The 4-Minute Brainstorm

by Jody Feldman

One of my most frequently asked questions: Do you ever get writer’s block?
My answer: No, because I choose not to believe it actually exists. At least for me. I can always write something. Often that starts with my 4-Minute Brainstorm.

This works best when you’re focused on one detail or one scene or one characteristic (like your character’s motivation or next action).

Step #1 

Set a timer for 4 minutes. Why 4 minutes? Three minutes feels too rushed. Five makes you believe you have all sorts of time. Those 240 ticks are the perfect amount to force you to concentrate.

Step #2

Now go! Write a LIST (not a free-form paragraph) of every idea you can think of, starting with the obvious and morphing to the absurd. If you get stuck, look around and use any object for inspiration. For example, let’s say I’m writing about Davy, and I need to know why he’s intimidated by Cheyenne. My list might look something like this.
  1. She’s pretty.
  2. She overbearing.
  3. She acts like she’s better than everyone else.
  4. She acts like he’s not good enough.
  5. She gossips.
  6. Everyone seems to love her.
  7. She never makes a mistake.
  8. She ranked the class on a math test, and she’s not good in math.
  9. Everyone was fawning over her polka-dot purse.
  10. She always has new pictures of puppies with bows in their hair.
  11. Her pencils are always sharp.
  12. She knows more about cranberries than he does.
  13. They have the same haircut and it looks better on her.
  14. She can lift more weight in gym.
  15. She laughed when he had lettuce in his teeth.
  16. She knows some celebrities.
  17. She yelled at a teacher to shut up.
  18. She draws tattoos on people even when they don’t want them.
  19. Her yearbook picture didn’t look like a warthog.
  20. She looks like she always wears clean underwear. (Nod to Louis Sachar.)

Step #3

Beep-beep! Beep-beep! Your timer goes off. You should have at least 20 ideas. Yes, 20 (though it may take some training to stifle your inner editor). Now, cross off your first 4 ideas; unless you started with a bizarre frame of mind, these ideas will be the most boring obvious. You can do better than that. Read through the rest and cross out the ones that every other writer would use. And again, read through, really contemplating how each might have a place in your story. Don’t discount the wacky ideas; even those may have some underlying truths. Highlight your favorite four.

Step #4

Use one or all of them. Sometimes two or more can be combined to make one truly original idea.
It works every time. At best, you have a scene, or even part of one, that feels fresh. At worst, you have a placeholder for an idea that might come at a later time. Above all, though, you haven’t stopped writing.


  1. I LOVE this Jody. I am going to use it for the characters in my WIP.


Post a Comment