I’m always looking for ways to help improve my writing, either in the technical aspects, or in prep, or post-writing. Over the years, especially since getting back into fantasy in December of 2012, I’ve tried a variety of new writing techniques. Some have had better success than others.
One of those techniques was trying to brainstorm “privately.” A lot of my brainstorming happens in “public,” in chat rooms and in IM conversations with friends. While this is useful and helpful, there are certain aspects of the stories I need to work out on my own, and these usually take quite a while to sort themselves out—it’s not a great deal of the reason why it takes me so long to finish projects, but it can become a major stumbling block, particularly when it causes me to stall out mid-wip. And this happens whether or not I’ve got plot cards on the story.
So, I’ve tried a couple different methods of brainstorming. The first was simply randomly throwing plot points to stories in a file in Scrivener. When in the flow, I can go from typing to highlighting related plot points (which can be extremely useful for my mysteries). Unfortunately, this format is extremely troubling to me; it causes my anxiety to surface, often to the point where I simply cannot deal with the mess of text, even if its highlighted or otherwise color-coded.
But that was in a text-based file. At about the time I realized that I couldn’t function well with a wall of text in a computer file, the makers of Scrivener came out with a brainstorming/outlining software called Scapple. So I gave this a try.
My first projects in Scapple were total messes. Everything looks random, there’s no particular order, and even where there is order, it’s still confusing and messy because of the way I’ve manipulated the notes in the file. As I’ve grown more comfortable with the program and its capabilities and learned to think about how I want to use the program, I’ve gradually gotten more orderly and comprehensible files. So far, Scapple has turned out to be slightly more successful in helping me brainstorm, there are some things I leave out of it. Like worldbuilding. Like characterization. Like motivations. Thus far, I’ve used Scapple purely as a plotting device, and while I don’t object to this, I’m still writing reams of notes on random pieces of paper to keep up with things in Scapple, and one of my long-time personal goals has been to organize my notes better.
As a result, I’ve been looking for a different method of brainstorming, and recently came across a new method. One of my friends on FM decided to try and shave “a few” years off her own writing process. It took her twelve years to finish book one of a duology (between working and family and debilitating permanent/chronic health issues). She found a book that described brainstorming by longhand, and she combined it with cognitive therapy and started writing down her story ideas and plotting and such for book 2 in Superhero journals. Basically, she begins with a premise, and then questions her way through the plot.
Now, I liked the idea of this method for a number of reasons. One, and fairly important, is that this is a way of keeping all the notes on a story, from plotting, to worldbuilding, to characterization, all in one place. Another reason why I liked it is because it separates me from using the computer as my primary tool of plotting/writing for at least one part of the project. Third, I thought that writing my story-related thoughts out i longhand would enable me to get past the aspects of my stories that cause blocks. And, most importantly, I might not get as overwhelmed by my own handwriting as I am by walls of text in a computer file, mainly because when I started out writing, I did it all longhand—all the way up until 1997.
Thus far, this method seems to be working. Because of the low level of productivity my Creative Mind is putting out, I’m making only slow progress, but I have been able to read what I’ve written. It doesn’t overwhelm me like the text in computer files does. Not only that, I’ve been able to work past issues that would have blocked me for weeks (at least) if I’d gone straight to outlining these stories somehow. And I’m having fun doing this, changing ink color, thanks to the 100 gel ink pen set I bought a few months ago, with each page. I’m using thick journals, of at least 150 leafs (300 pages counting both sides)—one an an old tooled-leather journal, the others Ecojot journals out of Canada.
I think this new method of brainstorming is a keeper.