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Too many of us somewhere in our upbringing developed a nasty habit of judging/dismissing thoughts the very instant we get them. You see this every time you have a thought, and even before you fully recognize it, your reaction is: "Oh, that's stupid!" And you reject it even before you consider it fully.

Not doing the above, you will discover that you generate more options, making you more productive, more creative. This is a wonderful surprise for all writers.

Not too long after you begin writing fiction, you start to discover that you need to generate lots of ideas and the incredible demand for you to make decisions, thousands of them. You don't need to worry. This is because the brain seems to get more efficient the more you ask of it. That is unless you continue with this habit of judging ideas on the way to or before jotting them down. It doesn't encourage free thinking. It filters our thoughts by accepting only perfect and brilliant ideas. And our priority seems to be how quickly we can come up with an acceptable idea or decision rather than the best possible one. This is a habit we developed in school and in business to look for the first round peg that fits the hole we need to fill.

We are too often motivated by speed. We dismiss everything to pursue easy/fast ideas instead of the better ones that would take a bit more time to identify. And we don't push ourselves to step over incomplete, out of order, sometimes stereotypical ones, just to come up with good ideas fast. In fiction, fast is not important. Good is. But good comes from considering many options, ideas, and notions.

We insist on operating on a completely unwarranted assumption that how fast we come up with an answer/decision is essential, maybe in the business world but not the novelist's world. For the fiction writer, we shoot for the best choice, not how quickly we do so. Most of you are already seeing how hard a habit this is to break.

Trust these bits and pieces that land on the conscious side of your brain. The vast majority of them are very useful. And even the stereotypical, the trite, the dog-eared, and the partially-formed thoughts have a function—more on this below.

Make no mistake, we pride ourselves on how quickly we can come up with something that works. We jump on the first useful idea or answer that seems to fit. What's the result of that as fiction writers? We end up stringing together stereotypes, well-worn phrases, and predictable behaviors. And no matter how long we write fiction, almost all of us have to force ourselves to slow down and consider options broadly.

What's the solution? Brainstorming. Whenever we have a decision to make, whether it is naming a character, choosing a bit of dialogue, deciding what action a character would take in the moment, or any number of other things you will have to decide on in your novel, brainstorming is the tool.

If you want your writing to be fresh, brainstorm all the options you have time to consider. But do take your time.

Okay, how do I do what? It's very simple, but it takes a little pushing. Suppose you're trying to decide how character A murders character B. Or, you are trying to narrow down or explore the possible options for an antagonist.

Simply take out a piece of paper and start jotting down every idea that comes to mind. Don't dismiss anything. Don't prejudge. Don't hesitate. Don't weigh. Don't compare. Don't filter. Don't sort it out. Just to write everything down until you have run out of options. Then set the list aside. Go on to do something else.

Now, this is the critical part. This is that extra effort that really pays off: Later, or better yet, the next day, try to squeeze out a few more options and add them to your list. You'll discover that once you started the conscious process of coming up with a list of options, it continued to percolate in your subconscious while you were not actually jotting down options. When you have completely exhausted your second try at new ideas, then look them over. Here's what you'll discover:

— There things on the list that are really dog-eared or stereotypical.

— There are things on the list that, for a wide variety of practical reasons related to the story, you can't use.


— Scratch out the entries that fill the two descriptions above.

— Next, take a good long look at what remains on the list. You may notice that partial or incomplete ideas are completed when paired up with some other entry. This is why you don't want to dismiss incomplete or partial ideas/options. They may not make sense in bits and pieces, but when combined, they are terrific.

— Keep whittling down the ideas that still remain and appeal to you.

— Eventually, you will boil it down to one, two, or three really killer ideas.

— Then, your next step is to decide which remaining ideas you'd like to put in your draft first. You may later choose to use the second or third choice. But what you will notice most is the heightened sense of confidence you have in the selections you made going through the process above.

— You will also notice that your choices from this more complete list will almost always not be the first options/ideas that came to mind.

Yes, this is a lot of work. No, this isn't what you thought fiction writing was going to be — sitting down and expecting perfect decisions to flow from your fingertips without deep consideration from your muse. If you want new fresh, compelling stories and want to cast fascinating characters, this process will get the best out of you. This deliberate process will give you the most and the best you are capable of producing. But you have to stop writing long enough to brainstorm to find your best options/choices.