12 Sep

Mind Mapping

Posted in Brain Boot Camp, DIY MFA

This is a technique I learned when I was taking a creativity seminar in grad school.  Mind mapping is great for visual thinkers who need to “see” the big picture of a project.  It’s also really good to use in a brainstorming session because it forces you to look at your idea from different angles, literally.  Not sure what I mean, just try making a mind map.  You’ll turn the page around so many times, it’s almost impossible not to look at the idea from different perspectives.

There are as many different ways of making a mind map as there are creative people in the world, but the basics are the same.  Write the main idea in the center of the page and circle it.  Now make branches from the circle and write one topic on each of those lines.  Continue breaking off subtopics from each of those branches, creating what looks like a web across the page.  Like this:

For example, say you wanted to use a mind map to brainstorm the world of your story, you might start with the name of your story as the center. Then your branches might be: Technology, Food, Geography, Clothing, etc.  For each of those branches then you would break down the subtopics into more detail.  This example revolved around world building but you can use mind mapping to brainstorm just about any aspect of your story.

Some tips for making an effective mind map:

  • Use markers or colored pens to color-code.
  • Try not to judge your ideas as you draw the map.
  • Don’t be afraid to make it messy.
  • Turn the page around and look at the idea from different angles.
  • If possible, use unlined paper, to allow your ideas to flow in all directions.

I’ll close this with a personal tidbit.  When I was in grad school for psychology, I used to take all my notes this way.  Of course, it made things difficult when a fellow student asked to borrow my notes.  They’d take one look and hand my notebook right back.  Eventually I’ve found a balance between taking notes in mind maps and using a more standard format but I still think mind maps are more fun!

Today’s Task:  Mind map something.  Doesn’t matter what it is.  It can be your grocery list, if that’s what’s on your mind right this minute.

In terms of discussion, I’d love to know: did the mind map help you gain insights on your topic that you might not have gained with a traditional outline?  Did it help you see your topic from a new perspective?


Comments on this post

  1. DLCurran says:

    I'm going to try this on my world and, I think, on my plot too. I had a critique come back telling me of some holes and haven't gotten it tightened up – this might help. Thanks.

    1. Wannabe Writer says:

      Very cool! I'm not a visual thinker, but I may still give this a try. Is there a difference between what is written on the lines and what is written in the bubbles? (That's my left brain asking a question.)

      1. gabi says:

        In answer to your question about what is written on the lines vs. what's written in bubbles, that's just my own weird way to make a mind map. I use the bubbles for notes and things to remember while the lines are for categories and subcategories. You can make up your own rules for what means what. 🙂

        1. Jessica Hill says:

          I think you saw on my blog that I've started using mind maps for my writing projects. I don't do it with paper like this, I've been using mindmeister. But I have found it very helpful and it is definitely a great brainstorming tool.

          1. Bess Weatherby says:

            I tried to do a giant map on my wall earlier this year, and I found it just distracted me. I was more concerned with how it looked than I was with what it said, or writing all that down in novel-form. I guess this makes me a non-visual person? Or just WAY too easily distracted? Maybe I'll give it another try . . .

            1. darksculptures says:

              I love mind mapping. I'm very visual and I find that mapping out my thoughts also helps me to see past cliché' ideas and find otherwise overlooked approaches to a story, or even a poem.

              Another thing I like to do while mapping is to grab related words from a thesaurus or dictionary. It is amazing how a simple word can lead to a completely new trail of thought.

              1. Najela says:

                I did this a while ago (like a couple weeks ago) for a novel that was kicking my behind. I have everything planned out, but I could find the energy to write it. Then I was like "Why not make it into a graphic novel?" and everything just clicked. I'm hoping to go back to that mind map and see if I can make some sense of it.

                I want to try this for my current WIP, since I'm definitely letting that one go wherever it wants to go. It's a bit freeing not to have a definitely plot, kind of like riding down a lazy river.

                I'm so busy not doing anything that I hope I can actually post my results to my blog.

                1. Kerryn Angell says:

                  I like brainstorming like this but I find that I get to a point where I need it to be organised to move forward. Thanks Jessica for the MindMeister mention. I've tried bubbl.us but haven't used it for much.

                  1. Stina Lindenblatt says:

                    I used mind mapping when I was working on my master's thesis. I never even thought of using it for plotting my novels. Cool idea. 😀

                    1. salarsenッ says:

                      Looking at your story from different angles is so important, yet so hard to achieve sometimes. This is great. I've used a technique similar to this. I was a big theater buff, so I've acted out alternate ways to view a scene. Kind of physically exhausting but…

                      Secondly, this kind of mind mapping (outlining) is perfect for me. I'm a scattered thinker, not subtle–usually big and out there with twists and turns I can't make heads of at first. This method kind of justifies it for me.

                      1. Feliza says:

                        I love this! I used to mind map, but kind of forgot about it. I found this article yesterday and it's really sparked my brainstorming mojo.

                        For those of us who tend to make squished, hard-to-read maps with squished, hard-to-read writing, maybe a virtual mind-map like Bubbl.us would be good. I've been playing around with it, and it's pretty cool. The best part is, it's free.

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