Tag s | Creativity

Brainstorming: How and With Whom?

Brainstorming is one of the fun parts in the development of your book. There are two keys to making it a productive experience.

Willing to Listen

The key is a willingness to hear other ideas. If someone says “your idea won’t work” the first impulse is to be defensive and take offense. That isn’t brainstorming. Instead look at it as an exercise in creativity. No one is saying you have to accept any of the ideas that come up in the discussion. But there might be something there that can improve your work.

Finding the Right People

The second, and a more critical key, is discovering those with whom you should brainstorm. Those people need to be willing to have their ideas rejected in the discussion and be willing to let an idea they create to be used by someone else. It takes a special person…often a professional…to achieve that.

I’ve heard complaints from some authors who try this in a critique group only to be frustrated. Egos get in the way or the ideas generated are singularly unhelpful. Or the discussion doesn’t move the project forward, instead it gets sidetracked by numerous differing opinions on the direction of the piece. More than once I’ve had an author claim, after I’ve pointed out a structural error in their manuscript, that “this was what my critique group thought should happen.”

That is not to say that critique groups are bad. Hardly. Only that some authors have experienced frustration if the mix in their group is not helpful.

If you have a good relationship with your editor they can be a great sounding board for ideas (but be considerate of that editor’s time). Your agent can also be a safe place to play with concepts. While sometimes the two heads can bump into each other…painfully…the ensuing friction usually creates a spark…the spark of creativity and not contention.

All Genres

This is an exercise for both fiction and non-fiction. Many times a non-fiction writer needs a nudge to redirect the focus of their work to give it strength and a stronger punch.  Or the realization that the book idea is actually a better magazine article. Brainstorming isn’t just an exercise for novelists.


Years ago, at a writers conference, a well known author gathered a number of published writers together in the late evening and declared, “I have a new book contract and need a better plot than what I have, can you guys help?” Over the next couple hours that group created a dynamite storyline (which is now in print!). That is brainstorming with a group at its best.

I once sat in a publisher’s conference room while a novelist and two editors plotted out the storyline for the author’s next book. Words and phrases were thrown on a white board, often striking out ones that no longer fit. When complete, the sequence of events were transferred to notecards and the board was erased to start the next section. At the end of the day the stack of cards was rather thick. The author quickly numbered each card, slapped a rubber band around it, and declared, “Now all I have to do is write it!” (In case you are wondering, this author liked to write from physical note cards. That doesn’t work for everyone.)

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of visiting a client in her home. After a wonderful dinner with her husband we sat in the living room and brainstormed a critical part of her next novel. We created dozens of ideas and discussed what worked and what didn’t. We also thought through the implication of those ideas for the third book in her series. In the end we didn’t necessarily settle on a specific direction, but what it did was unleash her to create freely. I look forward to reading what she comes up with. There may be echoes of our discussion in the final version, but the exercise alone was kindling for the fire of creativity.

Your Turn:

Where do you go for your brainstorming sessions?

Do you have a successful brainstorm session you can describe to us?


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Same Message, Different Reader

When a published book is successful (sells well), the publisher and author begin pondering how to be successful again with the next book. Often times, the solution to the repeat-success puzzle in non-fiction is having a similar message but aimed at a different audience. You’ve seen it happen many times, …

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A Writer’s Beatitudes

In the famous “Sermon on the Mount” passage in the Bible’s Gospel of Matthew, Jesus presented a series of eight “beatitudes.” Each was a saying that turned conventional wisdom on its head, showing how in God’s eyes the oppressed are blessed and the despised are prized. No one can improve …

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Create Magic with Words

Years ago, I took my five-year-old daughter to Toys R Us to meet “Barbie.” “Barbie” turned out to be a cute and charming teenager who, yes, looked like the classic blonde image of the doll. She wore a pretty pink gown. I expected a lot more fanfare around this event. …

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Be Careful Little Hands What You Type

Just as those involved in Christian ministry are committed to serving God as “his hands and feet” on this earth, Christian writers are similarly motivated, giving a voice to God’s work and communicating his grace and love to a hurting world. But just as some ministries can veer off the …

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Book Reading in a Social Media World

At some point every writer confronts the trend of readers who would rather consume 140 characters in social media than 140 pages of words. Social media and smart phones change everything in our world and their impact on book reading and writing is substantial. At the same time social media …

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A Title Wave

Some writers find it hard to title their work; others have as much (or more) fun creating titles as they do writing articles, stories, or books. So, just for fun, I asked some of my colleagues and clients: “What title of a nonexistent, imaginary, unwritten, or unpublished work do you …

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Creative Boundaries

Creative people usually don’t like being told what to create or what not to create. Similarly, explorers and researchers don’t like being told, “Don’t look there,” or “Explore over here.” By nature, they follow their training and instincts from place to place and thought to thought. As a writer, while …

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40 Days with One Composition

For the last few years I’ve used the forty days of Lent as an auditory discipline. I try to listen to one collection of music during the entire season. This year’s choice was Franz Joseph Haydn’s “The Seven Last Words of our Savior on the Cross.” I listened to the …

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