Storm Around a Coffee Cup

After six episodes of Greenstar, Simon Cantan and I have both seen the potential improvement in both speed and quality that can come from brainstorming with someone else. However, the benefits aren’t limited to full-on collaborations. With the right approach solitary authors can benefit from the advantages of a team without the downsides.

Simon and I, and a few other like-minded authors are experimenting with regular web-chats to brainstorm each other’s projects.

Last Sunday’s meeting covered interesting twists on fantasy tropes for a parody, any benefits or disadvantages of setting a novel outside of Europe, and possible blurbs for Inner Beauty.

Compared to the few days it took me to revise and consult on blurbs for other stories, the brainstorming identified the solid hooks and genre indications that a good blurb needs in under 10 minutes.

Therefore, I wanted to share some suggestions to help anyone else who wanted to try it:

  • Share the Start Point Beforehand: the unconscious mind processes ideas even when you are not aware of it, so giving everyone a written summary will not only allow more time for brainstorming, but will also prepare people to produce ideas.

  • Keep it short: the power of group brainstorming is ideas that one person has triggering a new idea for someone else. However, each idea moves you in a random direction, so the longer you focus on something the greater the chance you will end up in a really interesting conversation about something very different from your current obstacles. So, it is better to have a shorter session, revise the project, and then brainstorm the new project. We have limited discussion of each person’s project to 10 minutes, but it might vary depending on how many people are brainstorming.

  • Work on an Immediate Issue: the human mind tends to remember the start and end of things. But no idea is better or worse because of when it is shared. Therefore, trying to advance more than one step risks missing out on the ideas that came in the middle.

  • Keep the Group Small: while it might seem that another person is another chance for someone to have a really innovative idea, anyone who has frequent meetings will have already noticed the inverse relationship between number of participants and participant immersion. We had four participants last week, and it did not feel like anyone was just spectating.

  • Record the Meeting: if people don’t have to take notes they will be able to focus only on having ideas.

And of course, anything that involves almost constant discussion should be accompanied by a mug of coffee; or other drink of choice.

Do you group brainstorm? What works or doesn’t work for you?

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