Here are some brainstorming activities and techniques we find to be effective especially when we’re stuck or hesitant to start a project:
Writing Down Ideas:
Writing down all your ideas in one place to compare and contrast them is a good idea. If you have a collection of notes on your topic, read over them and pick out the pieces of information that stand out most to you, then rewrite them on a new sheet of paper so you have a grasp of what is most interesting to you.
Force someone who isn’t interested in your topic (or, better yet, someone who is, if you can find one) to listen to all your ideas. This is a good way to figure out which of your many leads you may want to follow because you will likely naturally blab the most about the one you have most evidence on and passion about. Also, if the person you talk to is in the same class you can help each other with ideas.
Following an Idea:
Try following your first idea to its conclusion. Force it when it seems like a stretch. You will probably not end up using it if it turns out to be imperfect, but it will still break the ice, build your confidence on your topic, provide a possible fallback, or show you where you can’t go.
Depending on the topic of the writing assignment, research may be a useful way to brainstorm. If you are asked to write about a literary novel, learning about the context in which it was written may provide valuable insight to your analysis. Also, understanding why the author wrote certain ideas or arguments into their text may sway you in one direction or the other if you are writing a persuasive essay. For an essay on a broader topic, find current news events that you can relate to your analysis or use to strengthen your position in an argument.
Even if you think you have run out of ideas, keep writing. It does not disadvantage you at all, even if you think your thoughts are not coherent or even related. Write when you are tired. Write when you are bored. Write when you think you have nothing left to say. When you come back to your paper later, you may find that you actually have written from a perspective that you would not normally have.
You may perceive drawing to be an act that should be relegated to your much younger years, but it is still very relevant today. As a writer, writing down important words or ideas on paper can be extremely helpful. Visualizing your thoughts gives them agency that is more concrete than when they remain in your head. Being able to physically see the random words and concepts you associate with your paper’s topic helps you efficiently organize your paper. You can move ideas around and test how they fit together; in connecting these ideas, you may find relationships between thoughts that had originally seemed completely unrelated.
Many people tend to take an inductive approach in beginning an assignment by gathering the evidence they want to use and then creating a hypothesis that covers all of the points this information supports. Using a deductive approach instead may lead to new and exciting discoveries; try formulating a hypothesis first and then dig around for textual evidence that supports what you want to say. Rather than allowing a handful of quotes to guide your writing, force the text to align with what you want to say.