12 Tips on How to Brainstorm While Following Your Heart {Every Writer is Different}

Whew! Post nine! We’re almost to the end of this series! Great job making it this far πŸ˜ƒ Today’s post is going to be a good one.

Recap:

Finding Your Why

Why You Need to Focus on Joy as a Writer

Why You Need to Follow Your Heart as a Writer

7 Actionable Tips on Finding Your Unique Writing Style

How to Find Your Unique Writing Process

How the World Impacts Your Craft as a Writer

Every Book is Different + Announcement

The Publishing Mindset: What it is, and How it’s Ruining Your Life


I’ve presented a mix of why you should do things and how you can do the aforementioned things throughout this series: it’s like a smoothie of concepts and actionable tips. πŸ˜†

But today’s post is going to be some of both.

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We’re looking at a point in the process where you are working most closely with your heart: figuring out what will happen during a story.

Aka brainstorming. Aka the bane of my life. I’m just kidding. Mostly. πŸ˜†

We’ll look at some specific applications based on what I’ve taught you throughout this series, as well as some very actionable and concrete tips. Let’s get right into it. 😎

1: Write Everything Down

Seriously. Write down literally anything and everything, during all parts of the process. I do this with my own ideas, especially if I know I’m not really working on them at the time. This will give me some material to work with at a later date.

Not to mention, uh… you’ll actually probably forget what the idea was if you don’t write it down. πŸ˜… And yes, that is something I have done before.

gasp gif
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I’ve even looked back at my notes before and been surprised by what I found there – because I had no memory of it. πŸ˜…

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Now, this is what my process generally looks like (yes, I have a whole process for this. I think I just like to overcomplicate things 😝):

  • I have an idea.
Source | Everybody’s so impressed with me rn, I know.
  • I write down that original idea so I don’t forget it.
  • I think more about the story, and write down more ideas.
  • I finish the story I’m currently writing, and decide to work on this new one now while I let the one I just finished sit.
  • I don’t write anything down so I won’t feel so much like everything is set in stone while I’m still turning ideas around in my head.
  • I finally am ready to really get down to business and expand upon things, so I write stuff down again and really knuckle down to brainstorming.
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I think that probably took a rather unexpected turn for you. 🀣

Yeah, so, for some weird reason, I feel mentally trapped if I write down all my ideas on paper – or, even worse, on a computer.

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Words on a computer are so… professional! So black and white! It’s like once they’re there, the print is whispering, “There is no going back now…” 😈

Except sometimes I like to go back. And trash everything I originally came up with. Because I had a better idea. πŸ˜‚

So, when I seriously start thinking about a story, I tend to not write down some of my ideas at the beginning of the process. Now, this is not me giving you a tutorial. That is just how I work. Β―\_(ツ)_/Β― 

But here’s a hack that I like to use, especially if it’s early in the writing process:

Write it down in an extremely unofficial way.

For me, that usually means I’m writing down ideas in my Notes app on my computer. When I really sit down to brainstorm, however, I tend to do it in a notebook on paper. There’s just something about all these ideas being in my messy handwriting that makes them feel not quite so set-in-stone in my head.

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So, to summarize this section: write down new ideas so you don’t forget them. But when you really sit down to brainstorm, do it on paper. And, work in a way that fits you. If you have to find a way to work around yourself, then do that. 😊

2: Use Pinterest

I have talked about the wonders of Pinterest before. But this definitely deserves a section from the specific angle this post is taking on the subject.

In my old post, I talked about how I keep all my stories on a back burner in my head. It’s low heat, low maintenance, and still simmering even when I’m working on a different idea entirely. Which is awesome. Your mind can still stay focused on the main project you are currently working on, but is still going to come up with new ideas for you to work with for that other idea.

It works like this:

  • You have your idea.
  • You write it down.
  • And then you make a Pinterest board and leave it to continue working on your current project.
  • But then… a few weeks later or something, you happen to see a pin that reminds you for that story. So, you save it to the board you created for it.

During the time you continue working on your main story – and even possibly choose to do a different story over this one when you’re finished the main one – this story idea will be accumulating new pins on Pinterest. When you finally come to work on it, you will have a lot of material, versus the nothing you would have had to work with if you hadn’t done this.

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Now, how does this tie in with focusing on following your heart in your writing?

First off: you get to literally see what is inside your head – at least to some extent. It’s likely going to be difficult to find anything that will perfectly fit your story, especially at first, but you get all this visual stimulation! And that’s so cool! (Especially if you’re a more visual learner)

(Also, if you’re struggling to find pins for your story here’s a tip: in the More like this section of pins and More ideas part of a board, you can find related pins. This makes it easier to find more ideas already related to those you have saved. πŸ˜‰)

This is important due the fact that these pins can actually inspire entire scenes – or completely new facets of your story.

For instance: when I was pinning to my NaNoWriMo 2020 board, I had a lot of coffee pictures on there – and, as a result of these cozy pins, I ended up seeing some warm winter ones featuring mugs.

And guess who then proceeded to add an entire Christmas section to her book? πŸ˜‚

Source | Me @ myself

As well, I saw some unrelated pins about basketball when I was looking at summer ones – and guess who added that into her book as well??

Source | Me @ myself (still πŸ˜‚)

While I have now taken out the basketball facet from my story for the most part, it really shaped one of my side characters: their motives, their arc, and what they were like. So, while I’ve now removed that piece from the puzzle, having that idea of basketball really gave me something to build off of to shape my entire character. I still have the rest of him there – and I’ve changed his arc in my revisions. But it was really great to have for the first draft.

So, if you’re a little quizzical about whether or not ideas from Pinterest will work for your book, go for it anyway! πŸ˜ƒ You can always take it out later, if you decide to do so – or end up with a Christmas themed section of your book that you keep. πŸ˜‚

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Also! I did this myself the other weekend, and I filmed it! The video just went up this morning on my YouTube channel, so you can check that out and see this in motion (and how much it can help you come up with ideas).

3: Make a Playlist

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I am really big on music. Even in my monthly newsletter (which you get when you’re signed up for emails *wink wink*), I give suggestions for music you can listen to while writing. (As in, without words. I don’t know about anyone else, but I usually end up accidentally typing the words in a song that I hear playing instead of what I want to write πŸ˜…)

Pinterest helps you see your book; music helps you feel it. I mean, you’re hearing, but music can convey so many dynamics and moods, even just within one song. It helps set the mood – another thing I’ve talked about before. You get the vibe that you want, which, if you’re writing in a genre you never have before, can really help you stay on track if you start to lose your way. As I, uh… have experience with. πŸ˜…πŸ˜‚

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Not to mention… it’s super inspiring. 😜 I mean, come on. Look me in the eye and tell me you haven’t ever envisioned your characters doing something epic while a song was playing. I doubt anyone can do that truthfully.

Music sets the mood so much, that, with my NaNoWriMo 2020 novel, I actually noted specific songs I wanted to listen to while writing certain scenes. Now, when I hear them, I think of those scenes again.

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When it comes to brainstorming, you get to listen to some awesome music, as well as feel more inspired. I see this as a total win-win situation. πŸ˜†

Seriously, though: making a playlist is one of the first things I do once I have a story idea, besides making a Pinterest board. 10/10 recommend.

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This helps you to follow your heart in brainstorming, because you really are listening to what you want to, and what you want your book to be. (Just trust me on this one: when you are running dry on ideas for your book, listening to your playlist can be a really great way to reignite your creativity through something you already chose out.)

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4: Mindset

I mentioned mindset in my last post, so make sure you’ve read that. πŸ˜‰

Think of the mindset you need to be in for this book. In my recent post on how every book is different, I compared a fluffy contemporary novel to a gritty post-apocalyptic epic. Manuscripts like those come with very different mindsets.

Now, I actually just handed you 2 very actionable tips on how you can help yourself get into the right frame of mind for your story: Pinterest and playlists. These help set the mood when you are trying to brainstorm, but also even further down the road when you’re actually writing. You can always take a look at your board so you can get in the right frame of mind before you start writing, and play your playlist while writing.

In my post on setting the mood of your scene in 3 steps, I mentioned how I have a bunch of playlists in my music library, just based on the mood of a scene: happy scenes, death/sad scenes (yes, that’s the playlist’s actual name πŸ˜‚), intense scenes, super epic scenes… I’ve gone through the trouble of sorting out songs into different moods so that, at any point in time, I can just pop on the mood that I want in my book, and bam! Instantly set the mood! 🎧

However, for a specific story, you might prefer certain songs over others. While writing my NaNoWriMo 2020 novel, I think I almost always put on 2 albums that were in my music library. They really just make me think of my book, and as they’re all in the same album, they sound at least kind of cohesive. πŸ˜† (I get easily distracted looking at the name of every song that plays when things are on shuffle, so this also helped mitigate that distraction πŸ˜‚)

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However, there are also more ways that you can cultivate the mindset you need to be in for writing. Here’s a couple suggestions that I’ve kind of gathered over time by listen to The Kate and Abbie Show:

  • Coffee!
    • This is more of a trigger for your mind, I think, to tell it that you’re going to write, but still definitely deserves the first place spot on this list (for obvious reasons). 😜
  • Clothing!
    • Try dressing like your characters. If you’re going to write from a certain point of view that day, then dress like that character would. (I haven’t personally tested this out yet, but I want to πŸ˜›)
  • Your work area.
    • Surround yourself with stuff that inspires you and reminds you of your book.
    • I know that Kate and Abbie have mentioned things like diffusors, candles, and plants.
    • This also helps cultivate a mindful place with less distractions for writing.
  • Your work file.
    • I use Scrivener, and I like to customize how it looks: fonts, colours, and the background are all fair game. I have a couple different themes I’ve created that I like to use for certain projects, depending on the mood of the scenes. Those make me think this project and also be in the proper mentality for whatever type of scene I’m writing. πŸ‘
  • Time of day.
    • I thought of this one myself, but you might want to write at different times of day depending on what kind of book you’re writing. (Although, I’d still 100% recommend writing at your prime writing time)

Try figuring out different ways you can cultivate the mindset you need to be in, and set yourself up for success from the get-go 😊

Now, this helps you brainstorm while following your heart, because this is the type of story you chose to write. Getting into the right mindset for brainstorming is kind of crucial right at the beginning of working on an idea, as you want to be able to stay on track with your idea. Maybe it’s just me, but I find that it can be really easy for me to get distracted and go totally off the rails from what my original intentions were.

Source | Live footage of me barely hanging onto an idea that’s gone off the rails

5: The Inception Idea

If you haven’t been around for that long, I like to refer to the idea that you first have for a story as the inception idea. It’s when an idea is first planted in your mind, latching hold and inspiring you.

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This idea is the source of your entire book, the lifeblood of your story. It’s the foundation, the cornerstone, and your touchstone scene.

Here’s what I mean by that: if this is your original idea, then the next idea you have will be built off of it. It’s what you will continually come back to so as to make sure you’re on the right track, that you’re still aiming straight and true for the story you originally wanted to tell.

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Literally everything is going to be determined by this inception idea. Everything will be built upon it, and all new ideas will be set side-by-side to it to make sure it will still fit the story you originally wanted to tell.

Of course, stories can evolve over time. But, overall, that original idea tends to make its way into the story and stay there for good. πŸ˜†

So, when you are excited by a new idea to the point you want to work on it, make sure you build off of that. Not the random side idea that stemmed from it: start from the source. The only exception is if you have an idea that changes everything about the book. But remember: that’s the exception, not the rule.

Not to mention: if that original idea comes to you with a Why along with it (or primed for a specific Why you have in mind) it can really help you begin building that into your story instantly.

6: What Do You Want to Write?

I’ve advocated doing this in I don’t know how many posts by this point, but I am going to say this again: figure out what you want to write. I decided I wanted to put those Christmas scenes into my book, and I did. I’ll spare you the gif this time. That helped build a piece of it, part of the mood I was going to hit on. There even were a couple scenes that were there less because of the idea of story and more of what I wanted to write.

I feel like, once you get serious about writing, you can lose sight of doing this. Of having fun while writing. (I certainly did, as I talked about here) Writers start referring to doing things that are just for the joy of it as being self-indulgent. And I really feel like that is the wrong way to think about it.

We’re writers, for goodness sake! Look at what we can do! It’s so freaking cool. We can make something out of nothing. Books are so powerful that they have been burned before.

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Why shouldn’t we be able to enjoy what we write?

So, when you are working on a story idea, be self-indulgent. Gather inspiration from everywhere, and, even when it doesn’t totally make sense (or possibly looks on the surface like you’ll be going off the rails with your story) write it down. At the very least, you’ll be able to look at it later to build different ideas off of, or just for inspiration. At best, you’ll now have a more multi-faceted book. 😊

A while back, Abbie posted this on Instagram:

what story would you write if you didn’t have to write it perfectly?

ok cool. write that one.

Here’s my suggestion:

Work on your idea for a while. Gather inspiration (through things like Pinterest or music, for instance). Then, sit down for an afternoon and just write down everything you can think of. Everything that you want to see happen in this story. Every idea that you’ve had for it.

I did this for my past three manuscripts. At some point in my process, I literally would just sit down and write out a list of everything I wanted to write in the book. I came up with the majority of the scenes that ended up making up the book for the first two, and my entire First Act for my NaNoWriMo 2020 novel. It’s a natural tendency for ideas to snowball; once you have one idea, you can build off of that and think of what you want to happen next because of it. It’s the natural progression of cause and effect (which I definitely want to talk about more one of these days).

To be clear: when I say that I came up with majority of the scenes that made up my book, I mean I came up with the scenes. Not the entire order of them and everything. Just to be clear. πŸ˜‚

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Here’s some fun bonuses of doing this:

  • What you want to write is what someone wants to read.
    • By doing this, it won’t make someone want to read what you’ve written less; it can have the exact opposite effect.
  • It’s more fun for you!
    • Seriously. You get to sit down at any given time and be like, “Hey! This is that scene I wanted to write!” You get to be excited over it and enjoy writing it even more.
    • Just think about it: have you ever had a scene that you were super excited to write? And you were looking forward to writing it the entire time you were working on the book?
      • So imagine if all of your scenes became that.
      • That’s what this does.
  • It makes it more authentic.
    • I have been guilty before of coming up with scenes simply to fit a plot line.
    • There’s just this authenticity in scenes when you come up with them without thinking of where they’re going to fall in the story, or creating them simply for the purpose of matching a plot line to a T.

To be clear: I’m not saying to totally throw away the idea of a structure. πŸ˜‚ I still use that, because it really helps with story flow and my characters’ arcs. But you’d be surprised how many ideas you just naturally come up with actually fit perfectly at a specific beat of your story. (That’s what I did with my second of the three manuscripts: I wrote out all the scene ideas I had, all the things I wanted to see happen, and then worked on my character’s arc. I got down my ‘big’ scenes – like the Inciting Incident, Midpoint, and Climax – and built up the rest of the scenes around them. I had all this material to work with at my disposal! Material that I actually wanted to write.)

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If you’re seriously on the fence about this, just know that you can always revise later. You can edit this scene later if you really want to, or if you discover it doesn’t fit in with the storyline. At the very least, you’ll get the experience of having fun while writing this story, right? 😊

Like I talked about in my post on focusing on joy in your writing: joy is addictive. Make your story enjoyable to write, make it something that brings you joy, and you can literally become addicted to writing it.

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7: Brainstorm How You Want to

There are many different ways of going about brainstorming. I’ve heard writers give so many different kinds of tips on the subject, or talk about all their different kinds of processes. Everyone advocates their own unique approach – heck, even I’ve been giving tips on how to do it in this post! πŸ˜‚

But when it really comes down to it… just brainstorm how you want to. Not how anyone else says you should.

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To some extent, I’m not saying that you should completely cut out listening to other people’s advice. But as I talked about in my post on listening to bloggers, just take what will work for you and leave the rest. 😊

Personally speaking, I actually kind of struggle with brainstorming. πŸ˜… So, I’m currently testing out a bit of a more unconventional way instead – and that’s totally fine, too. (I will likely do a vlog about this experiment at some point – make sure to follow my YouTube channel for that! πŸ˜‰)

All parts of the process should be enjoyable; not just the writing. If you don’t like how you currently brainstorm, try doing something else instead. Work the way that you want to. Develop your own process.

8: Focus on Your Essentials

The more stories you write and the longer you write for, the more you begin to notice elements you like to put into stories. For me, I have some story beats that I always like to hit in my manuscripts: the Midpoint is one, and so the Dark Moment, Third Plot Point, and Climax. Cause we’re all evil author and just love torturing our characters, apparently. 😝

Source | I’m sorry, I can’t seem to be serious while revising this post πŸ˜‚

So, focus on your essentials.

In my post on finding your unique writing process, I said:

  • Or, you might notice over time some essential story elements that you never want to write a story without again. If nothing else, you’ll make sure your outline includes those.
    • For example, I always need a character arc, a Midpoint in my storyline, a heart-wrenching 3rd Plot Point/Dark Moment (because, duh, evil author stuff πŸ˜ˆ), a Climax, and great internal conflict in a character.
    • A different writer probably has a list of different essentials – and that’s okay. This is what matters to me personally, and they know what matters to them personally.

WordPress won’t let me put bullet points into a quote. *pouts*

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Anyway.🀣

When you follow your heart while you’re brainstorming, you must make sure that you include the things that matter most to you in your stories. This can range from anything that makes it more fun for you, or allows you to write a story that you ultimately end up being more proud of. 😊

9: Focus on Your Why

Your Why is something in your heart, something that you want to share with the world. Putting that into your story is instantly going to inject it with more emotion, as you will end up pouring out your heart across the page. This makes it more emotionally raw, relatable, and realistic – even if the story takes place in a world that’s anything but realistic.

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Human emotion is what will help your readers still relate to your characters and find the story ‘believable’ and ‘realistic’ (put in air quotes simply because things that aren’t totally realistic aren’t, well, totally realistic. πŸ˜‚). But that’s a conversation for another time. I seem to be going off track a lot today. πŸ˜‚

Your Why is one of the best things to focus on when brainstorming. You can look at it, and figure out what scenes you want to write that you could inject with internal conflict due to the Why, or be inspired to build new scenes that are based on it. It gives your manuscript a thread of cohesion to follow throughout the entire story and takes it to the next level.

Now, I did a whole post on this, but for now, I’ll just remind you of this: in a character arc, the character learns the Why by the end of the story; at the beginning, they start at the opposite end of the spectrum. The rest of the book is the character learning the Why, but also trying to hold onto their original (and completely opposite) belief. This instantly means that you’re going to have lots of material you can work with to create internal conflict. πŸ˜‰

This is kind of a sub-point to this, but include a character arc. Don’t just tell people about your Why; show readers it through the character transforming because of it. Over the course of the story, they can learn what you did, allowing you to insert pieces of yourself into your writing, making it more realistic, relatable, and emotional.

Like I talked about in my post on how the world impacts your craft, there are three kinds of character arcs: negative, positive, or flat. When talking about a character transforming during their arc, we’re mostly referring to positive or negative arcs.

To decide which one you’d want to use, ask yourself:

  • Are you going to teach your readers your Why through the character learning and benefiting from it?
  • Or are you going to teach it through the character learning and rejecting it, thereby sealing their own doom?
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Either way, the characters will learn it. You can either show readers how their lives will become better and be enriched because of it – or what could happen without it. Both arcs contain some really powerful messages. (Though, seeing as the main character is kind of a role model for readers, I tend to lean more towards using just positive arcs for the them. Also, it’s just so satisfying to see characters grow because of the arc in a positive and empowering way. 😊)

10: Focus on Character

Look: you can figure out some really awesome scenes that you want to have in your book. You can figure out lots of cool stuff that could happen.

But none of it will matter if you don’t figure out your character first. Figure out your character, then figure out your storyline.

As Abbie Emmons (man, I just keep talking about her today πŸ˜‚) always likes to say:

Story is not about what happens; it’s about how what happens affects and transforms your character.

And yes, when I wrote that down, it was straight from memory. πŸ˜‚ She says it a lot.

Source | Me as I quote Abbie left, right, and center in this post 😝

But, look: characters are the lens you see the story through. All the things that will happen will be viewed and processed based on their beliefs. At the beginning of the story, when they believe the exact opposite of your Why, they will view whatever happens around them with that belief and worldview in mind. They think there’s no hope anywhere? They’ll refuse to see it even if it’s right under their nose. It’s as simple and as complicated as that.

However, most writers actually tend to forget to do this in their stories. That can make for a bland story where you could have used literally any other character as the protagonist – and still gotten the same result.

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Think about them, and then think about plot. The plot will be driven by the character’s motives, and the characters will be driven by your Why (aka the arc they’re going to go through), and by their own fears. This is really going to be focused on what’s in your heart, because you have to essentially create the person in the best place to learn your Why.

11: The Ending

Imagine this: you just finished reading this post, and, despite always having focused on plot in the past instead of character, decided to give my advice a whirl and focus on character instead.

But… you’ve never done this before. And you’re not quite sure where to start.

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If that’s where you are right now, then here’s some advice: if you are struggling to build off of your character because you’re more used to plot, then just think of where the character will end because of their journey.

I know that many writers can struggle with the ending. But you actually already know what it will be like – at least somewhat – if you have a Why.

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By the end of the book, the character will know it fully, and be living their lives newly empowered because of it.

So, imagine: what would their life look like if they knew your Why? This is someone who literally believed the exact opposite at the beginning of the story. That’s a huge change! So, what would their life look like if they knew it?

If you know literally nothing about your story, know this. The ending is the big target that you’ll be shooting for over the course of the entire story. Even without a true ‘plot line’ or ‘outline’, you will at least have some form of cohesion, in the sense that your story will always be heading in that direction of that target.

So, ask yourself…

Where would you hope to lead someone in life if they could learn your Why?

That is where your character will be at the end of your story.

Take a minute and get quiet with yourself, imagining how you could better someone’s life if you could share your Why, this message that’s so close to your heart. Then use that.

12: TRUST. YOUR. SELF.

Yes I am using all caps. Yes my online teachers would probably be horrified as that is the equivalent of shouting online.

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I think writers really do not give themselves enough credit. We’re always making fun of our writing and saying how terrible it is.

But… think of how many stories you have looked at over the years. You’ve inhaled countless books and movies, written a couple manuscripts yourself, and researched writing (which I’m sure you have if you’re reading this). That’s a lot!

Now, this is nothing scientific, but I’ve noticed that, over time, writers tend to develop an intuition of sorts. In my post on following your heart, I said:

If you’ve been into writing stories for a while, then I think you really can develop an on-point writerly intuition that you can trust. I’ve seen writers write stories with pretty much no outline and still come out the other end with a story that has a lot of the story beats you’ll find in the 3-Act Story Structure. It’s just this subconscious, intuitive thing that can happen.

This is following your heart take to the extreme; it’s honestly more like blind trust.

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When you feel like you need to push an idea further because you could do better, then do that. If you feel like it’s sitting where it needs to be, then leave it.

(Bonus tip: this is also pretty great when it comes to deciding on names. I always have a sort of gut reaction when I come across the right one. You just know.)

So trust yourself; you know more than you know.

Don’t forget to save this post for later!

Following your heart as a writer can really just boil down to trusting yourself, your tastes, and what brings you joy. That gives your manuscripts a unique feel that only you can create.


If you enjoyed this post, you might also like:

The Domino Effect (And What it Has to do With Your Writing)

How to Brainstorm Your Story in 5 Steps

2020: The Year of Finding Pure Joy


I have only one more post left in this series. 😱 Crazy, I know. But if you don’t want to miss the finale post, make sure toΒ subscribe! πŸ˜„

How do you like to brainstorm?

When do you usually figure out the ending to your book?

What are your essentials for a story?

Julia

Photo by Leohoho on Unsplash

One thought on “12 Tips on How to Brainstorm While Following Your Heart {Every Writer is Different}

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