How to Brainstorm Ideas for Writing

Before I got into the habit of writing and publishing on a schedule I couldn’t figure out how to brainstorm ideas. It was pretty hard in fact, to the point where I felt regular terror when I sat down to write.

Brainstorm ideas

The blank page would stare at me, judging. Sometimes there would be so much pressure I would crumple under it, give up and watch television instead. And after enough time of that happening I would skip the pretending to write part altogether and go straight to television.

But this didn’t make me feel good about myself so after allowing the self-pity to continue for an awkward amount of time I pulled up my socks and learned how to brainstorm ideas for writing. And I’m pleased to say it’s something you can do too.

How to Brainstorm Ideas for Writing

This is a little exercise I picked up over the years and since making it work for me I have never sat down wondering what to write. Writing is no longer a terrifying experience but something I look forward to and find pleasure in. I hope my brainstorm ideas and/or method helps you.

First, you need to know who your ideal reader is. This may seem like a strange step for brainstorming ideas for writing but trust me, this is a key step. Even if it’s a loose definition, think about the person (real or fictional) who would most be interested in reading your work.

Answer these questions

  • What does your ideal reader tend to focus on?
  • On social media, what does your ideal reader like sharing about?
  • From what you can gather, what is your ideal reader most need/want/desire?

Once you know the answers to those initial questions answer this one: what problem are you solving for your ideal reader through your writing?

Through thinking about your ideal reader you should have a few words and phrases jotted down. Take a look and add a few more words to the page. This time, write down everything you’d like to write about one day. It can be vague or specific, long or short. Just jot down as much as you can think of in a five-minute period.

Look at the list you came up with and compare it to your first one—are you seeing any good brainstorming ideas? Are you seeing some common threads? Find four topics that match both what you want to write about and what your ideal reader is struggling with. Once you find four, write them down.

This last step is the most fun

Decide how much you’re going to write and break down your topics into sub-categories. For example, if I have four main topics and I decide I want to write one blog post per week, then I need 52 sub-categories. That is around 13 ideas per topic. While this seems like a lot I don’t need more than a word or short phrase at this point. I’ll list a few of my brainstorm ideas for the next few blog posts below as an example of what I mean.

  • How to brainstorm blog posts (that’s this post, by the way)
  • Keywords
  • Places to find freelance jobs
  • Prescriptive non-fiction
  • Where to get free stock photos

But what if you can’t think of sub-categories? Or what if you have a few ideas but can’t get to 13? Here are a few suggestions for finding topic ideas.

Brainstorm ideas for coming up with sub-categories

  • Pay attention to questions people ask you. If you hear a question you think your ideal reader would ask, write it down
  • If you’re in any online networking groups, take a look around and see the types of questions being asked and the conversations happening. Again, if you see something your ideal reader might be interested in, write it down
  • Go through your emails and see what types of topics the people you follow are addressing. Anything interesting in there? Is there a new angle or spin you can put on the topic and to help your ideal reader in some way?
  • Pick a topic from your list of “I’d like to write about this one day” ideas. Maybe it’s not a top four topic but it might make a perfect sub-category!

If you try these ideas and are still super stuck, here’s a helpful seven-step method to come up with brainstorm ideas fast.

This is the main way I come up with brainstorm ideas whenever I’m working on something new. I’ll condense the steps here for a quick reminder.

Steps for finding brainstorm ideas

  1. First, I put myself in the shoes of my ideal reader and think about what s/he would like to read
  2. Second, I write a quick list of everything I’m interested in writing about one day
  3. Third, I compare the first two lists and see where they intersect. I look for four main topics from this process
  4. Fourth, I brainstorm sub-categories to fit under the four main topics by looking at what people are already asking about, by watching what other people are talking about and by writing about things I think my ideal reader will resonate with

Have you tried this method before? I’d love to compare notes!

Before I got into the habit of writing and publishing on a schedule I couldn't figure out how to brainstorm ideas. Sitting down to write became terrifying.

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