Tag Archives: brainstorming

Panning for Gold-Finding Your Best Ideas

Ideas are a dime a dozen for us creative types. Often they come in the most inopportune moments or lead us on bunny trails mid-scene. And yet, when we go to decide what happens in the next scene, we often find our brains zone in on the obvious or worse go blank.
Finding Your Best Ideas

Finding our best ideas for a scene is like panning for gold. We have to sift out the 90% that is just dirt and then analyze the last 10% to determine what is fool’s gold and what is real gold.

Being time crunched writers, we need to learn to do this as efficiently as possible. So here are some steps to help you through the process.

Decide what the purpose of the scene is.

You have to dip into the muck of the story problem. Does your main character needs to encounter the antagonist? Do they need to have their wound poked? Do they need to have a mirror moment where they look into their own soul?

Break up the dirt clods.

You have a purpose now you need to figure out what kind of situation the protagonist can be in to encounter that situation. This is usually the hardest part. Sometimes there is a logical next step in the story, other times anything can happen.

If you have a man who has just committed a crime and is on the run from the police where would he go? How would he get there? Would he steal a car and drive until he ran out of gas? Would he run to a friend’s house? Would he take off on foot and find some place to hole up?

If you know the purpose of the scene it makes it easier to break up all the potential ideas

Filter out the obvious idea stuff.

Sometimes you have a scene idea in your head because that’s the logical thing that must happen next. If your character is on a road trip and they need to encounter another character they are obviously going to have to stop somewhere and get out of the car. Most writers would have them stop at a motel, fast-food restaurant, or gas station, or maybe break down on the side of the road.

But that’s so obvious. That’s what the reader expects. So what is the NOT-so-obvious way for the protagonist to encounter the antagonist for the first time? Could they get a phone call? Pick up a hitchhiker? Hear the person on the radio? See them on a billboard on the side of the road?

Come up with 5-10 alternatives for your next scene.

You got some good ideas that could be potential gold.

At this point you should spend about 10 minutes just brainstorming the top ideas. What kind of billboard would the antagonist be on? What kind of radio song/program/commercial? If they’re a hitchhiker what would they look like? What would their story be? Why would your MC stop for them?

After you work out the ideas, pick the three most interesting.

Finding the gold.

In the end, you have to choose the best idea. You have to separate the fool’s gold from the real gold.  How?  Run it by a writing partner or another published author you know to get feedback on the uniqueness and quality. If you don’t have a supportive group of writers now is the time to find one. You don’t have to share your ideas with the world, but 2-3 trusted sound boards are essential.  Try and find people in your genre who have more experience than you do.

If you are still not ready to share the idea, then pick the most unique one. James Scott Bell says that often the last idea you came up with is the one that has the most potential.  Go with your gut. Which one really fulfills the purpose of the scene? Which one can carry some symbolism or foreshadows future events?

When you find your gold. Write a quick and dirty scene. The worst that can happen is you find fool’s gold.  Toss it and go back to your top three list and choose another.  The key is not to play it safe and predictable.  Real gold isn’t easy to find.

Any other advice you would give to someone looking for the golden ideas for a scene?

Jessica is a prayer warrior who loves to encourage and teach others how to create safe spaces for the hurting and lost. In 2014, she graduated from Western Governor’s University with a B.A. in Educational Studies and published her first book, Surviving the Stillness. She has written for several blogs and online magazines and is an admin and contributor for 10 Minute Novelists. She also created and manages their annual 365 Writing Challenge, which encourages writers to develop the habit of writing daily. You can learn more about her at her website, authorjessicawhite.wordpress.com or on Facebook.


How Champion Free Writers Combat The Blank Page

Facing the blank screen can be one of the most intimidating moments of being a writer. I have a sure fire way to conquer this moment: the free write.

A free write is a word spew, or word vomit if you don’t mind a graphic image.

A free write is also a brainstorm or stream of consciousness. It is the act of putting down a word — any word — and then another, another, and another. In a free write, you conquer the blank page by the simple act of just making it not blank. That effort can make a difference in your confidence and your momentum for the rest of your writing time.

I know that for me personally, I don’t have a lot of time to stare at a blank page.

So I write the most hackneyed, predictable sentence I can write about the characters or the main points for a full ten minutes. From there, I take a break to clear my head, but I have something to edit. I can save the tiny chunks of goodness, delete the rest, and start over. I find that by “priming the pump,” I’m more productive, more confident and more creative.

You must have something in your initial drafting stage. Aim for it to be as awful as possible.

I’d like to suggest that if you are going to be productive and successful,  that you aim to be a champion free writer.

How Champion Free Writers Combat The Blank Page

If you are a champion at this, you’ve locked your self-editor in the closet.

You don’t have room for him at all. The best freewriting is fast. So if you are stopping every six seconds to edit yourself, not only are you slowing down, but you’re slowly eroding away your confidence. There is a place for self-editing — and IMHO authors don’t do enough of it — but it is NOT in the initial drafting stage.

If you are a champion at this, you’re comfortable.

Free writers have to practice their momentum. They don’t just become good at this. If you’ve never tried it before, set a timer for 1-2 minutes and then see how many words you can get down in a short about of time about your subject.

If you are a champion at this, your brain gets a workout.

If you are a free writer, you have to think fast as well as type fast. Now not everyone is a fast thinker, but I believe that you can increase your processing speed with practice. And another option is to create this first draft by hand. Julia Cameron writes, “The computer is fast—too fast for our purposes. Writing by computer gets you speed but not depth. Writing by computer is like driving a car at 85 mph. Everything is a blur. “Oh, my God, was that my exit?” Writing by hand is like going 35 mph. “Oh, look, here comes my exit. And look, it has a Sonoco station and a convenience store.”

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If you are a champion at this, you may tap into your subconscious.

With practice, and especially if you are writing with a pen or pencil, your subconscious thoughts are more likely to come to the surface. From this article in Psychology Today, “Other research highlights the hand’s unique relationship with the brain when it comes to composing thoughts and ideas. Virginia Berninger, a professor at the University of Washington, reported her study of children in grades two, four and six that revealed they wrote more words, faster, and expressed more ideas when writing essays by hand versus with a keyboard.[4]

If you are a champion at this, you may pick up a pencil instead.

Handwriting is often an effective anti-anxiety treatment and can calm you down. It’s these thoughts that may be your best work, but it’s not going to come if you are to self-aware, worried about spelling or keep thinking that this is stupid. Consider ditching the computer for a while to get over that blank screen fear and free write the old-fashioned way.

If you are a champion at this, you may discover a great metaphor or connection.

While we are writing, we can often free associate unlike items and perhaps see connections that we didn’t see before. It’s also quite acceptable to take a tired and worn out cliche and rework it so that you have a fresh image in your mind. These metaphors can make your prose extraordinary.

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If you are a champion at this, your productivity increases.

If you are in the habit of free writing then you are working. You’re actually getting something done. Writers write. Those who sit around and wait for inspiration get a lot less done. By habitually free writing, you are growing in discipline. You’re creating more and more drafts. You have more to edit and potentially more to publish. This feels good and it’s a lot more fun to be published than it is to be constantly waiting for the elusive muse.

And finally, if you are a champion at this, when you do get that free write done, you have a draft.

You understand this big, stinkin’, pile of words isn’t supposed to be publishable. These words are just the raw material — a hunk of coal that will eventually be pressed into a diamond. And whether Hemingway actually said something to this effect or not, the concept is a true one: the first draft of anything is ca-ca. 

If you’re going to free write today, you’re going to open a document and just go.

You might put down what you’re thinking. You might type out what items are on your desk. If you are free writing, you are creating word after word, sentence after sentence, about nearly anything.

If you are in the habit of free writing, then you have a great tool. Use it as often as you can.

If you liked this article on free writing, you may also like,


Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

#Top10Tuesday Writing On The Go! A Guest Post by Jessica White

Writing On The Go

As we head into summer, many of us are going to get outdoors more, take vacations, and spend more time away from our desks and thus our computers.

But as writers this often proves problematic since we still have deadlines and our brains rarely shut off just because it isn’t convenient to write.

But have no fear, here are ten ways you can keep writing even when you are away from home.

1. These days, almost everyone has a cellphone.  We keep them within hands reach almost every waking hour. When writing on the go they are a great tool.  Standing in line with three carts in front of you at the grocery store?  Avoid those last minute impulse buys and pull out your cellphone and text yourself a few lines.  If you’re good at texting and have an idea you can write quite a bit in those few minutes.

2. If you have a smartphone then look for a great writing app. Some will turn your handwriting into text and others are actual text programs. Either way, they are good options for those moments when you are taking a 10 minute break or are waiting to pick your kids up and want to write.  Some you can even email back to yourself or will connect with programs like GoogleDocs so you can quickly put them back into your WIP.

3. Not great at texting, but still want to utilize your phone? Leave yourself a voicemail. Do you have a Bluetooth headset? Even better. Now you can think out loud while you take a hike, run errands, or just about any activity that isn’t in a loud atmosphere.  Yes you’ll have to listen to it later, but you’ll never forget the way you eloquently defined the theme or that tone you used in that bit of dialogue that made the character come to life.

4. Sometimes you just don’t have the time to write, but in the age of Instagram, you probably have the time to snap a picture.  Often we see something that inspires us while we are away from home.  Take a picture and if you have an extra moment send it to your email or FB or Instagram with a few words reminding you what you felt or thought when you first saw it. Maybe it is a way a woman sweeps her porch each morning or the way a waiter sets a cafe table you want to remember, if it is an action use the video feature.

5. Another option is to call a friend who can jot down ideas for you. I have a writing partner I call once a week. We bounce ideas off each other for about thirty minutes each.  While one of us talks the other one types the great ideas into an email and then we hit send.  This is a great option if you’re brainstorming as a second brain often helps you problem-solve on the fly.

No matter where you are or what you're doing, with a little creativity there is always a way to write on the go. Jessica White

6. If you are going on a trip or somewhere you can sit a while a tablet may be a better option. The onboard keyboard is bigger so you can have less finger fumbles.  There are also more app options for Ipad and other tablets.  You can even use the Kindle Fire and go back and forth between reading on your vacation and writing.

7. If you want to have a quiet vacation with no technology, or you just don’t want the temptation of being able to do other things, get a digital recorder. They’re cheap, and you can play it back as many times as you want without tying up your phone line.

8. Nothing beats having a pen handy and a good writing notebook.  They’re cheap, you never have to worry about running out of battery and they are unobtrusive to those around you.  A notebook is the best option if you’re going to be out in full sun where a screen is impossible to see or if you are going off-grid hiking, camping, etc.  There are down points too, they can get ruined by water and it is easy to sit them down and forget them, but for $2 you can replace them.

9. You know the best ideas come when absolutely nothing is available. This is why I always keep a pen in my pocket.  You can write those ideas on any scrap of paper or even the palm of your hand (I’ve been that desperate).  Don’t believe me?  Look around you right now.  Can you find something to write on? A napkin? The back of a receipt? A lunch bag?  Make sure to invest in a good pen though.  One that will write even on a vertical surface and also one that doesn’t bleed if it gets wet.  A good pack of 5 pens is still not more than $10 so for under $2 you’ll have the assurance of being able to get any idea down somewhere.

10. Okay so there is one place this idea might not work-the shower. Don’t worry, even there you can jot your ideas down. If you’re a mom, then it might be the best place to have 2-3 minutes to get your great ideas out of your head uninterrupted.  Invest in a shower notepad.  Aquanotes has one that is similar to parchment paper.  You can scribble down your ideas and take them with you.

No matter where you are or what you’re doing, with a little creativity there is always a way to write on the go.

Jessica White
Jessica White

Jessica White is an admin for the 10 Minute Novelists Facebook group. Her book Surviving the Stillness came out last year. She blogs at https://authorjessicawhite.wordpress.com She lives with her family in the Dallas, Texas metro area.