How to Brainstorm Your Novel into Existence

Come fall, those of us with woodstoves begin gathering our winter fuel. For us who cut our own wood that means days under the glowing maples with the crunch of leaves beneath our feet, the whine of the chainsaw echoing across the hills.

It is also a time for writers to fuel up for the upcoming National Writing Month in November. And the earlier we start the better.

But what is the fuel that provides us the energy to write? Here are three:


Motivation is the inner fire that causes us to dream of our finished novel. We think about how good it will feel to have a real book in our hands—to have others enjoy reading it. Motivation is seeing our end goal and being willing to do anything to get there.

Learn more about ways to motivate yourself and find your creative flow here.


A writer’s energy comes from feeling healthy and strong and positive. Writing is not easy. It means hours sitting in front of a computer or holding a pen tightly in the hand. It means being able to focus and think clearly.

Learn more about ways to develop your ability to focus here.


But all the motivation and energy in the world will not produce a finished novel. We first need ideas. Ideas about plot, about characters, and about the story we want to tell. There are many ways to fuel your imagination. Here are seven that I use.

Focused Brainstorming

Mind Mapping Your Story Ideas


Brainstorming Cards

Word Storms

Goal Motivation Conflict

Character Interviews

In this blog post, I am going to talk about focused brainstorming. In my upcoming posts, I will be covering the rest.

Focused Brainstorming

Brainstorming is one of the first tools to use when planning a novel. It is easy to get into the creative flow when there are no limits placed on what you can think. Here are my brainstorming steps.

STEP 1 Write the core of your story idea on a piece of paper. Your story core could be a character you want to write about, or an event or a place or an idea you have gotten from a news report about a crime or any other tantalizing bit of information you wish to build your novel around. This is your brainstorming focus.

STEP 2 Now write as many words and ideas related to that story core as you can think of. Be wild. Be free. Keep writing or typing until you feel totally drained of ideas. Put the result away for a day or two. If during that time you think of things to add, go right ahead.

Step 3 When you are ready, your brain well-rested, take out your ideas and read through them.

Step 4 The next step is to categorize these ideas. I usually use plot, character, setting, theme, and emotions as my headings. But feel free to expand these as needed.

Step 5 Using a separate sheet of paper for each category, write or copy in the ideas you already have.

STEP 6 Next, for each category, brainstorm further until you a strong core of ideas for your novel.

STEP 7 Finally, on each resulting category list, circle or highlight those ideas that particularly resonate or that feel important.

You now have a rich resource on which to build your novel and to which you can return any time during the drafting process to mine for inspiration and rekindle your imagination.

You also have a foundation for the next step in fueling your writing—Mind Mapping. My next topic.

Have you used focused brainstorming when planning your novel?

Any tips to share?

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