Do Expectations Hurt Brainstorming?

As a writer, one of my biggest weaknesses is brainstorming. What should be the most fun, natural part of the novel writing process has turned into a big headache for me this year.

In preparation for NaNoWriMo, I’ve spent a lot of time these past few weeks trying to come up with ideas for my project. Last year, I had one idea I developed for months. A week before November, I decided that I hated it and scrapped it in favor of getting some writing done on my memoir. That turned out to be the best decision for me, because I ended up applying to grad school last minute at the end of November, so it helped to have more writing done on the project.

Even though I have a packet of pages due for my memoir toward the end of November, I really want to try writing a novel this time around. I haven’t written a novel in a few years. Looking back at my old projects, I wonder where the hell I came up with all those ideas back then.

I never used to outline or plan. I started with a scene, and somehow it led to a book. Everyone says that’s not the best way to go into NaNo, so I’ve been floundering around, trying to think of the perfect idea. I’ve done sketches and outlines, writing exercises and reading. Nothing’s coming.

I think the problem may be in the expectation of perfection. I have to remember that there is no “perfect idea.” I’m putting too much pressure on myself to write an amazing book I can publish to prove myself as a writer. I really want to give self-publishing a try before I try to publish my memoir in a couple years. So maybe that self-imposed pressure is keeping the ideas from flowing naturally.

In the end, I want NaNoWriMo to be fun because I’ve been going through a lot of drama and upheaval in my personal life lately. The last thing I need is more stress in my life. But how do I let my guard down enough to come up with an idea that’s good enough or, at the very least, fun enough to pursue?

Do you think expectations hurt brainstorming? What do you do to come up with ideas for your projects?

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6 replies to “Do Expectations Hurt Brainstorming?”

  1. “Expectations” is a broad word. Expecting to make deadline isn’t a bad thing; expecting inspiration to strike, characters to behave, a plot to unfold a particular way — those are deadly expectations.

    The only way that I know to come up with projects is to get the pencil moving and see what happens. I wish I had the ability to access some sort of divine well of brilliance, but I don’t so I have to put it on paper and go from there.

    1. Alana says:Author

      I agree. Expectations can be useful in writing, but not so much in the brainstorming process, I’ve found. I guess I should keep trying free writes to get the pen moving and generating ideas. Staring into space doesn’t seem to be doing it. Thanks for the comment!

  2. Melinda says:

    Great post! I can totally relate to this as I’m gearing up for NaNo myself. I remember the first project, I approached it with just a spark of an idea and let fly. It…didn’t. Oh it was so bad. I cringe now just thinking about it. The next year I tried NaNo (last year) I had a loose plot outline. Not set in stone, but enough to guide me along the way. I had the beginning, middle and end before I started. When NaNo started, I made it three chapters or so before I started to freeze up. How was I going to get to that next bit I had planned?! The panic! Then I told myself the whole point of NaNo is to let loose of the inhibitions and the internal editor. To tell that voice that says “this is crap” to take a hike. To let my every fantasy come to life on that page. So, because it was NaNo and I had the permission to just let it be…I did. And the words flew by! And the plot flew out onto the page, and it all came together. Well, IS coming together because I’m still revising it. The point is, it was one of the most freeing moments I’ve ever had as a writer. I’m glad I had done the small bit of planning I did, because then I didn’t freeze at the beginning. And I’m glad I had the sense to let it go when I needed to, so I didn’t freeze in the middle. And here I am now, gearing up for NaNo #2. I have a pretty complete plot outline but I know enough now to use it as a guideline, not a set in stone rule. I fully intend to chase any crazy idea that comes out while I’m writing. We’ll see how it goes!

    1. Alana says:Author

      It’s good to know that winging it can work sometimes with NaNo. When I’ve done that in the past, the projects have taken a few months to write. I think a basic, loose outline is key. Hopefully I can at least have that before I start next week. Thanks for commenting 🙂

  3. You raise a really interesting point! I have never really thought about the pressure we writers put on ourselves to come up with brilliant and fresh ideas. Whenever I’m stressing out about coming up with something perfect, I try to remind myself that there really no new ideas, and that whatever I come up with will be different simply because it came out of my head. I’m not sure if that makes sense, but it’s what’s getting me through my NaNo prep 🙂

    Thanks for another fantastic post!

    1. Alana says:Author

      Thanks, Carrie! It’s definitely helpful to remember that there are no completely new ideas, and it’s better to focus on coming up with a unique take on something that exists already.

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