Today’s writing exercise is all about mind mapping. More than a prompt, you could say it’s like a brain dump–but different. Many people lump mind mapping in with clustering. Mind mapping involves the brainstorming technique known as clustering but it’s a lot more. I have used mind mapping at various stages of writing, including early planning, and have found it to be a useful tool. In essence, mind mapping provides you with a content-rich, right-brained representation of an idea that also includes left brain attributes. In the sense that I’m talking about here, a mind map is a picture of what’s in your mind at that moment about a specific idea, project, topic or idea for a book.
Mind maps reveal the unexpected
Over the years my mind maps have proven to be unexpected treasure maps to the inner goings-on of my creativity. What am I thinking? A mind map tells me. I’m not locked into the precise, linear thinking and ingrained expectations of the left brain but view the flash of unleashed inner thinking that powers the map-making and combines with much of what I already know and sense. The results are sudden insights, new directions and powerful connections into the already blooming process.
Discover potential problems early in the writing process
The visual representation of an idea stimulates new creative thought. Years ago I was struggling with a novel. It was a good idea and the words came but for some reason I couldn’t sustain it past 200 pages. One day I sat down and began mapping the book. When I finished, I realized that I’d mapped out several triangles that were connected by the three main characters. I realized then that the story had more to do with the power dance between the people and suddenly I understood my viewpoint character was all wrong. She didn’t have the power to carry the book to the end but the dance between the men did. Of course, that was followed by a rather lengthy sigh. But I knew then where I’d gone wrong and why. From that moment on I’ve made it a point to mind map my story ideas during the planning process.
What you need to mind map your idea
Creating a mind map is highly intuitive so there are no rules. Mind maps can be as simple or ornate as you’re inclined. Your choice of pens, pencils and other media is up to you. Mind maps can offer writers an opportunity to indulge their inner artist and still work on their novel at the same time. Mind maps can be explored on blank paper, in blank notebooks, on sketch pads, or on posters. A mind map can be kept in a notebook or displayed on a wall as an easy visual reminder. Mind maps are all about you.
The most important thing you need is an idea. You’ve heard it said many times that “ideas are a dime a dozen.” They’re cheap because so much is determined from the execution of the idea. Does the idea have legs? Will it grow? Can it support the framework of a novel or booklength work of nonfiction? A quick way to do a preliminary test is to sketch out a preliminary mind map. Any combination of the following will get you mapping.
- Pens, pencils, colored pencils, gel pens, crayons, ink pens
- Copy paper, blank notebook, dry erase board, dry erase sheet
- A few initial descriptive words that encapsulate the idea
Whether you want to tackle an isolated area in a novel such as a specific scene or map the entire scope of the book, a mind map will bring information to light and provide a new perspective.
I plan to go deeper into mind mapping in another post but to get started simply write your idea down in a few words and begin adding words, phrases, character names, chapter events, topics, even potential scene settings. Don’t stop to think. Move fast, placing the words in whatever relationship to one another that you’re inclined. Let your body lead and follow your hand. At some point you’ll start connecting the words with lines, capturing phrases in boxes, using different colors and even inserting symbols. This is play with purpose. Remember, it’s your mind, your idea, your map.
When should you do a mind map?
How about today? Create a mind map of the current state of your project. Go ahead, see what’s on your mind. Come back and tell us all about it. I’d love to hear about the mind mapping experiences of others.