Mind Mapping for Writers Part 2 (by Hobie Swan)

Mind Mapping for Writers Article 2

Welcome to the second of three articles about using mind mapping for writing. The first article looked at using mind maps to brainstorm, capture and organize ideas. This article begins with the list of ideas, and moves to the second stage of creating and managing complex content.

I’m going to wait until the final article to talk about using mind maps to actually write. So this is still geared for the “pre-writing” phase. As before, I’d encourage you to read this Wikipedia entry to learn more about the history and practice of mind mapping. Google “mindmapping” or “mind mapping,” and you’ll find a staggering amount of information on mind mapping software, best practices, uses, and history. Which all goes to show that mind mapping is a very common, worldwide practice—despite the fact that most Americans have never heard of it.

Figure 1: The map of this article series.

Chapter 1: Of all your brilliant ideas, choose one… for now

In the first article, we ended with a map in which I had organized the ideas I came up with while thinking about doing radio theater:

Figure 2: Ideas organized by category

Just to replicate real life, the idea I chose to focus on wasn’t on the first map. I thought of it as I was looking at the categories I’d come up with. To isolate this one idea, I’m going to collapse all of the other branches by clicking on all of the minus signs (-) on the other branches (Thanks to the strange magic of technology, these signs don’t show up when saving a map as a pictorial file. But they will be on the map itself.)

Figure 3: Focus on one idea among many.

But even now, it occurs to me that while I could just keep added lesser branches to the “buying a mattress” branch, I just might end up with much too large a map. So I am going to create a brand new map—one that’s automatically linked to this one—where I can brainstorm, organize and add detail to my heart’s content. To do this, I right click on “buying a mattress” and this menu appears:

Figure 4: Make one idea the center of a new map.

I choose “Send to New Page” and, voila, this one branch becomes the center of a new map.

Figure 5: Brainstorm and organize the new map.

The image of the paperclip above the word “mattress” assures me that this map is linked to the one I created it from.

Figure 6: The paperclip icon means more information is attached.

If you are working on a very large project, this capability of linking smaller maps to one central map can be very useful in helping you keep track of all the endless details. Linked maps provide an organizational structure that many find superior to the normal system of documents and folders. Just as you can link one map to another, you can also link any branch of any map to another branch on the map, a file such as document or image, a folder, any web page, and even to email. Thus, a single map can contain your ideas about a topic, links to web sites with information about that topic, documents you or others have written about it, as well as any number of supporting images, emails or notes. It becomes a single repository of just about every kind of information that pertains to that project.

Chapter 2: Details, details

With my main idea identified and put at the center of the new map, I now re-enter a brainstorming phase, jotting down my recollections of the experience. Since I am notice that I’m remembering things chronologically, I navigate through the top ConceptDraw menu bar to get to “Arrange Map” icon, click it to see my layout choices, and scroll down to the “Arrange (right) icon.

Fig. 7: Navigate the top menu to create the map arrangement of your choice.

This puts all of my ideas into a more linear list, with all of the branches stacked on top of one another on the right side of the map. This format makes it easier for me to list things in terms of first/next. (This just goes to show that sometimes the thinking that takes place can sometimes be spontaneous; sometimes linear.) Regardless of the layout option I choose, I still have the freedom to drag and drop ideas as I choose.

With the map arranged to my personal preference, I take a moment to use the F9 key to bring up on the right of my screen a library of visual symbols…

Figure 8: Add visual information to your map by using F9 to bring up a window of graphic symbols.

… and add visual cues that bring the map to life and help me remember its contents.

Figure 9: Visual icons communicate information “at a glance” and across languages.

As I review all of my ideas, I decide that it’s the “once I get home” part where the story really starts to get interesting to me—especially because I can now imagine having more than one voice in my radio play.

Fig. 10: Use visual and text styles to draw attention to specific parts of a map.

I right click on the “Discovered that there were people…” branch and click on “Format Topics” to bring up a window of choices I use to add extra visual interest. I highlight the text and use Format–>Text to change the font for the same reason. These visual cues remind me that the things I note in that yellow oval provide good dramatic opportunities as I realize just how much I’ve been had.

Chapter 3: Build an in-depth, flexible outline

You can continue as I did to use the mind map to drill down into your ideas and build out an outline of what you are going to write about. It just happens to be a form of outline that works better for some of us. I don’t know if it’s because of early childhood education trauma when I was forced to try to make outlines before I wrote my reports about the Civil War or westward expansion or the life of a founding figure. Whatever it was, my mind freezes when I try to create them.

As I said in the previous article, I think the mind constrains when it is forced to think in terms of what comes first, what comes next. Mind maps don’t care what order you think of anything. Think of it all, in any order you want, and get it down on the page. Later, after you’ve had a chance to just think spontaneously, you can drag and drop your ideas into some kind of logical order. As you’ll see in the final article, it is often the case that you find yourself needing to think now linearly, now randomly at any stage of a process. The important thing is that mind maps are designed to give you an interface that supports whichever mode of thinking you find necessary at any moment in time.

Chapter 4: Setting the map up to manage your writing

If you have a writing project you’re struggling with, or just working on, it might be interesting for you to try mapping out your ideas as I’ve done here. You might be surprised at how liberating it is—and how quickly you can work. Some people describe their first experience with mind maps as feeling as though these big metal bands have been removed from their skulls and they are able to think freely.

But it depends on the individual. Mind maps are not a panacea. They work very well for some people, and miserably for others. It if works for you, cool! It’s another tool you have to help you write.

By now, I’ve mapped out most of the main elements to the story and am ready to start writing more in-depth background information I can use later when I actually start writing the radio play.  I’ve used the F9 key again to bring up that list of symbols. I’ve added a green arrow, to draw my attention to this branch, and what looks like an empty circle. This is one of nine circles that capture stages of completion.

The circle is empty now because I’m just starting. As my writing progresses, I can choose other stages as the writing progresses until I get to the checkmark, which signifies that this writing is finished.

Figure 11: Circular icons help you keep track of your progress in any one area.

I can’t tell you how useful it is to be able to just scan down a map of a writing project and see how far along I am in each writing assignment. It’s very satisfying to watch as all those empty circles slowly progress toward the checkmark.

Stay tuned for the next article

Of course, everyone has their own unique writing process. I hope this article has given you a feel for how you can use mind mapping for each stage or your process. If you haven’t yet, I encourage you to download mind mapping software and start playing around with it. ConceptDraw has a 30-day free trial that might be good to use since I’m explaining how to do things using the ConceptDraw interface and menu commands. In the next article, the last of three, I’ll make the big jump, from mapping to writing.

Note: This article by Hobart Swan originally appeared on Teaching Village, and is licensed under a Creative Commons, Attribution-Non Commercial, No Derivatives 3.0 License. If you wish to share it you must re-publish it “as is”, and retain any credits, acknowledgements, and hyperlinks within it.


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1 Response

  1. January 8, 2011

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Howard Rheingold. Howard Rheingold said: RT @ShellTerrell: Mind Mapping for Writers Part 2 (by Hobie Swan) https://bit.ly/e1NenJ via @barbsaka […]