartwig

PS If you’ve got another angle on why brainstorming works or an experience you’ve had, I’d love to hear it.