Posted by: Kerry Gans | March 24, 2015

Brainstorming Ideas: Do you flare or simmer?

We’ve all been in workshops where we get a writing prompt of some kind. The prompt may be specific; it may be vague. But as soon as the prompt is given, three reactions occur.

1) Some people put their heads down right away and the words start pouring forth on the page.

2) Some people stare into space for about half the allotted time, but manage to write their piece before the deadline.

3) Some people stare into space for almost the full timeframe, and get little or nothing written.

People in the first category are the “flares.” As soon as they get a prompt, an idea jumps into their head and they are off to the races. Personally, being able to come up with such full-bodied ideas at a moment’s notice would thrill me.

I am not a flarer.

I fall into one of the other two categories—the ones I call “simmer.” We simmerers need time to think, to stew, to mull. We need time for our subconscious to put together the prompt and some other random facts and come up with something coherent.

This “simmering” business might scare us away from workshops where we write on the spot, but I’m here to tell you that there is hope!

Quite often when I had classes with Jonathan Maberry, he would throw out random thoughts and we had to give him a story idea based on what he gave us. Mostly, I stared in awkward silence and said something profound like “Umm…” I can’t count the number of times I was halfway home from class and suddenly shouted, “Aha!” with a great idea after not being able to form a single thought at the time.

Later, I took Craftwriting workshops with Kathryn Craft. Hers are small workshops, with writing on the spot, and then reading your output (if you want, no pressure). Can I tell you how scared I was to do this? Me, who took 3 hours to come up with one idea, was going to try and write something decent in 30 minutes or so? But I tried it.

The first few classes were nerve-wracking. The ideas came slowly, and sometimes they didn’t make sense and sometimes I didn’t finish writing the scene because I ran out of time. But I discovered that the more times I did it, the easier it became. I left my fear of writing something idiotic at the door and just let my brain do its thing.

And I got better.

Now, I will never be a flarer. I still spend many minutes of our writing time staring into space waiting for some idea to emerge from the haze in my mind. But I no longer fear the ideas will not come. And the ideas that come now are stronger and better than the earlier ones. Sometimes, I even write really good stuff.

And it’s fun.

And as a writer, if you’re not having fun, what’s the point?

To my fellow simmerers out there: don’t let fear stop you from taking write-on-the-spot workshops. It does get easier. It does get better.

And it does become fun.

Do you flare or a simmer?


  1. What a relief to know I’m not the only one who suffers from this problem! I’m definitely a “simmerer.” I’ve always disliked writing on the spot, but maybe I’ll give it another try.


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