I write, write, and write again.

For me, brainstorming is a recursive process. I always begin with a list, but the list needs to evolve and grow, each point increasing in size and depth, before I am ready to draft. Essentially, it’s a list mutation…bullet points on steroids if you will.

I start by writing the main point or concept at the top of the page. My initial list is all the ideas, even fragments of ideas, that I can think of pertaining to my main point. When this is complete, I go back to the first point and expand it, usually from a phrase to an actual sentence or two. I repeat this for all the points on the list. I then go back to the first point AGAIN and expand further, creating a small paragraph for the first initial bullet point. Once all my bullet points have transformed into bullet paragraphs, I’m about halfway done with brainstorming.

This is when things tend to get a bit crazy. I now have anywhere between 3-8 pages of handwritten notes, depending on the task, but I’m only halfway done. At this point I plead with myself: “Will I ever start writing?? Just get on with it!” But I know I can’t. I need to see the full trajectory of my ideas (or as close as possible) before I write the first sentence of my intro.

This is an idea of what it looks like:

photo 1


photo 2


photo 3


photo 5

I continuously go over each point, adding layer upon layer of thought, revision, clarification, even elimination. I collect quotes, passages, and ideas from my texts, responding to them and pairing them up with my notes until I have a thorough understanding of the shape and scope of my project. This may seem excessive, but the bigger and more complex the task is, the more prepared I need to be before I actually “begin.”

Having copious notes also helps when I feel stuck during the writing process because I already have a pool of ideas to choose from at any time. I can skip ahead to later sections, or remind myself where I was going with an idea.

Because this is an essential part of my process, I am not a “fast” writer. My process is a long one, and though it is frustrating and tedious at times, it is my process. I’ve tried webbing and doing formal outlines, but I just end up regressing into this process without intending to. I write, write, and write again until it’s due. The major downside to this? My hand hurts.

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  • Vanessa says:

    Wow! I’m impressed and jealous of your brainstorming strategy! I like that it’s not a formal outline, and I also love the idea of going back to your initial list and expanding it more and more. How much of these notes make it into your final papers? Do you end up trying to pick one, or do you pick out multiple that relate to each other (or does it just vary from paper to paper)?
    I want to use this strategy with brainstorming writers in the CWE. They could write one sentence for each idea they have, and then have to go back and elaborate (and repeat). I think this would generate more specific ideas, narrow topics, and/or help with choosing a topic. Awesome!

  • Nicole Wittenburg says:

    Yeah I definitely think we can use it here! Something like this emphasizes that writing is process and the first thing on the page is not the end-all-be all!


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