Late last night, when I should have been sleeping, my brain decided it was time to keep thinking about my upcoming NaNo project. I was suddenly overflown with ideas, trying to connect plot points, while at the same time thinking of scenes that would turn my drama story into a comedy –a dark one at that, because dark humor is the best, right? Movies like Keeping mum and Death at a Funeral come to mind (Any suggestions for books?).

As I forced my eyes to close and tried to deepen my breathing in hopes of falling asleep, my brain then shifted gears and turned to think about the topic I would write about today. At the time, I had a couple possibilities, but nothing set in stone; so after another hour of mentally running around, I had a decision about what I was going to write about. I also finally fell asleep, both happy and annoyed at my brain for its late night shenanigans.

The beauty of what happened to me last night is that it brought me on its own to the topic of today: Brainstorming.

And boy, I don’t know about you, but I need more than one session of brainstorming before November hits! Today is the last day of September, meaning there is only a month and what’s left of today to get my plot and my characters straight for NaNo.

Last night was a completely unplanned session of brainstorming, but it is, in general, very useful to be prepared for one with, at the very least, a piece of paper and something to write with. The problem of being prepared for a brainstorming session, though, is that consciously planning to get those elusive new ideas might just play against you.

How many times where you brought into the dreaded blank brain freeze when trying to think of new ideas? In my case, one time too many!

Therefore, I believe it is also useful to come to a brainstorming session with instructions for different ways to brainstorm. This idea might seem counterintuitive, but sometimes the brain needs boundaries in order to take flight.

I think this happens because our inner critic is usually so hard on ourselves that we need something to get it distracted with, before we can make our escape into wonderful lala land.

So here are a few ways I get myself brainstorming:

If I have absolutely nothing, zip, no idea of what to write:

1.-  I open any book or magazine at a random page and grab the noun of the first sentence. Then I go to another page and choose another noun, and finally, go to a third page and choose a verb. Now I try to connect the three of them in a paragraph.

2.- Grab one of the hundred books of writing exercises out there and try some of them. They are very, very useful.

Fortunately, in my case, my brain is too overactive not to have ideas. Most times, my problem is how to develop those ideas into deep and meaningful stories. So here are my other options for when I already have an idea.

1.- I try to draw concept maps connecting characters, locations, purposes, or anything I can think of related to –in my case– my novel.

2.- I’m also a visual person, so I have not one, but two boards at home, which I frequently use to write ideas– when I’m not doing chalk calligraphy on one of them. I don’t know what it is about boards, but it gives my mind a boost. It’s probably that option of easily erasing a line or a word if I make a mistake…

3.- Sometimes sitting in front of my computer, a piece of paper, or even my blackboard, doesn’t work; so I take advantage of my walks towards work or the local Barnes & Nobles and, instead of listening to a podcast, I listen to instrumental music, letting my brain slowly thaw in the direction of the novel I’m thinking about writing, or the scene I’m stuck with. The trick is to be able to remember all the ideas I thought about during the walk. As soon as I get to where I was headed, I jot down a summary, or just words that will bring back those thoughts for when I need them. Or you can do an audio record of your musings as you walk. Don’t worry, if you use headphones people will think you’re on the phone!

4.- The best and more fun one: get friends to help you! Have a small party or go for a walk with friends that will enjoy this type of exercise and talk about what you are thinking. You’ll be surprised at how different perspectives can bring about the most fun of ideas, or steer you into a path you would never have thought possible.

For all these techniques, I have the following advice: Just write or say what comes to mind, no judging. Don’t worry if at the end of the session it’s just a jungle of thoughts without connections.

After you read what you have written or even doodled, it might spark an idea into your mind, which you can then use for another brainstorming session, this time more focused and directed to your main goal.

These are my usual techniques for brainstorming. What about yours?