1. While Exercising
Stick with me here. Exercise can be a boring mindless task. Why not brainstorm a scene or run dialogue through your head while doing it? I’ve never truly enjoyed running or really any form of cardio exercise so brainstorming in my head while I do it can be a great distraction and make the exercise far more fun. This is doubly productive because it can motivate you to get more exercise, which is never a bad thing.
After you get back home write down your ideas, or if you can’t wait that long, jot them down in your phone. Or if you’re like me, keep them in your head and hope extra hard that you don’t forget them (though I don’t recommend this method).
2. While Sleeping
Okay, so I don’t literally mean brainstorm while you are asleep. I’m sure I’m not the only person who has gotten story ideas from dreams. I once brainstormed an entire novel purely based off of dreams I had when I was younger.
This can be tricky because most people (including me) often don’t remember their dreams. Keeping a journal by your bedside or just something to quickly jot down dream ideas when you wake up is a great way to snatch up those interesting dreams before they are forgotten.
Daydreaming can also be a great way to brainstorm and can help you picture scenes and characters more fully. Don’t be afraid to use your imagination. Let your mind wander. Sometimes the weirdest ideas make for the best stories.
3. Talking With Friends & Family
Oftentimes I will come up with a new idea as I’m explaining a new project to a friend or family member. This is something I learned in school. Explaining or teaching a concept to someone else can help you personally gain a greater understanding of the material.
Verbalizing the plot, characters, relationships, etc. can allow you as the writer to gain a better picture of the story as a whole and can be a great way to catch and fix plot holes. Saying your ideas out loud can also prompt new ideas and can be a form of brainstorming in and of itself.
If you’re too shy to share, or you’re just not ready for others to hear your ideas yet, I find that pets are great listeners too!
4. In the Shower
Musically inclined people sing in the shower, whereas I run through dialogue ideas, plot twists, and character development. Similar to exercise, showering can be a mindless task. Brainstorming that new book idea can be a way to make it more fun.
Try talking out a dialogue scene. This may feel weird at first, but trust me, hearing dialogue out loud is a great way to make sure your dialogue sounds natural. In writing dialogue can often come across as too formal. Hearing the dialogue out loud can help you see where you can make it sound more natural. Try playing around with voice. Is there a certain word or phrase that a character is always saying.
I hope I’m not the only writerly weirdo who brainstorms in the shower. If I am then, oh well, you all are missing out.
5. While Out and About
Finding new places, like a coffee shop, an antique store, a park, etc. can be a good way to brainstorm settings.
There is something about seeing a new place for the first time that just makes you notice the little things, like the light fixtures, or an old tree, or the smell that hits you when you first open the doors to a coffee shop or an old bookstore. Really taking in the little things around you can be a great way to brainstorm settings.
Familiar places are great too! Re-examining a favorite spot can make for some interesting new ideas. Try looking at a familiar place from a new perspective. Pay attention. Take notes.
6. At a Library or Bookstore
Writing or brainstorming a book while surrounded by hundreds of other books…sounds perfect to me. Whether you decide to go to a local library or a quaint little bookstore in your town/city, find a comfortable spot amongst all those books and start writing.
If you get stuck, pull a book from one of those shelves and start reading. Half of the writing process is reading other books and stories.
Let the environment fuel you. All around you are the results of other authors’ hard work and perseverance. Let that thought motivate you. Your book could be on one of those shelves some day. How cool is that!
7. At a Cafe
There is something quintessentially perfect about writing at a cafe. And yes, I know this is very cliche, but sometimes cliche can be a good thing. Order a drink, find a corner seat, take out that notebook or laptop and just start brainstorming.
Listen to the conversations around you. Get inspired! Study people, their quirks, what they choose to wear, how they act when ordering. I’m convinced that all writers have an inherent interest in people watching. I love listening to and watching the people around me and trying to figure out how they think. This can be a great exercise in brainstorming characters.
Just remember, be polite. Observation is great! Just try not to make the people around you uncomfortable.
8. While Reading or Watching TV/Movies
This may feel wrong but…like how a character is developed in a favorite book, like a plot point or big reveal in a tv show, like how a relationship is formed in a movie, write these things down. Later on, brainstorm using these base ideas and make them your own. Think in terms of, how would I go about making this even better. Try putting your own fun twist into the idea.
Of course you have to be careful to not just copy, but from my personal experience once I’ve fully developed an idea, character, plot point, etc. it barely resembles the original inspiration. As a child I was often told that copying was the greatest form of flattery. While I don’t condone copying outright, good storytelling is something to admire and try to emulate.
Learning from stories that have already been told, and told well, is a great way to become a better writer.
9. During a Break
This is a method I learned early on in middle school. Whenever I had a free period I would get out my laptop and just write. This carried into high school and later into college. My schedule at college is often all over the place and last semester I found myself with large chunks of time between classes. I would often use this time to grab a drink, head to the library, sit down, and write or brainstorm ideas.
This really worked for me. Oftentimes, I would find myself occupied with studying and unmotivated to write in the evenings. Using my free hours during the day allowed me to get in some quality writing time despite my busy schedule. If you work, try brainstorming or writing during your breaks. Brainstorming in your head is a fun way to keep your mind occupied while on a lunch break.
10. Late at Night or Early in the Morning
That is to say, when there are no distractions. Have you ever been up early in the am hours and just sat down and realized how quiet it is. The silence is incredibly calming.
There’s no pressure to rush, no distracting work to finish, no worrying about being productive. It’s just you and the night and whatever you want to do with that time.
This is one of my favorite times to brainstorm and write. If you’re a night owl like me, that means occasionally staying up until 2am. For the early birds, this could mean getting up at 5am, grabbing a drink, and watching the sunrise as you write. Whether it’s morning or night, these times are simply magical. Take advantage of them!
I’m personally in the middle of writing a novel and many of these have been go to times and places for me to brainstorm, outline, and write. I hope this little list of times to brainstorm was helpful and inspiring.