Brainstorming is useful whether you have too few ideas, too many, or none at all (I suspect this is rare, but it's best to cover all angles). Whether you're working on your next fiction project, writing an article for a client, or composing an essay for a class, this can help you get your thoughts flowing so you can organize them later. Obviously, you won't use everything you come up with during your brainstorming session, but you'll at least be able to crystalize what you are trying to say.
There are a number of brainstorming techniques you can use. The following are a few I've tried:
1. Listing: Being a list person, this one resonates well with me. In list format, jot down words and phrases that have to do with your project. If you're writing an article, write down different viewpoints, arguments, questions, angles, facts, quotations, etc. Anything that seems relevant should be added to the list. If you're writing fiction, list potential character traits and names, themes, settings, plot points, etc. Do not confuse this process with outlining. Stopping to organize your thoughts will inhibit the process.
2. Freewriting: Choose the method you are most comfortable with—keyboard or pen and paper—and write. If you don't know what to write, then write that. If you are struggling with a freelance project, write about that. The ideas will flow from there. Don't pause to check spelling or make sure everything is grammatically correct. Keep writing. Set either a time limit or word count.
3. Mapping: Mapping is a bit like listing, but instead you render your ideas graphically. It involves jotting down ideas on a large surface, connecting them with similar themes using circles or underlining, and then indicating the relationship by drawing lines. Admittedly, I have tried this a few times, but have not gleaned as much material from it. I prefer getting the ideas down in a list and then connecting them in outline form later. However, I know other writers who swear by it, so I have included it here as an option.
For Best Results
What works for one writer may fall flat for another. Experiment to see which one yields the best results. If you are having trouble, set a timer to make sure you are giving yourself ample time to record your thoughts. Once you have ideas to work from, you can organize them (make an outline, if you prefer) and begin writing. Again, do not censor yourself during the brainstorming process. You can always eliminate the ideas you don't like later.
So which brainstorming method works best for you? Or if you have a technique that hasn't been included here, please share it.