Regardless of whether I’m gearing up to take down Christmas decorations, clean out my closet, or write, it always seems like getting started is a battle that I only win about half of the time. And I’m not alone; renowned authors Ernest Hemingway and Stephen King both allegedly feared the blank page staring back at them!
To move beyond fear, I’ve developed a simple strategy that works for me; it’s called Storming the Brain.
But before I cover what Storming the Brain looks like and involves, I want to debunk one commonly held myth: Storming the Brain is NOT Brainstorming.
According to my students’ ENGL 101T: Composition textbook, brainstorming involves a variety of (in my view) overly-complicated exercises and techniques to determine a subject or topic and then develop examples and details that further explain or support that idea. Whether a student brainstorms by freewriting (following the mind by writing down whatever thoughts or ideas arise) or cluster-mapping (creating a visual web of related ideas), the textbook authors promise that engaging in such strategies “will get your creative juices flowing again” (Wyrick 8). And while they may do that, these classic techniques haven’t resulted in much success for me personally.
So what’s the difference between brainstorming and Storming the Brain, which is my approach? Basically, it involves input and output. While brainstorming is focused on outputs – what is generated as a result of engaging in a brainstorming activity – Storming the Brain is all about inputs – ideas that enter the brain in order to elicit a response.
At its most basic level, Storming the Brain involves targeted consumption of inspiring material. What’s inspiring to me may certainly differ from what you find encouraging, but over the years, I’ve found that simply directing my brain towards content that I find inspirational or encouraging or capable of provoking critical thought or emotional responses typically results in just that: a critical thought or emotional response that I then can process, as a storyteller, through words.
Here’s a selection of content that I find inspirational or encouraging:
- Reading or hearing the words of other women, including blog posts (I love following Design Mom and Kelle Hampton!), Instagram Stories (Nancy Ray + Glennon Doyle fill my bucket), podcasts (Young House Love Has a Podcast!), articles (I find fascinating, current, quick-dip or deep-dive reads on all topics on Medium), and memoirs/faith-based books (on my physical or audio bookshelf right now: Rachel Hollis, Kelly Corrigan, Annie F. Downs, Brene Brown, Shauna Niequist, and Alison Green). A must-follow for business, marketing + overall daily encouragement: @jennakutcher on Instagram
- Listening to music that has meaningful lyrics…or no lyrics at all. While I love my 90s hip-hop and pop jams, there’s nothing quite like losing myself in the musical talents of lyrics that aren’t about rumps or ditching guitar riffs in favor of violin licks. Check out my Show Up & Write the Words Playlist on Spotify by clicking here! A few must-listens for you (that are also on this playlist): Joseph, Lindsey Stirling, Joy Williams, Wakey!Wakey!, The Head + The Heart
- Asking my kiddos what they’ve always wondered about. Just this week, my four-year-old son Quincy asked me, “What if snuggling with me made your heart grow 18 sizes bigger and snuggling with Lionel only made your heart grow 17 sizes bigger?” Oh, the stories that I could write based on his curious questions! Another solid strategy to get you thinking like a child, which is also a game that we play as a family each night at the dinner table: “Would you rather…?” I’m never more ready to write than when I embrace my inner curious kiddo.
- Poaching your family members for story ideas. I once asked my parents and my brother, “What’s the most iconic family story that happened while we were kids?” As their answers poured in, I was simultaneously laughing and dying of embarrassment. A classic topic that 100% of the time yields a story that’s entertaining to read: moments of sibling rivalry. Tell those stories!
- When in doubt, watch something that’s sure to inspire the writer living inside of you to wake the heck up and WRITE already. For me, that includes episodes of Parenthood and Friends, the Father of the Bride movies, Something’s Gotta Give, and the iconic classic of the 1990s, You’ve Got Mail. Hint: A few tunes from these binge-worthy titles are also on my Spotify playlist in no. 2 above!
Wyrick, Jean. Steps to Writing Well with Additional Readings with MindTap, Cengage, 2017.