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6 Steps to a Booming Brainstorm

“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.” – John Steinbeck

On Monday we started our conversation about the importance of brainstorming and how we go about conjuring one up. Sometimes we need a brainstorm to get the ideas flowing, or sometimes even when we’ve already had an idea come to us out of the blue, we still need a good brainstorming session to hash out the details.

So how do you get the most out of a brainstorming session? Whether you’re taking part in a group idea-a-thon or a solo think tank, we’ve put together a few basic steps to follow to ensure that your brainstorm yields a successful result.

photo by clagnut

Step 1. Clear your head.

You have to start your brainstorming process with a clear slate. Popular slate-clearing activities include taking long walks, listening to music, or closing your eyes for a few moments of quiet solitude (this is not be confused with napping, although I suppose that can be a head-clearing activity as well).

Step 2. Find a good space.

Once your mind is clear, you need to find a location that will give you lots of inspiration. Different types of people can find inspiration in all sorts of places. Some folks might prefer a park or crowded shopping mall filled with potential characters and plot lines while the others might want a blank canvas like a quiet room at home. Either way, find your perfect creative spot.

3. Get your tool(s) of choice together.

Just like the inspiration location, different people prefer different writing tools for their brainstorming session. I’m a fan of old school pen and paper myself, but if your mind tends to run at a breakneck speed, you might be able to keep up with your ideas a little better on a computer. Test out different tools until you find the one that fits you best.

4. Start with quantity.

The ultimate key to a good brainstorming session is to generate a mass of ideas. Throw all judgment aside–everything is on the table. Write down every idea that comes to mind, what starts out seeming ridiculous may turn out (with a little further thought and development) to be the perfect seed for a new novel. If you need to motivate yourself, break your brainstorming into a couple of five minute sessions with some break time in between. Aim for four or five ideas per session. If you’re in a group, discuss the ideas in between sessions and don’t be afraid to piggyback off of each other’s plans.

photo by fishbone1

5. Narrow by quality.

After you’ve got a large quantity of ideas, start narrowing them down by quality. Pick out a handful you like the most and continue to expand on those ideas in your brainstorming session.

6. Keep everything!

Don’t discard anything from your brainstorming session! A tabled idea now could become your next novel idea a year or two down the road. Keep a notebook or folder with your ideas as a reference when you face writer’s block or go in search of your next idea.

How do you come up with your best ideas? Are there any tips and tricks you could share with your fellow authors? We love to hear from you, so feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below!

Dictation: I’m a Story Teller, Not a Story Typer [Guest Post]

The following is a guest post from Eric Kent Edstrom and was an entry in February’s Self-Publishing Writing Contest. 

It’s November 1st, 2010 when I sit down to write my first novel. I open Scrivener, pop a can of Diet Coke, crack my knuckles, and start typing.

I pound out 10,000 words the first day.

The next day I decide to reread what I’d written. You know, to get a running start. I notice some things that need tweaking, so I take a second to fix them. In the process of fixing them, I realize that chapter two doesn’t quite make sense. I go back and … and end day two with a net -2300 words. Yes, minus. In the days that follow, I soldier on. But I keep going backwards, or sideways, writing a lot but making no real progress.Continue Reading

Do You Still Enjoy Writing? (And What to Do if You Don’t) [Guest Post]

The following is a guest post from Michael W. Roberts and an entry in February’s Self-Publishing Writing Contest. Click here to vote for the winner of this month’s contest. Want to help out your fellow indie authors? Consider entering March’s contest!

Why do you write?

What is it that gets you out of bed in the morning or keeps you up all too late to get your story written?

Is it the love of the craft? Is it the thrill of a finished project?

Would you still write if there was no way you could ever get paid for it?

I have to make a confession. I’m terribly ruthless when it comes to deciding how I spend my time. If I pursue an artistic endeavor such as writing, I’m always thinking of how I can capitalize on it. (If I can make money from it, then clearly I’m not wasting my time. Right?)

  • Maybe I can write a short story and sell it.
  • Maybe I can write an ebook and become an internet sensation.
  • Maybe, just maybe, I could become a professional author.

In short, I bleed the fun out of the craft by primarily focusing on the end benefits of the art. Wanting success isn’t wrong. But when it’s all you want, there’s a problem.Continue Reading

Reader Mailbag: Rushing Plot, Book Trailers, Getting Started

Last month, we announced a new feature: the reader mailbag! Here we take your questions about anything involving writing, design, publishing, marketing or any other self-publishing related topic and answer them here on the blog. Have a question? Tweet @duolit or give us a shout via our contact form! 

From @JeremySenko: I have a great idea for a story, but I seem to rush the plot. Tips on how to slow myself down?

Toni: Even though I’m not a traditional writer/author, I can totally sympathize with Jeremy’s plight. I’m definitely a compulsive creative and, when I get an idea, I shoot from zero to 60 in no time flat. Unfortunately, this leads to a lot of started projects and considerably fewer finished ones.

To keep myself on track, I’ve implemented a waiting period system (yeah, kind of like buying a gun or getting married). When I get an idea, I’ll write down the steps it’ll take to reach my end goal and assign each a time period. Whenever I want to rush ahead, I’ll refer to my checklist to make sure I’m not getting too far ahead of myself.

Shannon: Are you rushing the plot as you’re writing it–as in, jumping straight from the start to the turning point without much build-up? If that’s the case, I’d go ahead and get the major plot points written out and then go back and fill in between the points. Maybe come up with a sub-plot so you’re not just throwing in pointless scenes, you want to be sure there’s a palpable build-up and then a satisfying decline to the wrap-up.

From @TheDeguello: Should I get a professional book trailer made?

Toni: Book trailers are everywhere, and, when done well, they can be quite effective. Whether or not you should take the plunge to get one made, however, depends on a big question: How does the book trailer fit into your overall book marketing plan? I’m sure you guys get sick of reading this, but coming up with a cohesive and comprehensive book marketing plan is crucial to your success.

If you’re getting a book trailer just because it seems cool, but you’re not sure how it’ll actually help market your book, don’t take the plunge into paying for a professional trailer. On the other hand, if you have a plan for how your book trailer will go viral and shoot you to the top of the sales charts, go for it!  Like any business decision, it comes down to the return on your investment (both in terms of time and money spent).

Shannon: I completely agree with Toni (I know, that’s a total surprise). It’s worth the investment if it’s part of your overall marketing plan. If you’re not sure, maybe start with something small you can do yourself with iMovie or Windows Movie Maker (that’s how we made ours for Duolit Indie Ninjas).

From @Vogelian: Where do I start? I’m so clueless. I have a book of short stories and poems. What do I do with it?

If you’re totally new to the world of self-publishing, we highly recommend signing up for our mailing list to get the free download of Self-Publishing Basic Training. This will give you an overview of the self-publishing process, from writing to publishing to marketing, and help you explore your options. You can also check out our Getting Started page for more info.

Since your book is already written, the first thing to would do is to pay for professional editing. If there’s one place to spend good money during the self-publishing process, it is in editing. While your book is being edited, take some time to work on your marketing plan. Who will buy your book? Figure out your target market and how best to appeal to them.

After you have your edited book in hand and a good marketing plan laid out, choose your publishing service. An eBook publishing service like Smashwords is a great place to start. It offers a low-cost way to get your book published and distributed so you can start implementing that marketing plan and selling books almost immediately.

What’s YOUR Question?

Do you have a question or situation we can help out with? Tweet @duolit or fill out our super-simple contact form and we’ll do our best to answer it on our next reader mailbag! Remember, the more details you give us, the more specific and helpful our advice will be!

Do you have any additional advice for the questions above? Chime in in the comments!

Writing Goals: Don’t Just Make’em, Meet’em!

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” – Ferris Bueller

It seems like we blinked and the first month of 2012 passed us by in a blur of annoying political ads, above average temperatures and boxes of Christmas decorations headed back to the attic. We all needed a little time to get our bearings in the New Year, but now the adjustment period is over and it’s time to get down to business.

If you spent all of 2011 saying that you were going to write a novel, but then coming up with a long list of excuses why that plan didn’t come to fruition, get ready to leave those excuses in the dust. We’ve put together five easy steps to not only setting your 2012 goals, but making sure that you see them through to completion.

Step 1 | Choose a long term goal.

For most of you, this should be simple: Write a book. You can be a little more specific and name your plot, characters, whether you want to complete just the first manuscript or actually make it to the publishing stage, but the overall endgame is to get a completed novel in your hands before the Mayan calendar runs out and we all turn to dust.

Step 2 | Fill in the gaps with short term goals.

Once you’ve set your long term goal, you need to establish a few short term goals to get from start to finish. These checkpoints can be really specific like creating outlines, character profiles, etc. or you can focus on the numbers and go for word count or chapter goals. The key is to put dates on each short-term goal to keep you focused (and ward off that pesky pest known as procrastination!).

Step 3 | Decide how you’re going to reach your goals.

Just because you set your goals doesn’t mean that all the pieces of your novel (and the time it will take to write it) are going to fall out of the sky. It’s a goal, not a wish. After you establish your goals, it’s time to figure out how you’re going to accomplish them. Deciding on your writing schedule is key. When will you find time to write? We’ve talked about this a lot in the past (including in our How NOT to Write a Book eCourse) so you should be an expert by now. Make your schedule, plan your writing times and set those keys on fire!

Step 4 | Share your goals with someone else.

This is a crucial step; everybody needs a little accountability to stay on track. Find someone you can share your goals with who will keep you honest and push you toward reaching your objectives. One important point of clarification: Pushing and nagging are not the same thing. You don’t want someone who’s going to harass you, but someone who will give you a swift (but soft) kick in the pants when you need it. If you don’t know someone, reach out to the Duolit community. We writers stick together and I’m sure you can find someone who would be happy to help!

Step 5 | Keep track of your progress.

Whether it’s a monthly blog post or a detailed writing journal, you’ll want to keep track of where you are in the process. If you had some setbacks, that’s okay, but talk about what they were and how you can avoid them in the future. If you met your goals, celebrate it! Every accomplishment along your path to success is worth a celebration.

Follow those five easy steps and you should not only be able to set your writing goals in 2012, but meet them!

Friendly reminder: Help us with some prompts!

If you missed our post on Monday, we are working to gather some weekly blog prompts to share with you guys. Our goal is to help everyone add valuable content to their blogs and generate more traffic for their blogs with weekly prompt link-ups, which will start in February. If you have prompt ideas (they can be about anything from creative writing prompts to basic profile questions to writing experiences) leave them in the comments on Monday’s blog. We’ll announce February’s prompts on Friday so if you have some ideas, please share them!

Later days,

– Shannon