Brainstorming: Bad for the Craft

The genesis of ideas. It needs work. If you’ve found yourself infected with the virus of inspiration, then treat it, don’t diagram it, cube it, whatever. Parlor tricks, the whole lot of them. Take brainstorming, for example. You don’t need it. Brainstorming is an outlet unto itself, a fool’s errand, and a dying pit for the writer who has too many kitschy ideas, not enough product.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

Can you share some good brainstorming strategies for writers?

—Brianne McClellan, Fredericksburg, Va.

Brainstorming is for—cue Jabba the Hutt bellowing—weak-minded fools. Well, that could be the post right there, but I don’t believe in taking away without giving back. Writing All Wrong strives for environmental and critical sustainability.

Instead of brainstorming (which is a mindless, scattershot exercise in haphazardness, a poor way to tend the swirl of ideas, taking them from a mental state of uninterpretable incoherence to a written, physical state of uninterpretable incoherence), try these on for size:

1. Barnstorming

Buy a vintage aircraft and put on a show. Well, to translate the idiom, get the idea down and preserve its integrity. Like a relic aircraft, your idea takes maintenance. Don’t plop it on the paper. And once it’s there, don’t toy with squiggly lines and vapid maneuvers. Construct a repertoire, give your idea some moves, solid things you’ll be able to do with it when it comes time to write.

2. Brainbuilding

“Storms” do not imply creation, unless you consider a razing tornado creating modern, deconstructionist art out of an impoverished trailer park. Brainstorming “creates” things, but it creates randomness. Sure, jot down the brain dumps, but make sure those things harden at one point. As often as you can, make that idea flexible and coherent. Don’t settle for a word here or a word there—give your thoughts some muscle right out of the gate.

3. Creative Cartography

“But, but, but, that’s mind mapping! And that’s part of brainstorming, ha!” No, you’ve only confirmed yourself a dunce without much mind to map. Can you make a country, a world, of mind mapping? Not one I’d want to live in. Creative cartography lays out the surface of ideas, placing down roads, villages, peoples, capitals, and empty space. Don’t like hierarchy? Good. Go linear, make boundaries, lay something out that you can tie together. Borders change. Empires overwhelm others. Rivers dry up. Change the landscape of your story how you will, but there’s got to be a landscape to change.

4. Sketchbooking

You would think I hate sketches. I hate them when they suck, and when people make them public. It’s as much a stunt as swallowing a Goldfish™. But good sketchbooking is effective. Write a name atop a page. Give the character a soul. Words. Likes. Dislikes. Pencil in a place name. Give it a blurb. A GDP. Why you would vacation there. Where they hide the bodies. Write a premise. Throw in the people involved. The angles of approach. Why this matters.


If you have more “brainstorms” then written pieces, then you are doing this all wrong. Start doing it right. Write.

 Writing All Wrong can be reached via email ( and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong). He is a founding member of Brainstorm Preparedness Watch.

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