The Professors’ Page

Here you can find writing advice, thoughts, and jump-starters from HCC’s English faculty!

Professor Dave Champoux-

6 Ways to Brainstorm Creative Ideas


Remember, the ideas you come up with using these methods don’t have to be brilliant or even finished – not yet anyway. Just come up with something interesting. Or something stupid. You never know what will eventually lead to an interesting piece. The creative process is enhanced by an open attitude.

1)     Write in Unusual Times and Places: In the next few days, pick a time and place to write that you wouldn’t usually use. If you don’t usually write at night, try that — maybe even late at night or early morning. Pick a new place — in a café, or a mall. Or in the basement of your house. In this time, just free-write or brainstorm. See what comes to you.

2)     Freewriting: Freewriting, as you probably know, is when you “just write” — you sit down with a pen and paper and write whatever’s on your mind, even if you end up rambling or not making any sense at all. You don’t stop to re-read what you’ve written, and you can’t stop to correct anything, even if you know it’s wrong. If you keep writing like this, you may start to write down ideas you never even knew that you had. And even if you don’t come up with a good idea, freewriting is still worth doing — it’s an exercise in expressing yourself without evaluating or criticizing yourself. You might try this a few times to come up with an idea, or to develop an idea you already have.

3)     Write down your dreams: Do your best to write down your dreams. Could one of your dreams be expanded into a good piece? Or maybe just start with a single image from a dream and expand it into something bigger or completely different. Hint: once you write down your dream, don’t look at it for at least a week or two. Just try it…

4) People-Watching: The idea is to bring your notebook someplace public (the mall, the bus stop, a restaurant, or wherever) and do some “People-Watching.” Since this is the Club Expo, you’re already someplace “public.”

  • Who do you see? What do think about when you see them?
  • Invent some “characters.” Try some of the following “heuristics” to help you…

A)  age/gender/physical description

B)  family (immediate/extended) / friends

C) job/hobbies:

D)  major life moments:

E)  plans for the future:

F)  what “secrets” does the characters have? what does the character not want to admit about him or herself? what does he or she need to “learn”?

G)  what is the character’s “hidden potential”?

H)  what does the character dream about?

NOTE: the idea here is not to invade people’s privacy or make them feel self-conscious. It’s just to relax and people-watch, which most people are okay with.

5) “Found” Poems/Stories: Start with a line you find somewhere else:

A ) a line of magnetic poetry

B)  a headline from a newspaper

C)  a quote you hear on television or you read somewhere

D)  any line or image idea you pick up from anywhere

Then, take this line or image (or whatever) and develop it into something longer. It doesn’t even have to relate to what it originally meant.

6) Look at another art form: Listen to some music (with or without words). Does it suggest anything to you? A mood? An image? What scene, character, event, or image comes to your mind when you listen to it? Try the same thing with a drawing or painting, or another kind of artwork altogether.

Professor Fred Cooksey-

First and foremost, read. Read all the best works of literature you can get your hands on. You don’t necessarily have to read the “great works” right away, but you should plan to get to them at some point. In the meantime, read novels, stories, and poems that speak to you. Read them as a writer. In other words, ask yourself why the author used a particular word, or chose a dash rather than a comma, or ended a paragraph unexpectedly. Hell, read toilet paper packaging and billboards like a writer too.

A few recommendations (eventually you must read—and learn to love—all of these books): Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises; George Eliot, Middlemarch; Melville, Moby-Dick; Chekhov, any collection of short stories. Apart from the Hemingway, which is pretty easy and entertaining, the others are often dense and demanding. But they’re worth it.

Also, be sure to take literature courses with professors who love literature—and avoid the professors who have a social or political agenda.

In life, be analytical and take nothing at face value, but also try to be generous of spirit. Observe human beings in all their various forms and habits—and try to respond to them with wonder and understanding rather than judgment. (This is a hard one for me.)

Finally, you should travel.