Last week, I talked about brainstorming. By definition, it’s done in group so you can’t really do it alone. However, the truth of a writer’s life is that we must often find ourselves alone when comes the time to spurt out clever concepts and breath-taking scenes. My objective today is to share how we can apply the core principles of brainstorming with an added touch of lateral thinking tools to a solo ideation process.
What Do We Keep?
Since this process is based on the core of an actual brainstorming, the first thing I ought to address is “what exactly do we keep from the group thingy?” Only the following three guidelines:
Basically, what we want to retain from brainstorming is the state of mind. Every thing is permitted, especially the unexpected.
Enters Lateral Thinking
The term was coined by Edward de Bono in the mid 6os. What it means is fairly simple; lateral thinking is all thinking opposed to the usual logical, thus linear, reasoning. It has probably already happened to you a few times to just run in circles when attempting to solve a problem. We get so focused on the problem at hand and its logical solution that it becomes difficult to think outside the box. Lateral thinking is exactly that: thinking outside the box. Way outside the box.
This process happens naturally when you put several different brains in one conference room and ask them to produce ideas. Obtaining the same result using one brain is a bit more of a hustle but it can be done with the proper technique.
How Does One Create Fruitful Non Sequitur?
In order to avoid following the natural path of step-by-step logic, we must introduce the unexpected in our process. This can be achieved in a nearly endless number of ways. I’ve talked about drawing random objects out of a bag to reanimate dead conversations during a brainstorming. Nothing keeps us from doing it alone.
Sit down with paper or post-it notes, a pen and a generator of unexpected. A dictionary can work: pick a random word in it. Wikipedia’s random searches work too. A bag of random objects? Yup. Heck, even a tarot card deck does a great job.
Figure out what your problem is, what you need the ideation for, and then generate one unexpected element. Write down a list of words or ideas that links that unexpected element to your subject. Don’t think for too long! Just line up the words. Think of that one random element as the ultimate key to the solution. When you start slowing down on words, generate a new element.
Before you know it, you’ll have a bunch of ideas more or less related to your subject. You can begin your sorting phase by ditching the ones that have to real potential. Then, organize the ideas by aspect of the project or whatever structure speaks the most to you. You’ll see solutions appear, solutions you never thought you would think about.
Solutions outside the box.
This is barely brushing on the subject of lateral thinking. There are several other ways to force a new view-point on a problem and encourage the birth of a creative solution. You can reverse the problem, amplify or diminish it, go on a stream of “Why?”, etc. The important thing you must do is lead your brain away from the linear path of logic and gear it to produce useful random ideas.
Don’t sort them out as you produce them. Don’t analyze. Don’t create boundaries.
Jump from one subject to another. Allow yourself a little chaos. Let the priceless idea sprout from the maelstrom.
That’s what brainstorming is all about and it can certainly be done alone. I use that quite often when I start a new story or hit a writer’s block. 😉