Why Too Many Writers Can Spoil a Brainstorming Group

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Thomas A. Edison

As a writer, I don’t have time for the Edison approach. That’s why I like brainstorming in a group. However not all groups are created equal, so here are some tips that work for me.

1. Size matters. Less is more. More time for each person to have a turn. More time for recording ideas, asking questions, etc. No more than five people in a group.

2. The secret is in the sauce. Brainstorming with other authors who read or write in your genre or time period creates the best blend of ideas and resources.

3. Location. Location. Location. Find a convenient place, which is private with few distractions.

4. Be prepared. Bring copies of a one-page double-spaced overview of the premise and tone of your work and your specific area(s) of concern. I provide spaces for comments and collect the pages at the end of the session in case I missed any suggestions.

5. In the nick of time. Two hours is a reasonable amount of brainstorming time for each person to receive twenty to thirty minutes of ideas from the group. Someone needs to be the timekeeper and reign in the group if they lose focus on the premise, tone, or specific concerns. Gentle reminders. No whips or rulebooks are required.

What do you think about brainstorming groups? What other suggestions do you have?


  1. Great idea. I know questioning ideas in my small writers group has been extremely valuable to me. But not all of the writers write in the same genre. So having 5 people who do what you do sounds terrific.

    You didn’t mention whether the questions/concerns are presented ahead of time or not. Sometimes I can think on the spot, and 2 hours is probably enough time for my mind to engage and create. But often it takes several days for inspiration to sink in. So having the concerns before the session would be better for me.


    • Nanette, thanks for posting. Members of the brainstorming group usually don’t email copies of their pages before the session, but they often email other ideas afterward. Whatever works for you and your group is fine. My suggestions are what work best for me.-Jillian

  2. Deb Sanders says:

    You touched on an important fact…too many writers not only spoil the brainstorming soup, but also ruin your book. Each author has a unique voice and it’s important not to edit it out, whether through brainstorming that dilutes your original ideas or critique partners who insist you write YOUR book THEIR way. I heartily agree to keeping the group small and your suggestions are right on target. Good, informative post. Thanks for sharing!

    • Deb, thanks for mentioning how important an author’s unique voice and book are. Unfortunately sometimes one or two members of a brainstorming or critique group forget they are there to offer SUGGESTIONS, not to bully or dictate. The author’s job is to choose which suggestions work with his or her voice and book.

  3. Great tips. Thanks.

  4. I do like a critique group at the beginning of writing a novel because it helps me gauge if I’m connecting with readers the way I hope to. After a certain point, however, I prefer working with one or two beta readers. Like you said, less is more. 🙂

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