Have you ever sat down with nothing but a blank screen, an idea and the intention of writing a stellar article? That’s precisely what I just did. Guess what? I’ve drawn a blank. Sometimes we get ahead of ourselves when it comes to the process of writing. With a quick approaching deadline, it’s tempting to sit down with a topic in mind and attempt to fill the page with the minimum word count. The outcome is usually underdeveloped, non-directional and downright confusing to your reader. The brainstorming process will encourage organized thoughts with a purpose and in turn will make writing a breeze.
Step One: Purge Your Brain
I approach brainstorming like assembling a puzzle: I dump all of the pieces out onto the table. The first stage of my process involves grabbing a pen and paper and writing down anything and everything that comes to mind when I think of a topic. This clears my head of those original clouds that cause distractions. Knowing that I’ve got my ideas on paper restores my focus so I’m not bouncing around from idea to idea. I always begin with a list:
As you can see, my list is general in nature. Don’t worry about the nitty-gritty details at this point or impose restrictions on your thoughts, it will only exhaust your mind. Save the sorting for later. Making a list forces you to condense your thoughts and get as many ideas as possible without narrowing them down. This is also a great way to begin a group brainstorm because you’ll get a feel for how well people understand the concept. If you’re getting completely off-the-wall ideas – in a bad way – consider presenting the topic in a different light or calling in new participants. This list took me less than three minutes, but it’s worth the time investment even if it takes you a bit longer.
Step Two: Research
Adding facts and depth to your writing is imperative and will depend heavily on your research. There are plenty of resources out there and no excuses for under-researched posts. Scour the Internet and seek out people in the know. A few of my favorite sources include coworkers, social networks and news sites. You are looking for trending information, as well as interesting facts related to your topic. Pay attention and make sure that you are picking up on trends and checking the facts. Remember to take notes. You aren’t going to recall all of the information you are collecting if you don’t record it.
Step Three: Organize
After completing the research stage, it’s time to organize the clutter. There are a number of ways to do so, and it’s all about finding what works for you. Mind mapping is my favorite. It creates a more visually meaningful arrangement of your ideas. Mapping translates the language you probably already use to describe “the heart of the matter” or “the central problem” into a visual system that highlights new relationships among ideas. Grab your notes and see if you notice any evolving trends.
Step Four: Rest
If you struggle with any of these steps, take a break. Sometimes when I’m brainstorming, I hit a wall and need to rejuvenate my mind. A good way to regain focus is to walk away and return to it later. Sometimes just taking a five-minute break can make a difference in your thought process. Try some of my techniques:
- Take a walk: Get up from your desk and get some fresh air. Go by yourself or with a group of coworkers.
- Eat a snack: You lose focus when you’re hungry. Grab a snack and get those neurotransmitters firing again.
- Do something you enjoy: I like to stop everything and listen to my favorite music. It helps me relax until I’m ready to get back to work.
CAUTION: If you are on a roll, you may want to avoid taking a break. The opposite can occur and you may end up losing your train of thought instead of getting a burst of inspiration.
Step 5: Write Your Article
Now that you’ve gathered and organized your information, begin your article. You’ll find the process much easier than when you started. Keep your brainstorming material nearby so you can reference it as you write. Remember to edit and edit again.
Why Ideation is Important
Brainstorming is important because it helps generate, develop, and communicate new ideas. Our goal is to create unique content that is on trend with what the world is talking about. Taking the time to develop your thoughts will have a big a payoff. You will make better use of your time and produce higher quality content that you and your company can be proud of. People will tune in.
So the next time you sit down to a blank screen, think of these five steps. Focus your thoughts thorough purging, research, and get organized. Even better: create your own process so that it’s tailored to what works best for you.
Deadlines are knocking at your door, you’d better get brainstorming!