Building a Book: Brainstorming

The beginning stages of writing a book can be daunting. Sometimes it’s harder to start writing than it is to continue the momentum once you’ve begun writing. You may have a plot point or a character in mind to start you off, but books are more than just one plot point or one character. 

As much as I am not a fan of Stephenie Meyer, the story of how she conceived Twilight is legendary. She had a dream about a vampire in a field and then she wrote what would become Twilight. Honestly, if only writing could be that easy for all of us. Say what you will about Meyer’s finished product, but the book was wildly popular. To date Twilight and its sequels have sold over 100 million copies worldwide. 

You might be like Stephenie Meyer and have a fantastic premise that came to you in a dream. But, more likely, you have the seed of an idea. This is where brainstorming comes into play. One of the key steps in the writing process is to brainstorm. Before you start writing your book, give your mind the opportunity to open itself up and see what other thoughts or ideas might be lurking that could help you write your book.

Brainstorming can help remove the pressure of “doing the work” and instead give you the room to see where your mind will take you. Through brainstorming, you can explore different ideas, see how they connect, and work out ways to grow them further. Bottom line: writing is hard. This is why we think brainstorming is the true first step in the writing process. Brainstorming allows you to take some of the pressure off of yourself and gives your mind the freedom to explore different ideas. Because let’s face it, waking up from a dream and writing a book is like catching lightning in a bottle.

Here are some brainstorming methods we recommend for writers:

Visual Association

Sometimes inspiration strikes from an image or a place. Other times it derives from an aesthetic or a color. Visual association is a great way to take an image or a piece of fabric or whatever thing caught your eye and use it as the jumping off point for your brainstorming session. What is it about that particular photo or painting or scrap of cloth that caught your attention? What words or thoughts come to mind? Building out a moodboard, physical or digital (pinterest), provides an outlet for building off of that initial spark.

Word Association

Similar to visual association, word association exercises are an excellent place to start when brainstorming. Writing is all about words, the words you choose and the order in which you place them. If you’ve got an idea to write a book about vampires, take the word vampire and write it down. Then allow your mind to provide you with words it associates with the word vampire. You might be surprised by the words that come to mind.

Writing Prompt

Writing prompts are a great way to get your pen moving on the page. There are thousands of writing prompts available online (we even have some on our website) that you can use to get your creativity flowing. You can also find writing prompt journals and notebooks at various retailers. Barnes & Noble typically has several writing prompt books available in their bargain section. You can also strategize with writing prompts. Maybe you’re struggling with character development, use a writing prompt to help you brainstorm how to flesh out that character. The possibilities are endless.


I love lists. Making lists is my go-to for everything in life. While not as freeform as some of the other options, presented, lists are a great way to keep your thoughts and ideas organized. When writing a book, there is so much to keep track of and so many idea threads to chase down. Lists are particularly useful in genre writing with heavy worldbuilding. You could have separate lists for plot points, characters, setting, etc. Lists can help you keep that information manageable. With lists, the possibilities are endless. 

Mind Map

Mind mapping is the process of creating a visual diagram instead of an outline for your book. It’s a way to visually connect your ideas that can allow for associations, structuring, or to even help build new ideas. There are several types of mind maps including, cyclical, comparison, converging, hierarchical, interactive, linear, and radial. The type you choose will depend on what information you’re mapping, your goals, and your personal preferences.

Free Writing

This one might seem obvious, but sometimes just putting your pen to paper or typing on your keyboard is the easiest way to get your ideas out. By free writing, you give your mind the opportunity to run free and just write. Maybe it’s garbage. Or maybe you’ve got a fantastic rough cut of the first chapter at the end of it. Either way, you won’t know unless you try.

These are just a few brainstorming activities to get you started. There are numerous options out there to help you get the creative juices flowing. If you have a favorite brainstorming activity that we didn’t cover, let us know below!