Brainstorming is one of the most important things a writer does for their writing. This is where real writer multitasking comes in. A brainstorming writer doesn’t always look like they’re brainstorming. Of course, all writers spend time sitting at their desks contemplating their writing. Sometimes, though, writers are actually brainstorming while doing other things.
The thing is, a writer’s mind is always running. The only times it doesn’t (consistently) give us story ideas is when we’re sleeping, though I have known myself and other writers to have vivid dreams they’ve incorporated into stories. Generally speaking, most of our waking time is taken up not only with getting errands done, working, and attending to household chores, but also working on our writing.
What makes this possible is the versatility of the human mind, and, in particular, the creative mind. The Creative Mind is always watching, always picking things up, always thinking back behind the writer’s conscious thoughts. In fact, I imagine it’s the same for pretty much any creative person.
Writers absorb all kinds of information from real life. We read for further input. In fact, the more input we have, the better our ideas are. We may not execute them in our writing all that well, particularly when we’re beginners, but by taking in everything we possibly can, we do learn.
All this goes into our brainstorming. I think most, if not all, writers have a habit of verbally/textually (if online) brainstorming things. It’s something I’ve always done, and nearly all my writer friends I’ve come across do the same thing to some extent. Some do best in a directed situation, where they have to explain everything up to the point where they’re stuck, others, like me, are more free-flow with our brainstorming. I also know some writers who brainstorm by typing things out in private notes no one else sees (I do this too), who use timelines and guided brainstorming techniques like the snowflake method. In fact, a lot of writers use a variety of methods for making progress on their writing and worldbuilding.
Frequently, a writer, to an outsider who is a nonwriter, may appear to be doing nothing. We writers blithely announce we’re going to go work on our writing, but when the nonwriter peeks in on us, we don’t appear to be busy. We’re not typing, we’re not reading. We’re sitting or pacing, possibly muttering to ourselves. This is when we’re brainstorming.
Back when I first started working, I deliberately chose manufacturing jobs for a number of reasons, the most important of which to me was the fact that I thought I’d have plenty of time to brainstorm. I was right. Jobs like dish washing in restaurants are another good job for brainstorming. Pretty much any task that doesn’t take a lot of brain power to complete is a good real-world job for writers who want to brainstorm on the job. I’ve even folded, labeled, and repackaged clothing and worked in a book bindery/printers and found plenty of time and opportunity to brainstorm. I’m sure there are many more other such jobs out there.
Of course, not all writers can or are able or willing to go to that extreme. It’s not absolutely necessary, either. I’ve also had jobs where I’ve been at a desk all day, working with people, or taking surveys on the phone and been able to get ideas. It’s just a little different, and I have to be mindful of what I’m doing in the real world so I don’t lose track of things, which isn’t difficult. And there are writers who thrive on such jobs, who come home after a long day at a white-collar job and sit down to jot down all the ideas they got while at work. Every writer is different, and a writer’s needs are different at different times.
The important thing is for the writer to get some brainstorming in, whether they take time out of their day to focus on it somehow, or do it best with distraction of their conscious mind at work. The writer who doesn’t brainstorm doesn’t make much progress on their writing, and anyone who cares about their writing will ensure they do at least a little as frequently as they can, no matter when.