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Create A Brain Storm

In my experience, the brainstorming phase of the writing process is often overlooked and underrated. Yet, it is a step that I value because it lets the mind wander to unexpected places. To let the imagination roam, remember, and question, creates the perfect brain storm.

It is hard to know where to begin when handed a list of writing prompts in class or for an application. The choices can be overwhelming and paralyzing, and inertia can quickly set in. This is where brainstorming comes to the rescue.

In a recent session, I asked a student to choose three of the Common App essay prompts. From there, I asked questions about related (and seemingly unrelated) topics. I set a timer and asked that she make lists about things that were coming to mind. What do you remember about your birthday parties as a kid? Who was there? Who were your neighbors? What is the dynamic between you and your sister? What emotions do you attach to that relationship? How did you decorate your room as a kid?

From there, we drew lines to connect people, places, feelings, memories, and realizations. I set the timer again and gave her four minutes to write about where the lines went - this writing verges on a stream of consciousness. I empowered her not to worry about grammar, style, word choice, etc. Just get words down. Let it rip.

At that point, we circled back to where we started. Which of these topics feels viable for an essay? Which one illustrates your personality? Which one do you want to explore further?

I have done a similar exercise with whole classes of high school seniors. It is amazing what a 20-30 minute guided brainstorming session can produce - after something like this, everyone has an idea and a direction.

This part of the writing process can feel and look messy, which is a good thing. “I don’t know where to start” is a real condition and students often need a way to expand their thinking in order to generate ideas.

So, don’t forget to pause, let the storm happen, and then see what surfaces.

All good things take time.

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