Creative brainstorming and writing exercises

What’s this episode about?

Welcome to the fourth episode of the third season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full episode and/or scan the show notes below for the main takeaways.

Today I will be talking about how brainstorming can jump start your inspiration and how giving writing exercises a go can get you out of a slump and into a new dawn of creativity. This episode is right on time for when a lot of people doing NaNoWriMo start to run out of creative steam. And I’m not saying that in any way to judge, I’m right there with you. Yesterday I had to go back to my semi-complete outline and figure out what happens in the middle of the book. So I had a lot of fun researching and writing this episode and I hope that it will help you as it helped me.

What is brainstorming?

Brainstorming is a widely-used technique to generate new ideas and solutions to various problems. It’s mostly used in academia, business and creative enterprises, though some people also use it to solve life issues.

Scientist Hanisha Besant traced the origin of the practice and its meaning. This is what she wrote: “The word brainstorming was originally introduced by Alex F. Osborn in 1953 through his book Applied Imagination: Principles and Procedures of Creative Thinking. Since 1953, brainstorming as a word has spread around the globe with definitions that vary in the minds of many. The Meriam Webster’s dictionary defines brainstorming as “a group problem-solving technique that involves the spontaneous contribution of ideas from all members of the group; the mulling over of ideas by one or more individuals in an attempt to devise or find a solution to a problem” (Webster 2015). […] In the broader culture, brainstorming has come to be synonymous with the creative idea generating process.” If you want to go and learn more about the history of brainstorming, check out the full article. It’s an interesting read.

Thinking inside vs outside of the box

I bet you’ve heard it before, to find a new solution you need to think outside of the box. But Prof Ralph Keeney argues that you should think inside of the box before that, meaning you should consider all common possible solutions before reaching for a far-fetched one.

And you can argue that doesn’t apply to writing because we writers want to make everything novel and exciting. Maybe you’re right but I personally like things to make sense. For the past week I’ve been stuck in my novel outlining because I couldn’t figure out why two characters hate each other. I knew one is a crime lord who has contributed to the other losing his career as a doctor. But I couldn’t figure out the event that had led to this outcome. So I binged hospital series in hopes to be inspired by something dramatic and novel to me. I considered euthanasia, ignoring Do not Resuscitate orders, accidental malpractice but nothing fit the character or the medical laws of the place where the story takes place. It was discouraging and I felt that I was getting nowhere.

Then I chatted with a friend and realized I didn’t need a fancy medical reason. In the end, I decided  to make it a human, not a medicine issue – the crime lord was angry in his grief after losing a child so he lashed out at the doctor. Misplaced anger is a very interesting emotion to write about, and I believe exploring the psychology behind it would make my character way more dynamic and compelling. Not that euthanasia is not an interesting topic to discuss, but it didn’t have a place in this particular story line.

Prof Ralph Keeney recommends the following formula when you approach brainstorming: first lay out the problem you want to solve, then identify the objectives of a possible solution. So not what the solution actually is but what it should do to affect the issue. Then try to generate solutions. Make a note of everything and don’t discount simpler ideas. And finally, if you’re still stuck or need some feedback, work in a group. Maybe ask a writer friend to consider your possible solutions or go to a writing group which can help you brainstorm more ideas. 

HOST ANNOUNCEMENT

Talking about ideas, an idea I had two years ago has now grown and been honed into a coherent piece of writing. My romantic thriller, The Lavender Phantom, is going to be available for pre-order next week, on the 17th November.

I’ve planned some really exciting events for the lead up to my launch in February, so stay tuned. There will be advanced review copies offered, giveaways with cool bookish prizes, a cover reveal event and of course a launch party. Go to www.laineydelaroque.com/books for more information and to sign up to my newsletter so you don’t miss your chance to win some goodies.

5Ws and 1H

The previous two points were quite general so I want to bring it back to writing. Some of you may know, I’m a journalist by education and when we tackled covering a story, we were taught to always start it with the 5Ws and 1H – Who, What, Why, Where, When and How. There is a practical reason for this – people reading the news might be in a hurry, so we want to convey the most important information quickly. We can get into the details later and people can read them after they know the gist of the story. This was of course before clickbait web articles were popular which can go on forever, stuffed with ads. And I’m a little sad sometimes when I read the news and can’t tell what the story is about from the first three paragraphs, let alone the first two lines. But anyway, I digress.

The 5 Ws and 1 H are the questions which are the backbone of every story: Who did what, when, where and why they did it and finally how they did it. Or it could be: What happened, when, where and how it happened, who did it affect and why it is important. In whatever order, answering these six key questions give you the skeleton of a story. My journalistic training translated into my personal writing brainstorming process.

I often have cool ideas which have no plot attached or see awesome characters in my mind’s eye but have no idea how they could be weaved into a story to showcase their awesomeness. For those times, I go back to the 5Ws and 1H and try to generate as many ideas as possible. Then I sift through the ones I like best and go again, this time adding more detail. I continue adding detail until I have a viable plot idea with at least a couple of strong main characters.

I write fiction so this process is most suited to fiction, but there are definitely ways to tailor it to non-fiction, business or academic writing. Instead of characters, you will need to narrow down arguments, and instead of plots, you’ll need to choose a focused topic to work on. In any case, covering your basics by answering the 5Ws and 1H is useful and can only expand your existing pool of ideas.

Writing youtuber Katytastic has a similar process to mine and she has a very entertaining video on the topic. It’s called “HOW TO BRAINSTORM + DEVELOP STORY IDEAS” and I recommend it for some light viewing around writing advice.

A writing exercise

Now, this can’t be an episode about the benefits of brainstorming and writing exercises without a writing exercise. I love creating them by merging random things. Today is Neil Gaiman’s birthday, so I thought it would be nice to do an exercise inspired by his words. He’s an author who has done a lot for the writing community.

Now, the rules are simple – I will give you a one-sentence prompt and you need to develop a story idea by using the 5Ws and 1H method we explored before. The line is from one of his books but I won’t tell you which one so it doesn’t affect your idea generation process. If you know where it’s from, kudos to you. Your prompt is:

 “The world seemed to shimmer a little at the edges.”

It can be the beginning of your story or inspiration for it, take this prompt as an opportunity to go wild on the page and just create. This is the beauty of writing exercises – there’s no expectation to create something coherent right away so see where your imagination will take you. I’m really interested to hear about what you create with this so get in touch with me after you’re done.

sO, TO SUMMARIZE…

Finding a way for yourself to brainstorm properly will get you out of writing block and will lead to an overall happier writing practice. It’s not always needed but it’s nice to know it’s there in your repertoire. Let ideas stew for a bit but don’t get discouraged if solutions don’t come naturally. You can always turn to focused brainstorming if that happens.

Try writing exercises online or with a friend. Free your mind to let that untapped subconscious power come to you as we talked in the previous episode. And after something starts forming on the page, use brainstorming to fill out the gaps and make it into a coherent piece.

Next Tuesday, I will look into the often neglected social aspect of writing and inspiration. There I will talk about the benefits of writing retreats, writing groups and writing friends and how their mere existence around you can be inspirational. So join me on 17th November for the last episode of this season.

If you want to be up to date on Pen Garden news, subscribe to the show and sign up to my newsletter. I promise no spam, only cups of writing joy.

If you want to continue the conversation, you can poke me on The Pen Garden Facebook page or tweet me @laineydelaroque. Thanks very much for listening everyone. Hope you have an awesome week and speak to you soon.

Sources

 

 

Listen to all Available episodes of season 3:

Writing friends, writing communities and writing retreats – Inspiration Episode 5

  Writing friends, writing communities and writing retreats What’s this episode about? Welcome to the final episode of the third season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full episode and/or scan the show notes below for the main takeaways. Today I will look into the often neglected social aspect of writing and inspiration. […]

Creative brainstorming and writing exercises – Inspiration Episode 4

    Creative brainstorming and writing exercises What’s this episode about? Welcome to the fourth episode of the third season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full episode and/or scan the show notes below for the main takeaways. Today I will be talking about how brainstorming can jump start your inspiration and how […]

Sleep, dreams and creative inspiration – Inspiration Episode 3

    Sleep, dreams and creative inspiration What’s this episode about? Welcome to the third episode of the third season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full episode and/or scan the show notes below for the main takeaways. Today, I’m going to talk about sleep, dreams and how we can prime our subconscious […]

9 Mental Health Traps of NaNoWriMo and how to avoid them – S3 Bonus episode

    9 Mental Health Traps of NaNoWriMo and how to avoid them What’s this episode about? Welcome to November and this bonus episode of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to it in full above and/or scan the show notes below for the main takeaways. This podcast talks about mental health and writing productivity. NaNoWriMo, […]

Trick yourself out of procrastination – Inspiration Episode 2

    Trick yourself out of procrastination and refill your creative well What’s this episode about? Welcome to the second episode of the third season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full first episode and/or scan the show notes below for the main takeaways. This week, I will discuss a topic which all […]

Theory of writing inspiration – Inspiration Episode 1

    Theory of writing inspiration What’s this episode about? Welcome to the third season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full first episode and/or scan the show notes below for the main takeaways. Today’s episode focuses on the theory and science of inspiration – what it was perceived to be, what it […]

Season 3 – Inspiration – Overview

    SEASON 3 OF THE PEN GARDEN IS HERE!   What’s this episode about? Welcome to the third season of The Pen Garden Podcast. It’s titled Inspiration. After a short break, I’ve come back to the podcast with lots of new ideas so I’m once again very excited to share them with you. In […]

 

Or the episodes from seasonS 1&2:

 

 

 

Sleep, dreams and creative inspiration

What’s this episode about?

Welcome to the third episode of the third season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full episode and/or scan the show notes below for the main takeaways.

Today, I’m going to talk about sleep, dreams and how we can prime our subconscious to generate new ideas and problem-solve for us.

Sleep & creativity

Sleep is essential for maintaining creative output. This is something that most people intuitively know, because sleep is essential for life as a whole. It’s also still a bit of a mystery to science, but from what we have gleamed collectively, we know that sleep isn’t just us shutting off like a computer for the night. Far from inactive, our bodies are busy consolidating memories, dreaming and repairing physical damage.

In his book ‘Rest’, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang explains that “as we sleep, the brain shuffles around the day’s memories, moving some from short-term to long-term memory. Visual tasks, emotionally laden experiences, and procedural memories (for example, hard-to-describe skills like riding a bike) tend to be consolidated during REM sleep, while declarative memories (things like lists of words) are consolidated during slow-wave sleep.”

The knowledge of this is important because coupled with the fact that sleep is how the body repairs itself, getting enough sleep consistently is essential for your mental health and creativity. You have to go through a few cycles at night to have a rejuvenating sleep.

The effects of sleep deprivation

There is a somewhat romantic view of the lone writer writing their magnum opus in a cozy candlelit room, with no one around but them and their muse. But as I’ve said in a previous episode, nighttime work presents unique challenges, one of which is the very real possibility that you won’t get enough sleep if you have other commitments in the morning or if you’re a light sleeper.

To further confirm the link between creativity and sleep, we don’t have to look further than what sleep deprivation does to our bodies and minds. Scientists “measured the effects of shift work on the performance and cognitive ability of doctors and nurses. A 2008 study of anesthesiology interns and anesthetists in New Zealand found that after a couple of weeks of having night shifts or on-call duties layered atop of regular duties, their performance on psychomotor vigilance tests dropped.

Not only that, a sleep deficit of less than an hour a night led to declines greater than those seen in comparable groups tested in a sleep lab. This suggests that laboratory studies might be underestimating the impact of sleep loss and that in the real world, the added stresses of making decisions, picking up kids, and trying to lead a normal life amplify the effects of sleep loss. Likewise, studies of night nurses in Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, United States all found that as their sleep quality declined, stress levels went up and cognitive performance dropped.”

I’m making this point because creativity is part of our cognitive performance and I have never once been creative after a night or two of bad sleep. It’s just impossible because our bodies and minds shift priorities, and suddenly things like work, art and fun aren’t making the top of the list.

My next two points are a lot more positive, I wanted to touch on the importance of sleep because the pandemic has destroyed plenty of sleep patterns and if you can work on getting a good sleep routine, it will definitely boost your writing routine too. If not, don’t fret too much about it, times are hard right now so let’s be kind to ourselves.

HOST ANNOUNCEMENT

On the note of self-compassion, have you listened to the bonus episode for this season? There I talk about mental health and NaNoWriMo, though much of it can be applied to any consistent, fast drafting writing strategy you might have. So if you haven’t heard it, go check it out, it touches on 9 mental health traps writers can find themselves into while on a writing deadline, and how to avoid them.

Dreams as gateways to novel ideas & problem-solving

One thing that I’ve always liked about myself is my ability to dream up wacky things. After dreaming, I sift through the weird images and ideas of the night before and pick out anything that might be interesting to write about or might fit in story I’ve been working on. It’s like a free boost of inspiration. Science agrees with me. “Dreams are just thinking in a different biochemical state,” says Harvard University psychologist Deirdre Barrett, author of The Committee of Sleep. “In the sleep state, the brain thinks much more visually and intuitively.”

But how do you foster that? How do you make sure you remember your dreams and don’t miss out on this free mental resource? One practice many people have, both creative people and people who are working through any issues in their life, is keeping a dream journal. It’s particularly useful if you have very vivid, disturbing dreams which can haunt you for days on end. Wake up, put it down on the page, forget it so you can continue with your life. Then you can always return to your journal to process the experience and look for any good idea nuggets.

If you want to have a good sleep and dream, avoiding alcohol and caffeine is also wise, because they scramble your sleep cycles, leading to lower quality of sleep.

“Barrett’s studies suggest that engaging in some type of pre-bedtime priming—like contemplating a problem you’d like to solve—increases the likelihood that sleep will bring some answers. Up to a third of the subjects in one of her sample groups reported that priming had helped them find a solution that had eluded them during the day.”

Pre-bedtime priming & self-hypnosis

Hypnotherapist and children’s author Steve Bowkett also believes in the idea of pre-bedtime priming, although he refers to it as self-hypnosis. Here’s what he says: “The subconscious is a treasure house of potential ideas, based as it is on the accumulated experiences of a lifetime. It is the ground of those two astonishing resources – memory and imagination.”

According to Bowkett, you can teach yourself to control your light bulb moments of inspiration and problem-solving, which is essentially when you get a little notification from your unconscious mind, a little snippet of connection. He suggests that you ask yourself a question and set a specific date and time for your mind to give you the answer.

This is different from brainstorming, as you’re not actively thinking about the issue at hand, you’re giving your subconscious mind space and time to make the necessary links and get back to you. This is not only something to do around bedtime but it might be the easiest way to introduce the practice to your mind. When you sleep, after all, you’re giving your subconscious free reign. This might seem like some sort of magic but it isn’t, it’s building a habit of thinking in a specific way.

Results might come easy or hard, and that’s because it all depends on how you think about it. If you put a mental block on it thinking it’s all sorcery nonsense, you’re unlikely to succeed because you’re not sending the right signals to your subconscious. So next time you’re stuck in a story or out of ideas, try setting some dates with your subconscious and see how it goes.

sO, TO SUMMARIZE…

Respect your body and mind and try to get consistent good sleep, thus making sure you put your mind in the best position to dream, problem-solve and generate new ideas.

Come join me next Tuesday, 10th of November, to learn how brainstorming can jumpstart your inspiration and how writing exercises can get you out of a slump and into a new dawn of creativity. It’s going to be a more practical episode and I’m really excited for it.

If you want to be up to date on Pen Garden news, subscribe to the show and sign up to my newsletter. I promise no spam, only cups of writing joy.

If you want to continue the conversation, you can poke me on The Pen Garden Facebook page or tweet me @laineydelaroque. Thanks very much for listening everyone. Hope you have an awesome week and speak to you soon.

Sources

 

 

Listen to all Available episodes of season 3:

Writing friends, writing communities and writing retreats – Inspiration Episode 5

  Writing friends, writing communities and writing retreats What’s this episode about? Welcome to the final episode of the third season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full episode and/or scan the show notes below for the main takeaways. Today I will look into the often neglected social aspect of writing and inspiration. […]

Creative brainstorming and writing exercises – Inspiration Episode 4

    Creative brainstorming and writing exercises What’s this episode about? Welcome to the fourth episode of the third season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full episode and/or scan the show notes below for the main takeaways. Today I will be talking about how brainstorming can jump start your inspiration and how […]

Sleep, dreams and creative inspiration – Inspiration Episode 3

    Sleep, dreams and creative inspiration What’s this episode about? Welcome to the third episode of the third season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full episode and/or scan the show notes below for the main takeaways. Today, I’m going to talk about sleep, dreams and how we can prime our subconscious […]

9 Mental Health Traps of NaNoWriMo and how to avoid them – S3 Bonus episode

    9 Mental Health Traps of NaNoWriMo and how to avoid them What’s this episode about? Welcome to November and this bonus episode of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to it in full above and/or scan the show notes below for the main takeaways. This podcast talks about mental health and writing productivity. NaNoWriMo, […]

Trick yourself out of procrastination – Inspiration Episode 2

    Trick yourself out of procrastination and refill your creative well What’s this episode about? Welcome to the second episode of the third season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full first episode and/or scan the show notes below for the main takeaways. This week, I will discuss a topic which all […]

Theory of writing inspiration – Inspiration Episode 1

    Theory of writing inspiration What’s this episode about? Welcome to the third season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full first episode and/or scan the show notes below for the main takeaways. Today’s episode focuses on the theory and science of inspiration – what it was perceived to be, what it […]

Season 3 – Inspiration – Overview

    SEASON 3 OF THE PEN GARDEN IS HERE!   What’s this episode about? Welcome to the third season of The Pen Garden Podcast. It’s titled Inspiration. After a short break, I’ve come back to the podcast with lots of new ideas so I’m once again very excited to share them with you. In […]

 

Or the episodes from seasonS 1&2: