Picture every English class you have ever been in: the teacher is in front of the class droning on about some boring essay that you are going to have to write within the next few weeks. You have heard it all before. Every teacher has given you the same advice. If you want to come up with ideas for what to write about: brainstorm. Set aside 5 or 10 minutes to write down every word that pops into your head that relates to your assigned essay topic. This is good, boring advice. It is quick and dirty, and it helps when you need to come up with your initial essay ideas. However, brainstorming is a good general-purpose tool that can be used at any point in the writing process.
In fact, brainstorming is a great way to spice up boring writing. When ever you run into a sentence that you have written that you want your reader to remember, break the sentence down word for word. When you find an abstract word that you can’t instantly picture in your mind take 5 or 10 minutes to brainstorm different ways to explain the word through imagery.
Say for example, you wanted to spice up the sentence, “The people there felt like family.” “Family” is a fine word with many different connotations, but this sentence does not indicate specifically what it was about the people that made them feel that way. So to make the sentence more memorable, take the word “family” and brainstorm the different images that come to your mind when you think of family. Here are some examples that I came up with:
The smell of Christmas turkey and pumpkin pie as you opened presents around the tree.
Sitting together on the couch watching television as your dad flicks back and forth between three different stations trying to find the one that isn’t showing commercials.
The mischief in your mother’s voice when she brought home take out and announced, “I hope you enjoy it. I have been slaving in the kitchen all day.
Any one of these could help you to create a much more vivid sentence that would stand out in your reader’s mind. So instead of “The people there felt like family” you could have “The people there are warm like the feeling you felt when your father picked you up and held you when you were crying after you fell off your bike and skinned your knee.”
But don’t feel like you need to discard the rest of the ideas you came up with during brainstorming. You can keep them as a poem. With very little editing you can turn your brainstorming into a definition poem. To write a definition poem you start with an abstract word like “family” and us it as a title. Each line of the poem uses concrete imagery to describe the title. Here is my revised version of brainstorming as a poem.
Smelling Christmas turkey and pumpkin pie
As you opened presents around the tree.
Sitting all together on the couch
Watching television as your dad flicks
Back and forth between three different stations
Trying to find the one without commercials.
Feeling how you felt when your father
Picked you up and held you when you cried
After you fell off your bike and skinned your knee.
Hearing the mischief in your mother’s voice
When she brought home take out and announced,
“I hope you enjoy it. I have been here
Slaving in the kitchen the whole day.