Monday, December 13, 2010

BookMac # 5


Brainstorming can save a lot of time when we're first starting out with a new story idea. But the thing I most want to share with you is the writing tool I use more than anything else. In business they call it Hot Pen, and they used it to unblock their minds and approach problems in an unconventional way, or--forgive me for the overused and worn out cliché--to think outside the box. We can use this tool in writing to open up new thoughts, twists and turns, and options that we might not think of at first blush. These are the subjects of BookMarc #5


Sometimes it’s hard to figure out in what order these items should be taken up. Should I talk about outlines and blocking stories before brainstorming? Should I talk about brainstorming before craft? These are some of the same questions you’ll face in trying to figure out the order of scenes in your story. For me I choose to bring up brainstorming now. For now. Just remember, folks, what we said about outlines--they're not Moses tablets so don't treat them as such.

My friend Marcy Heidish--A Woman Called Moses, Deadline--told me how in brainstorming with a buddy, batting things around for a story idea she had, one of them took up a snifter full of marbles and emptied them on the floor where they bounced and rolled and scattered. If you read her book, The Torching, you’ll come across this snifter of marbles in the guise of eyeballs cut out of cadavers. A chilling thought for late at night.

I’ve tried to encourage this kind of brainstorming with writing friends of mine, but I’ve not been too successful. First of all, everything has to be onboard. Nothing can be ridiculed as stupid or silly. That’s part of the reasoning for bringing it up, to bounce wild and crazy ideas around to see what jells into a corpse pressed down into headcheese. But a lot of writers hold protectively to their story ideas. There is also a strong feeling that if they talk the story out they'll never write it out. I'm not so sure they're wrong.

The idea of brainstorming is a bit like that of writing an outline. First it’s to clarify the story in our mind. Then to bring about some order in the way we’re going to tell the story. Finally, to consider, hold, or reject some ideas in the planning stage without waiting till half the book is written before we’ve found our idea ain’t gonna work.

The problem is in finding someone you can trust, one w/o a hidden agenda, who will bounce alternatives back and forth w/o dumping on the overall project as worthless. An embryo idea that might sprout into a masterpiece is vulnerable as a seedling. The mustard seed needs to be nurtured for it to become the biggest of all trees.

I belong to a writers group, and I've brainstormed with them on a few occasions, once when my publisher wanted an outline in three days. I told them my ideas and within twenty minutes they had shot down everything I had planned, but they had left me with a new ideas and the nut I needed to write Tip A Canoe.

Also, living out in the boonies, I often brainstorm with myself. After all, I’m a nice guy, trustworthy, brave, clean, and reverent. And I am the recipient of the national humble award.

I joke, but I'm about to tell you of the tool I use more than anything else in writing. I use it for everything, outlines, new chapters, changes in plots, building characters, whenever I get stuck or blocked. Everything.

I got the idea from Dr. Elizabeth Neal’s book, Yes, You Can Write. She calls it looping, but it's also used in business conferences where they call it Hot Pen. I call it brainstorming with myself.

We need a timer, one that will ring or ping. This is essential to keep us from worrying about the clock. Set the timer for five minutes. Then we write like hell, never stopping to correct anything, whatever pops into our mind, even if it’s only, "This ain't working, Clyde." We probably want to have a jumpstart reason why we are doing this--how can I kill the grape-colored Barney w/o getting caught. Anyway, after the five minute timer goes off, we take a moment to write a sentence with the main idea to come out of the session. Now we reset the five minute timer and go at it again, adding another idea statement. Then do it a third and final time.

I should tell you that this is an acquired taste. Like drinking coffee. The first few times I didn’t get much in the way of results. And there was the thought I was wasting fifteen minutes of valuable writing time. But I kept at it and now it is the most valuable tool I use, coming up with all sorts of twists and turns--ideas that had not bloomed at first blush, and most will not pop up till the third five minutes so don't cut it short.

Then there is one final step that I initiated. I list all of my ideas one by one in bullet form. This is important because our mind is still in brainstorming mode and will pop up some new thoughts as we go along.

You probably won't use this tool. I tell it to a lot of people, recommended they try it for a week. Those who grudgingly agree usually come back to me saying it opened up a whole new set of options for them. I urge you to try it. And let me hear how you make out. I need feedback on things I recommend. Maybe it only works for guys who are nice, trustworthy, brave, clean, and reverent.

Next time, BookMarc #6, we'll take up composing.

And remember: It's always better to light a candle in your mind by reading Easy Reading Writing than to curse the darkness of rejections. To check out the first two chapters with an easy order link to B&N, simply click on:

Peter E. Abresch - BookMarc© February 13, 1998.
Author of The Faltese Malcom, Capitol Coven, If They Ask for a Hand at: and the James P. Dandy Elderhostel mysteries at:

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