Path to Pub: Brainstorming

Path to Pub is an ongoing feature in WBP where we talk about each step to publication and beyond. From idea to drafting to book deal!

Brainstorming has always been my favorite part of the writing process. It’s a weird thing to love because brainstorming is just coming up with ideas, and as writers, we do that literally all the time.

When I was a kid, I loved road trips. Before my family went anywhere, my mom would take me to the library and I would check out a stack of books. And I would spend the whole trip reading in the backseat while my dad blasted his favorite Indian songs from the 80s and my mom napped. But then I turned eleven, and instead of getting my Hogwarts letter I got motion sickness. I was devastated at the time, but in hindsight it turned out to be a pretty magical gift after all. You see, I had to find another way to pass the time, so I turned to daydreaming.

For me that’s what brainstorming is about: going back to the place that started it all. And whether it’s before starting a new project or going back to the drawing board for one I’m working on, here are some of my favorite ways to return to that time when it was just me and my imagination and infinite possibilities.

Write by hand

I’m pretty sure notebook-hoarding is a writer prerequisite. I always start a project with a brand new notebook. I make a day of it: go shopping, buy ten other notebooks I don’t need, maybe some washi tape I also don’t need, some brand new pens I won’t use because I only write with my one favorite pen…

But seriously though, it doesn’t matter whether you’re using a whiteboard or binder paper or the back of an old receipt. The important thing is, if you’re able to, trying to work by hand for a little while. There’s just something about writing by hand that always has me feeling more creatively free. A paper page never seems as daunting as a blank word document. 

Word mood board

Often, the first few pages of my WIP notebook will be devoted to a word mood board. A word mood board is exactly what it sounds like. Ask yourself: what words and images do you associate with your story? Then make a list!

For me, this is less about all the specific things that will be in your story (though you can include those too!) and more about capturing a general vibe. Include things like color schemes, food, significant items, and settings.

For example, the world mood board I created for The Navarasa Potion Shop included: flower crowns + fancy ice cream + kisses in the sun + magic potions + shared secret smiles + iced coffee. Were all those elements actually in the story? No. But the important part is that it evokes images of summer and romance and something light and fun–which is what I tried to channel when writing it.

Talk to yourself

No joke, but this is seriously my favorite brainstorming technique, especially when it comes to problem-solving. I find that sometimes when I’m trying to get ideas out, even typing tends to slow me down. So I just talk instead.

I start by explaining why I’m stuck or what I’m trying to figure out, like I’d do with a CP. Then I try to figure out solutions and articulate why those might or might not work. If you’re like me and sometimes forget the brilliant ideas you come up with, consider recording yourself.

I know it can be a little weird to just talk out loud, so if it helps, pretend you’re explaining your ideas to a friend (or actually talk to one, if you have a generous bestie or significant other). You can do this anywhere–at home, in the shower, while running errands. My personal favorite is actually while on a walk. I will put my headphones in, listen to my WIP playlist, and walk around my neighborhood until I’ve figured out enough to get me excited about my book again.

Listen to your book playlist

If you’re the type of person to make a book playlist, it can also double as a great brainstorming tool. Sometimes, when I’m stuck in the middle of a project, I will put my playlist on shuffle, get out my notebook, and spend twenty minutes jotting down what thoughts came to mind while listening to those songs. I’ll often pick up on a lyric or emotion I didn’t notice, or interpret a different way, which can lead to an influx of new ideas. 

And music can also have a strong tie to memory. Even just remembering what you were writing the last time you heard the song might remind you what you love about your project and spark inspiration. 


It’s no secret that I have a bit of an aesthetic obsession. While I actually prefer to use this method to maintain my excitement about a WIP rather than as an actual brainstorming tool, there’s no denying that sometimes it can help to have a visual representation of what you’re trying to convey.

Whether it’s for your entire book, a specific scene, or a single character, aesthetics can challenge you to distill large quantities of information down to a handful of image that capture the essence of your work. Just the process of finding images to make an aesthetic can be a great source of inspiration. 

And honestly, you don’t even need a ton of apps or editing skills to make one. I grab pictures from Pinterest and use Instagram’s Layout app to format.

Brainstorming can be a highly personal thing. Everyone has different reason they turned to daydreaming, and everyone has a different way of getting back to it, whether your preferred method is going to the sauna, drawing art, or something else entirely. I hope some of my preferred techniques can help you brainstorm your next WIP. Let me know if you try any of them out, and tell me some of your favorite ways to brainstorm in the comments below!

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