Mind Mapping: A Thinking Tool for Writers

Try mind mapping (or ‘clustering’) to assess an illusive subject, or sort and organize a log jam of information. It’s a simple brain storming-style exercise. A flip chart page and coloured pens produce a large format reference, but a letter-sized sheet with a pencil works just as well.

  1. Write a word that represents a problematic character or issue in the center and circle it.
  2. Note and circle every idea that pops to mind—with no censoring or judging. Let the words fly at random. Keep working for two or three minutes, or until you run out of responses.
  3. Review what you’ve written. Draw linking lines between related ideas.
  4. Now write a few paragraphs about the insights gained. A fiction writer might want to freewrite a scene, but keep it loose. No inner editors allowed because we’re trying to pull from the unconscious mind here.
  5. That done, you may want to create a refined version of your mind map, narrowing it to the focal issues and clumping related things together.
An Example of Mind Mapping

I used a mind map to get to know an illusive biographical subject better. Reginald Pidcock left letters and diaries but he was a reserved man whose opinions, beliefs and inner life are vague undercurrents. What were the complexities, nuances and–in particular–the  incongruities of this man?

I noted everything I know about Pidcock and drew linking lines between the actions, circumstances and goals that were at odds—because that’s where reader interest lies. I wrote a few paragraphs about the discoveries I made. (There were some interesting revelations!) That done I created a refined version of the chart for my office wall.