Wednesday 27 April 2022

Brainstorming Myself by Claire Fayers

 While I wait for editing to start on my new book, I've been brainstorming new ideas. As all authors know, this is a tricky and serious business.

First, make sure you have gathered all your equipment together. 

I like using coloured gel pens because it makes the business of writing feel less serious.

Now, make yourself a cup of tea and leave it to go cold on the edge of your desk. It'll save you time later. (Seriously, I have a friend who'd forget his tea and then knock it over so often that we took to asking, 'Do you want tea or shall I just pour a cold one on the carpet for you?')

Are all your pets, children, husbands, wives, partners and sundry distractions locked away? If not, do it now. You can't risk anything interrupting the flow of genius from your marvellous brain. I'm a big fan of noise-cancelling headphones which signal to the world that I Must Not Be Disturbed. A ball of wool in each ear may also work, or strap a pair of miniature sheep to your head. You may look ridiculous but we must all make sacrifices for our art.



Take your favourite pen in your favourite hand, open your notebook, take a deep breath (you know what another word for breathing in is, don't you? Inspiration), and fill the blank page with all the ideas that are suddenly and miraculously teeming in your mind.

OK, maybe that wasn't such a good idea. 

I'm surprised how many people thing that this is basically how writers get their ideas - we stare at a blank page until words appear. It would be nice if it worked. But stories are like pearls: they don't just appear fully formed. They need something to cling to. 

Turning back to my blank page, I tried prompt words. 

This random word generator is useful. (The Internet does have its uses after all.)

Or you can try an entire random plot generator. This one really is a time-sucking monster and you can lose whole days to it so approach with caution.

Finally, I turned to an exercise that Kelly McKain shared at the Folly Farm retreat this year.

The idea is you start writing - anything at all, just get your pen moving - then throw in a question. Who is writing this?

Keep writing, and repeat the question every so often. Who is writing this? If you want, you can vary it with What I really want to say is?

The exercise led to some interesting results when we tried it at Folly Farm. Sitting alone at home, it seemed like a pointless question. Who is writing this? Well, me, obviously, and I don't know what I want to say - if I knew, I wouldn't have to be brainstorming. Then, while my third cup of tea cooled on my desk and my cats clamoured to be let in and out, a thought struck. 

What if, our happiest, our most authentic, our best writing, comes out of who we are? 

If that is true, the 'Who am I?' exercise takes on a whole new importance. When I'm starting to look for new ideas, I can start with myself - the person I am now, not the hopeful, unpublished writer from ten years ago or even the more experienced and cynical writer from last year. Who do I want to be this time round? What do I want to say? Suddenly, I'm looking forward to finding out.

So that's the story of how I went looking for ideas and found myself. I'm not sure I've found my next big idea yet, but I'm having fun looking for it. 

In the meantime, here are a few more brainstorming exercises I've found useful.

  1. Choose an interesting memory. Why is it interesting? Try changing the setting, the emotional tone, some of the characters. Narrate the memory from a different viewpoint.
  2. Think of a place you visited a long time ago. What emotions do you associate with it? Describe the scene from the viewpoint of a character feeling the opposite emotion.
  3. Make a list of the things that make you feel happy/excited. And then a list of all the things that annoy you. Use the lists to invent a few characters.


Penny Dolan said...

I did enjoy the fantasy opening, Claire. I noticed that my thoughtful inspiration pad has those big blank pages as well.

Great exercises, by the way.

Steve Gladwin said...

Lovely, funny stuff Claire. Makes me realise what I really need is a nice colourful pad instead of just a pad. Much fresh awen to you.