Tracing the Edges of Clouds: Brainstorming Methods

The tail end of a bumpy cloud passes over Mount Baker as I drive into town and I think I see the shape of a dragon. The cloud moves, shifts, changes, and becomes something else by the time I wait for the light to change. This process—of watching shapes change in clouds—of distinguishing features and lines that seem unrelated to one another—is much like the process I use for brainstorming almost any kind of writing I do. I find the edges of things—of almost anything around me—and I discover a way to relate them to the topic at hand. Traditional forms of brainstorming a topic then, never really worked for me—except for “freewriting” or making lists. Sometimes those methods of brainstorming help me along. However, methods like cubing, clustering/mapping, or using charts or diagrams just seem to lead me to dead ends. If you find that you’re having trouble with traditional forms of brainstorming, you might try some of the following methods:

1) Looking at photographs you’ve posted to Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, or other forms of social media. You could describe these photos systematically in detail—from left to right or from top to bottom or center out. To get the creativity flowing, you might even give yourself a few minutes to come up with “serious” or “funny” captions for each photograph. Then, you could ask yourself, “How might this image or picture apply to my topic?” Answering this question could lead to a list of steps or approaches you might take to move from the description into your topic.

2) Play a board game like Catch Phrase or Pictionary. Sometimes word and board games can lead to interesting ideas and word choices for a topic or for an introduction.

3) Each day, create a list of headlines or stories from the news that catch your attention. In this way, you have several topics on hand if you ever need to come up with an idea for an essay or a project. You could write these ideas down in a “thought diary” and keep them in a notebook or in a file on your computer so that you can access them readily.

4) Take walks through nature or through your neighborhood and ask yourself, “How does what I see relate to my topic?” Or, you could listen to conversations around you and try to write them down. Sometimes, beginning an essay with an interesting piece of dialogue or conversation can catch your readers’ attention and help them anticipate the thesis statement or topic you will present.

5) Draw. If you enjoy drawing or painting, you might try sketching out your topic. Asking the question, “What would this problem or idea look like as a sketch or drawing?” could lead to interesting angles or ideas others might not have thought of before.

When using any of the methods outlined above, you could still follow the “standard rules” for brainstorming: Don’t dismiss any idea that pops into your mind because it may be useful. Upon further reflection, you might catch the edge of a cloud, which could lead to a new discovery.



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