3 Brainstorming Tips for Your Next Writing Project

Be prepared to jot down writing ideas whenever you get them. (Photo: janeb13)

For many people, one of the hardest things about writing is choosing a topic. Once you choose the topic, it gets easier from there because you can begin narrowing your focus.

Whether you’re writing text for a marketing brochure or a novel, you’ll probably need to brainstorm several ideas before choosing the final topic.

If you’re struggling at the brainstorming stage, you’re definitely not alone. Here are three tips to get you on the right track.

1. Read

One great way to generate writing ideas is to read.

Ideas don’t typically come to us in a vacuum, but rather when we’re stimulated and influenced by something else. The human brain has an interesting way of taking the things around us and combining them with our own thoughts, experiences, and knowledge. New ideas are the byproduct of this process.

Remember that you’re using reading as a method for brainstorming. That means it’s OK, probably even ideal, to stop whenever you have an idea and jot it down. The ideas don’t have to be great either—just start writing them down and you can pick the best ones later. Even skimming can work well when you’re brainstorming.

This technique is all about exposing your brain to information and ideas, so technically it doesn’t even have to be reading:

  • Watch movies or documentaries.
  • Listen to interviews or podcasts.
  • Listen to music, look at art, or play games.

You just need some input to get the ideas flowing. It’s basically about input and exposure, so it’s important to know what kind of input you prefer.

You’ve probably heard that people have various learning styles. Some of us are more visual, while others are more auditory. As a result, some people prefer reading, while others prefer listening or watching. So use whatever method works best for you.

One question that often comes up: How relevant should the resources be to the project?

  • Sure, you don’t know the exact topic you’ll be writing about yet, but you probably have a vague idea. So reading related materials can definitely help with brainstorming.
  • On the other hand, sometimes it’s best to have something totally different because it can help you see things from a new perspective.

The best approach is to mix and match where possible—have some resources that are highly relevant and other resources that are outside the scope of the project. You never know where inspiration and ideas will come from, so this gives you the best of both worlds.

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Image of a quote that says, "Read. Watch. Listen. You never know where writing inspiration and ideas will come from."

2. Talk to People

Discussing things with your friends and colleagues is also an effective way to generate ideas. You can bounce things off them and ask for their feedback.

Brainstorming collaboratively works well because “you can build on each other’s knowledge and backgrounds,” according to authors Susan Blau and Kathryn Burak in their book Writing in the Works.

Even just talking about random or everyday topics can lead to insights you wouldn’t have anticipated.

If possible, you can also conduct interviews. Ever heard of laddering?

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3. Write Your Ideas Down

You never know when you’ll have a great idea, so you should be prepared to write them down whenever they come:

  • Carry a pen and a small notebook with you wherever you go.
  • You can also use your smartphone if you prefer.

It doesn’t matter what tool you use, as long as you’re saving these notes somewhere.

And the more you write your ideas down, the more it becomes a habit. You’ll start noticing ideas everywhere!

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Dave Baker

View posts by Dave Baker
Hi, I'm Dave Baker, founder and copy chief of Super Copy Editors. I have more than two decades of professional proofreading and copy editing experience, including work for The Nation magazine, The New York Times, and The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, where I shared two staff Pulitzer Prizes after Hurricane Katrina. Today, I have put together a hand-picked team of copy editors, and we especially love working with ad agencies, marketing departments, and education companies to make their text as polished as possible. Learn more here.

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