When I want to brainstorm an idea, or solve problems on a project, I need to write. There are people who can create entire projects in their head, using nothing but brain power. I’m not one of them.
This weekend, as I took part in a poetry retreat, I discovered again how well thinking for brainstorming works for me.
We were writing poetry on a tight deadline. Ten minutes of writing, then reading. I discovered that writing down what came into my head, then going over it and editing it worked a lot better than trying to craft a poem from an idea without writing it down.
For years, I’ve known this about myself, but I thought it was a flaw. Even if it is a flaw, I’m going with what works. And here it what works for me:
2. Writing down stray thoughts, even those completely unrelated to what I’m doing, has a purpose. When you are planning and a random thought comes up (“I need to put gas in the car,” or “We’re out of peanut butter,”) the instinct is to ignore it. Bad idea. The more you ignore a task that needs to get done later, the more your brain reminds you to do it. You will not move ahead. Writing down the task is a way of allowing yourself to stop reminding yourself all the time. In other words, you write it down so you can forget it.
3. Write down all thoughts. You also write down to remember. But you don’t do both at the same time. So just write now, sort later. Writing down good ideas clears the way for more ideas to bubble up. And in the brainstorming stage, generating more ideas is the goal.
4. At the problem-solving stage, writing is another plus. You write down a step in problem solving, and add another one as long as they look like they will work. When you hit a snag, you can decide to leave it alone for a while, while you work on another solution thread. Or, you can back up along the original thread to where the idea didn’t work and create a work around.
5. Creating a series of solutions allows you to choose, refine, and develop ideas instead of having only two choices: OK and scrap.
While I was writing poetry, I just kept writing. Ideas came up and a few times I combined two poem ideas in one poem. Not a problem. They can be separated in the editing stage. That can’t happen if I don’t write it down while I have the ideas fresh in my head. An idea on paper is worth two in the flashbulb.
—Quinn McDonald is a writer an a writing teacher. She is interested in poetry.