brainstorm a bookThe Goal

The brainstorming process helps to flesh out ideas about your main topic or story idea. The ideas generated will serve as the chapter headings, subheadings, and topics within each chapter. The initial goal is not organization or a perfect storyline. Write as many ideas as possible without regard to whether is it good or bad, perfectly relevant or superfluous. Include individual thoughts, stories, quotes, or facts even if you don’t have the exact words or numbers. Use one, two, or all of the brainstorming techniques to find the one that yields the best results. The examples here focus on non-fiction topics, but they can also be used, in a general sense, for fiction. Although you can use a computer to brainstorm, science has shown that physically writing thoughts down activates your brain in a different way.

The Tools

  • Large poster or easel paper
  • Paper cut into fourths or sixths
  • Index cards
  • Post-Its
  • Colored paper
  • Colored markers
  • Photographs
  • Drawings
  • Figurines or other 3D objects to inspire creative thought

The setting

  • A large table or floor to spread out
  • Mood music can be helpful for some people
  • Light a candle or simmer something on the stove to ignite your sense of smell
  • Comfortable clothes or clothes that make you feel the part
  • Good lighting
  • Free from distraction

The mindset

  • All ideas are valid
  • Quantity over quality (at this point)
  • Don’t edit yourself
  • Think outside the box
  • Come at it from a variety of angles or points of view


Give yourself at least 60 minutes of uninterrupted time to brainstorm. You may need more or less time or need a break in between. Allow yourself time to get out the bad ideas in order to go deeper to find the really good ones. They are there beyond the surface. Keep writing until they emerge.

Post-It Brainstorming

Write words, phrases, stories, or anything that comes to mind on individual Post-It notes and secure them to the wall (or table) in random order to start. For 20 minutes, keep adding as many thoughts as come to mind about your subject, no matter how ridiculous. After you finish, group like notes together. Set aside any notes that don’t belong. Spend 20 more minutes adding notes to groups. Organize groups in a logical order along the wall or table. You can also use cut-up pieces of paper or index cards for this exercise.

Story web

Start with a large piece of paper (poster-sized) and write your main subject in the center. Put a circle around it. Around the main subject, write topics related to it. Draw a circle around each of the topics with a line connecting the each topic to the main subject. For example, if the subject is vegetable gardening, topics could be tomatoes, zucchini, broccoli, etc. Around each topic, include subtopics like soil, water, harvesting, and recipes.

Brainstorm with Questions

Write twenty questions that a reader might want to know about your subject on individual index cards. Place the cards on a table or floor and organize them horizontally in a logical order. For each of the questions, write three additional questions on individual index cards and place them vertically under each question. On the back of each of the three questions, write three keywords to describe the question. If you’re writing a book as a marketing tool for your business, you might use customers’ frequently asked questions.


If you think best in pictures, use a storyboard to brainstorm your book. A storyboard is a scene or concept in your book. If your book is a travelogue or memoir, a combination of photographs and drawings may be an excellent way to organize your thoughts. Lay out the photos horizontally in a logical order. Use a combination of additional photographs, drawings or words, phrases, and thoughts about each photo and place them vertically under each photo to describe the scene or feeling.


If your book includes a chronology, a timeline can help you brainstorm and organize your thoughts differently. Use banner paper or tape regular sheets of paper together. Create a timeline for the period of time in your book. Mark off important dates along the line. Under each significant date, write the event and five key points about the event.


Similar to the Post-It method, the scattershot method allows the ultimate freedom to write whatever random thoughts about your subject come to mind. Use large or regular-sized paper with colored markers and write as many things as come to mind in 20 minutes. Take a walk or a shower then return for another 20 minutes. Repeat this exercise until all of the thoughts are out on paper. Rewrite individual words, stories, quotes, or facts on index cards or something similar setting aside those that are less relevant.

Not sure what to put in your #book? Try these 6 brainstorming tips to make #writing easier. Click To Tweet

Some final tips

No matter the brainstorming technique you choose, take a picture of the final result to guard against a stiff breeze or a five-year-old Tazmanian devil. If you organized your thoughts in order, number the papers and paperclip groups of thoughts together. Each group of cards, Post-Its or groups on a story web translate into a chapter in your book. Use this information to create an outline to give shape to your book. You’ve got a great start!

Do you love your apps? Try these online tools to help organize your thoughts. From the makers of Scrivener

Find more brainstorming ideas here.

Which other brainstorming techniques have worked for you? Share your successes with these and other brainstorming activities.

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