Are you making any of these mindmapping mistakes?

Reading time: About 4 minutes

Video: Just under 7 minutes

Have you ever struggled with mindmapping? Here is a video, and a post, designed to teach you how to create a mindmap…

Like a cardiologist who see nothing but hearts with problems — and therefore finds them easier to diagnose — I see a lot of broken mind maps. Clients send them to me asking for help. “What’s gone wrong?” they ask. “How can I fix it?” Some of them even say, flatly, “mindmapping just doesn’t work for me.”

I’ve been mindmapping long enough I can now say that the process should work for almost everyone. If it doesn’t work for you, you may fall into the less-than-one-percent camp of people who are the exceptions that prove the rule.

More likely? You just need some help. Recently, clients have started asking for a video of me doing a mindmap. Much as I hate seeing my own face on the screen (ICK!) I finally agreed to do it. Besides, much of the video (you can see it on my blog) is shot over my shoulder….

The first part of the video shows me following most of the rules related to mindmapping. I’ve turned my piece of paper sideways. I’ve written my topic in the centre of the page. And I’ve allowed a bunch of secondary ideas to radiate outwards. (My handwriting is so horrible, I’m going to list the ideas for you here, even though you can also see a picture of the mindmap, adjacent.)

Going clockwise from top right:

  • Don’t self-edit.
  •              write down everything that occurs to you
  • Why I use it.
  • Left vs. right side of brain
  • Why it makes writing easier.
  • Allows you to develop/find new/unusual ideas
  •              metaphors

The objective of a mindmap is not to provide an outline of everything you’re going to write. Its purpose is to inspire you…to make you feel like writing. And this particular mindmap? I call it a fail. It’s too diffuse. Too unfocused. I’ve uncovered no central theme to bring it all together. Most important: when I finished the mindmap I didn’t feel any more like writing than I did when I started.

Spoiler alert: I did this deliberately by picking a bad topic. One of the secrets I’ve learned is that what you write in the middle of the page is almost always the key to any mindmap’s success. It’s a bit like using top quality ingredients when you’re cooking. Excellent raw material leads to an excellent result.

When I started my second mindmap (the more successful one – also shown in the video) I sought to identify the typical mistakes you might make when you do your mindmapping. Here are all eight of them:

  1. You put an idea in the centre of the page that isn’t focused enough. how to create a mindmapGeneric ideas lead to bland, generic mindmaps. These don’t make anyone want to write anything. Originally, I’d just put the subject — mindmapping — in the centre. But with this second mindmap you can see I’ve asked myself a far more interesting and provocative question: What mistakes do people make with mindmapping? Our brains love answering questions. They take them as a challenge, in the most positive sense of the word. If you don’t know what question to put in the centre of the page then maybe do a first mindmap to identify your angle. Here’s a question you can start with: “What will my readers be most interested in learning about ____ [your topic]?
  2. You use too many words. I see many mindmaps that are larded with words. Instead of haiku, they’re mini-essays. Think of your mindmaps as a series of picture hooks that allow you to hang your photos or artwork. You know how a picture is worth a thousand words? The same principle applies to mindmaps. Just write enough words to remember the point you want to make. Less is more.
  3. You’re overly concerned about “getting it right.” Yes, I know this is ironic. How can I tell you that mindmappers make mistakes — and then say that one of them is worrying about making mistakes? But it’s true. The fear of getting something wrong can tie you in knots. Mindmapping should be easy-peasy and fun. It’s a time to explore. Don’t fuss about putting ideas in the “right order” or which idea is the “child” of another. If a thought springs into your brain then write it down — anywhere. Then move on.
  4. You fail to draw circles around your ideas. I don’t fully understand why drawing circles is important, but it is. It’s a little fillip, like putting a tick mark against a task you’ve just completed, that makes you feel as though you’ve finished something. This sense of completion makes us all feel good. And here’s why that’s important: We don’t feel happy because we accomplish things. We accomplish things when we feel happy. Sean Achor makes this point convincingly and with great good humour in his TED talk.
  5. You get stuck in one area or with one idea. I see many mindmappers spin themselves in circles, like whirling dervishes. You’re determined you should go down one path — and when you can’t come up with any more ideas that will allow you to do that, you become angry and frustrated. Don’t do that! Instead, let your brain take you where it wants to. And if you don’t know where that is, don’t allow yourself to make the next mistake…
  6. You fail to doodle. Doodling is a great way to let your brain run free. It’s like heading to a beach or a dog park and taking your dog off the leash. Zoom, Rover runs off at full speed. Doodling allows us to pay close attention without overthinking. When doodling, our brains are free from the picayune details and have time to focus on the bigger picture.
  7. You don’t use a BIG enough piece of paper. For shortish stories or blog posts an 8½ x 11 paper may be enough. More commonly, however, people do better with 9 x 12 or 11 x 17. You want to feel a sense of freedom and unlimited opportunity when you mindmap. This is one of the reasons you need to turn the piece of paper sideways. But a bigger piece of paper can help, too. If you’re mindmapping a book or some other long-form project, such as a thesis, don’t mess around with paper that needs to be measured. Get a roll of butcher’s paper or unprinted-on newsprint and stretch it over a boardroom or dining-room table (with all the leaves in it.)
  8. You don’t restart if you’re getting nowhere. A mindmap for any piece of writing that’s fewer than 1,000 words should take no longer than five minutes. (Mindmaps for long-form projects shouldn’t take longer than an hour.) I do most of my mindmaps in less than three minutes. This is not because I’m so smart. It’s because if it takes longer than three minutes I know that the idea in the centre of my page isn’t good enough and I stop. Know that one story doesn’t necessary equal one mindmap. It’s entirely possible that you may need to do three, four or even five mindmaps before you become “inspired” to write or figure out your way in to a story.

You should also know that mindmaps don’t need to be finished. As soon as you have what I like to call the “aha” experience — the “oh, now I know what I want to say” urge— the I-want-to-start-writing itch, then, guess what?

You should put away your mindmap and start writing.

What’s your track-record with mindmapping? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post  (or any others) by July 31/15 will be put in a draw for a copy of If You Want To Write by Brenda Ueland. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “more from my site” links, below.  

Posted July 21st, 2015 in Power Writing

  • Krithika Rangarajan

    I have never used mindmaps. So thank you for your tips <3

  • Janice Crago

    I use mindmaps sometimes and find that they’re usually helpful when I do. That then begs the question: why not all of the time? Laziness, I suppose.

    • I’m going to write a column about laziness. I don’t think most of us are truly lazy. I think it’s more a question of the habits we build. You just need to develop the mindmapping habit, Janice.

  • Great stuff Daphne. My previous experience with MP was your first example. I will try again. Your video talent is under valued. Do more of them. Seeing is believing even with magic.

    • Glad this helped you, Brian. Yes, make sure that what you write on the centre of the page is focused enough. That’s the secret!

  • Barb Dodd

    Enjoyed reading this, Daphne–but the watching was better because it brings the idea to life. Oh, BTW, you have a typo here:
    Some of them even say, flatly, “mindmaping just doesn’t work for me.” – See more at:

  • Tom Brown

    Wow! I was impressed and pleased with the video demonstration of Mind Mapping, First off you are very photogenic, have an excellent speaking voice and deliver your information in an incisive, entertaining way, along with a touch of playfulness. Love your pixie hair style, sparkling eyes, and no nonsense instructions.

    Lose the self-deprecation there is nothing to substantiate it.

    I am new to mind mapping and love getting started. Thank you for the motivation and direction.

    • Thanks for your kind words, Tom. I used to hate listening to my voice in recording (when I was at university and had to go to a language lab for French.) Eventually, I became accustomed to it. Maybe the same will be true of video.

      • Tom Brown

        Hello Daphne,
        One of the things I did to help my writing was to join Toastmasters. That was a few years ago. Sure was scary those first few months but it was a very supportive environment and like anything the more you do it the better one gets. Your reticence about using video or speech, in my opinion, is a removable object.
        I will probably end up taking one of your coaching classes because you have a lot to offer. The main thing I achieved from Toastmasters is I do write better but more important is that I gained the confidence to speak live and publicly; recently I addressed a group of about 200 people at a memorial service for a dear friend. It was emotional but also heartwarming because I could connect with the audience. The feed back was instant, positive and gratifying. No I am not giving up my day job and my long term goal is to write better. You are one of the best blogger I have come across and I really value your comments and instructions. You should possibly consider holding live seminars.
        I send along to you all my best intentions.
        Tom Brown

        • I’m a big fan of Toastmaster’s, too. They are a really great organization — very supportive. (I’m not nervous about speaking per se; I just don’t like looking at myself on screen. I’m sure I’ll get over it — eventually.)

  • Beverly Theunis

    I’m among the failed mind mappers, and your video inspired me to try again. I’d been using a mind mapping app. What are your thoughts on those? You look very nice on video. On the sound, however, I could not hear your voice on my laptop even with the volume all the way up, had to use earphones. But then, when the “good, bad” visuals came on their sound effects were suddenly too loud. So, modulation between voice and sound effects would be good, plus just a little more oomph from your microphone. Otherwise, perfect! I hope you’ll make more videos. Thank you.

    • Thanks, Beverly. Will talk to my son about the volume levels. (He’s my tech guy.) In terms of mindmapping apps, I recommend going old-fashioned on this one. I just use a paper and pencil. There is some evidence that this is the best way to get our brains to think. See the video contained in this link:

  • This post and video came at a perfect time! I have read your prior posts about mind mapping but it wasn’t until seeing you do it and talk through it that it clicked for me. THANK YOU! I’m making a presentation tomorrow (for gifted and talented students in summer camp) about a topic I don’t normally talk about. My brain has been turning over and over thinking about what points I should make, what visuals to show, what questions to ask the students. It’s all a jumble. A mind map will be much more helpful than an outline. My first mind map is coming up!

    • Excellent. I think mindmapping will make preparing for your presentation a whole bunch more fun!

  • Thanks, Daphne, I love mindmapping, but sometimes I forget to do them before I start writing. When that happens, I often get stuck in the middle of the piece and that’s when I tend to lose steam. I am going to start using your technique of starting with a question. I can see that it will lead to a more dynamic mind map.

  • Vijayalakshmi Kalyanaraman

    This is great! I was stuck with my mind map and did not know what was wrong. I now know it after reading your post – more focus.

    This cute little thought about why we circle the ideas didn’t occurred to me. But my mind liked to answer – drawing circle around the idea is perhaps also doodling. I tried tracing one of the circles a few times – I doodled as you suggested – while chanting the idea inside that circle; new ideas came into my mind.

  • Olena

    Thank you, Daphne, as always, pure enjoyment to read your posts. I like how you play with the words. I am just wondering how I can go paperless on mind mapping. Do not want to use paper for environmental reasons.

    • Olena, I strongly suggest you stick with paper & pencil for mindmapping. See my comment to Beverly, below. If you’re concerned about the environment, do what I do: Save all your scrap paper in a drawer and then mind map on the back of it!

  • Suzanne A

    I love mindmapping, but had forgotten to use it in my work. Why? No idea! I’m going to get cracking right now and use it for the syllabi I have to create. Also, I appreciate your comment about how the mind rushes to answer questions. I find them really useful, both for the process of generating ideas as well as in the writing. PS I thought you did a great job on the video and enjoyed the added dimension of hearing and seeing you. Thank you, as always!

  • Margaret

    You have a lovely voice and enunciation; it was great to be able to hear you after reading your blog all these years. On the technical side, because of the placement of the camera, your hand covers your writing. It would be more effective if you placed it on the opposite side.

    • Thanks, Margaret. My son and I tried to make this work. He did a close up of the writing and had tried to intersperse those shots — so you could SEE what I was writing — but it was slightly out of focus, and therefore more distracting than helpful. I’ll get better at this the more I do it, I know!

  • Charli Mills

    Love the video!

  • Cathy

    Thanks so much for your timely reminders about mindmapping. For others who have been asking about online versions I agree that these have limited use for the kind mapping you are suggesting: to get ideas flowing. I used mindnode pro to put together a very large map of my dissertation but only after mindmapping regularly for my daily writing ideas. My mindnode map acts more as a framework to keep me focused. I am now going to use Daphne’s tried and true technique to mindmap sections of my chapter with the central question targeted on what I am really trying to say. Perhaps it is kind of a reverse outline….but I really dislike outlines so this method feels way more comfortable for me.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Cathy. I’m not sure I’d describe a mind map as a reverse outline, mainly because mindmapping is so freeing and outlining is so stultifying. Also, they have two entirely different purposes: an outline is to organize (I think this is best done AFTER writing, not before) and a mind map is to inspire!

      • Cathy

        I love that word “stultifying”. The perfect word for outlining in my view!!! I will hold onto the adage that mindmapping is to inspire!!!

  • Sandra

    I have done mindmaps for papers for several years with software, without software. Your newsletter and comments about mindmapping have been a good reminder thqt mindmapping is about thinking not writing, that is mindmapping is not an outline or a pre-outline. For me, keeping the doodling and the mindmap somewhat separated have also been helpful. It is very easy to get caught up in the symbols, arrows, and cloud. I also liked your advice about the center and if you can’t think of a non-generic title then pose if as a question. Last of all, the subject and angle descriptors from one of your previous blogs were also helpful. I have been trying to write a conference proposal. Thank you for your newletter. I has been very helpful.

  • regina

    Thank you!! Is great opportunity to learn this useful technic.

  • Perfect topic for a first video! Thanks for making it short, clear and to the point:-)

    It helped me see what I’m doing right, while reminding me of how I can improve.

    Takeaway: Present the topic in the form of a question. I think will help me focus. My maps can be all over the place.

    I fell in love with mindmapping when I traded in mindmapping software for colored pens and paper. Feels more organic, less mechanical.

    Sometimes I draw squares around an idea instead of a circle and doodle by embellishing the shapes. I wonder if this impacts the quality of my mindmaps.

    • Yes, I find working by hand makes a huge difference, too. I don’t typically use coloured pens, myself, but I think I’ll give that a try. Thanks for the recommendation, Marianne!

  • Kelly Beischel

    Thank you Daphne. I love the
    video! Visuals are so great. I’m sure you’ve said it many times but my biggest Aha was putting a question in the center of the Mindmap. I haven’t been doing that and have suffered through some writing projects as a result. I see clear sailing just from this one tip. Whoot!

    I love using different colors for each bubble. It makes it feel fun to me.

  • grace goog

    Thank you so much Daphne, I always learn a lot from you. I am really looking forward to seeing more videos from you. Cheers.

  • Alex Marshall

    Interesting about your Doodling recommendation, Daphne. I used to doodle a lot when young and in my teens.
    But in school and college I was constantly in trouble for daydreaming and doodling.
    No doubt I’m among millions in receiving that kind of experience and attitude.
    So, it’ll take effort to get back to that, for many of us.
    But worth it, of course

    • Sad, isn’t it, that society failed to recognize the benefits of doodling for so many years!

  • Thanks Daphne, this has been incredibly helpful! A lot clearer for me now. 🙂

  • Melissa

    Hi Daphne – I really enjoyed the video – well done! Great presentation and great modeling of how not and how to. I can’t help but wonder how much sugar your brain burned enabling you to speak coherently about one idea while you were printing out the next. Doesn’t this count as multi-tasking at some level? (guess which column I read first….)

    • Good point about multi-tasking! But, just to reassure you, I recorded the voice-over AFTER having done the mind- mapping, so it was easier than it looked!

  • Margie

    Hello Daphne,

    I have been following you for a year and have just started writing papers for my masters degree. My question is, when a paper has multiple questions do you mindmap for each question?

    • I would. Also, remember that a mind map shouldn’t take you long to create. Should be less than 3 minutes.

  • Nicole M

    I’ve been wanting to learn mind mapping. This is the clearest article I’ve read about it. I think I can get started now. Thanks.

  • Tobi Katz

    ok! I will try again. i must confess I truly truly hate mm. I worked for a company where mm was the rigeur and i thought it looked hideous.It was almost a fysical thing. So I am very much against it. It stifles every creative thought in me. You make it seem so useful. Thanks for uploading the video. You look very elegant!

    • Mindmapping need not be pretty — that’s not its point! But it sounds as though it was FORCED upon you and no one likes to be forced to do anything. If you can do it voluntarily, however, you might be pleasantly surprised by its usefulness. Let me know how it goes!

  • Tobi Katz

    soory aboot bad zpelling 🙂

  • Genival Viana

    Hello Daphne, I’m living in a another country and I have to do much homework. I’m glad for you share your big knowledge about my biggest afraid: WRITE well. hahah. Thank you so much

  • Aline Bernal

    I am planning to write a book, and altough I have a couple of ideas of how the story should go, I didn’t know HOW to tell it, I couldn’t even begin the 1st chapter because I didn’t know what to write! I have tried my first mindmap yesterday, and I was amazed how easily the ideas flowed. Now I have an idea of how things should go. And I also have a pretty colorful mindmap that is fun to look at as much as it was fun to make. So I can tell, this works wonders! And now I’m happily making my crappy first draft 🙂

    • Congratulations, Aline. So glad to hear that mindmapping is helping you writing your book!

  • Barbara

    Thanks for the video re- mind mapping. Listening and watching works for me. The key insight for me was to ask a question, the right question. Once I got that I was able to do a mindmap that opened some new ideas for me regarding the memoir I have been struggling to write.

    Thanks for your blog. I go back and read some of the older ones again to refresh what I have learned from you.

    • Glad to help, Barbara. I know I find asking a question makes a HUGE difference for me and for many of my students.

  • DonnaPowers

    Love the video Daphne! I find them very stressful as well but I am inspired by yours to keep going with mine. Guess you can Mind Map a video script too huh? Going to try that.

    • Yes, you can. Great idea, Donna! (Although I’m of the view you can mind map just about ANYTHING!)

  • Stephen Coomes

    Very helpful stuff, Daphne!

  • Lady Vogoue Boo

    I haven’t tried it yet. I guess I should, but sometimes I feel I
    shouldn’t. It will always battle inside whether I should make a
    plan/mapping on paper or speaking verbal. I’m always one single point
    person. If I have an idea I will make a plan on my head mapping it the
    idea, their good or bad side, what the effect could be, or how to avoid
    probability in failure, etc. It’s only working on my mind, then after
    brainstorming I start doing it. But loose part of being mapping on your
    brain is people surround you hard to compromise or see reason of your
    point. I don’t ask them to understand me fully because I know I’m not
    good on writing on paper, even worse when I try to describe on speech.
    it’s getting suffocate me. So, help me what should I do?

    • Jean

      I see my reflection in you. I used to worry excessively whether I was doing the method right. Yet I recently realise that methods are merely there to facilitate the retrieval of the “aha” essence.

      If I were you between analysis paralysis and attempting mind-map I would choose the latter. There are many best practices on how best to express an idea, yet what is of essence is not the method but its application.

      So what would Lady Vogoue Boo do to express an idea? How would Lady Vogoue Boo advise herself? Until you develop this trust in yourself that you listen to your own answers, then you can start to find out what best practice works for you, whether it is mind-map, outline, verbal expression or insisting on sorting out the mush in the brain.

      When you have worked on ONE method enough to make it work for you, keep using it, until you find something better to replace it. In my case, I went by the outline method until I realise that it can stifle my creativity, and am currently adopting Daphne’s mindmap method. Also thank you Daphne for the gentle reminder that mindmaps don’t need to be finished. When the idea comes I should put away my mind map and just start writing.

      I hope that with trust in yourself, “so, help me what should I do?” would be replaced with “if I knew what to do what would I do?”I wish you all the best Lady Vogoue Boo.

      • Thanks so much for replying, Jean. For reasons I don’t understand, I hadn’t seen Lady Vogue Boo’s original post until today. (I really do try to respond to ALL posts!) I especially liked your suggestion of finding and using “ONE method … until you find something better to replace it.”


    Looks like one of your favorite subjects is Mind mapping and it has provided focus to my writing as a blogger. Thanks!

    • So glad to hear that mindmapping is helping you. I know it made a huge difference to me!

  • Connie Miller

    Thanks so much for your excellent newsletter!

    As a speech coach, I take the mind map a step further after I’ve filled the paper, which is to notice which areas of the paper have more entries. Then I identify the 2-3 of them that can become the main points of my presentation. Then I check the others to see if there is any crucial info that needs to be part of the presentation. I decide if it could easily fit into one of the identified main points, or if it can stand on its own or it can be saved for another presentation. In this way I have clarified for myself the 1, 2 or 3 main points and the sub points. Voila!

    • Thanks for the ideas, Connie. For me, I try not to treat the mind map as an outline. Instead, I want it to be an inspirational tool, making me enthusiastic about the idea of writing. But we all use these techniques slightly differently, and that’s okay…

  • StefanieMH

    Thank you for this explanation. I tried mindmapping earlier but it didn’t work for me. Probably because my starting idea (or question) was never precise enough.

    I’ll try again for my next short story.

    Cheers from Germany,

    • Here’s another tip, Stefanie: You may need to do more than 1 mind map. The first one (or two) might help you hone in on the starting idea/question and the second (or third one) will be the one that works. A typical mind map shouldn’t take more than 3 minutes to do, so this isn’t a huge investment of time…

  • J Lynne Lombardi

    You did great! Also, do you have closet full of suit jackets that are just alike? Good color but how to have the same jacket that is part of your picture after all these (shall I said it) years? 🙂

    • I take good care of my clothes and wear them for a LONG time! I’m sure this doesn’t make me a fashion icon but it keeps life easier — and more affordable!

  • Rickey Gold

    This is wonderful. Thanks, Daphne. I’m going to be more consistent about mind mapping…..and hopefully, more successful!

  • Lisa May

    Amazing article and very helpful tips! I also learned here: about mind mapping techniques but with your tips i am sure I am gonna be more successful. Thank you for sharing

    • You’re welcome, Lisa. I read the article you linked, above, and have to say I disagree with many of their points about the “benefits” of using software to mind map. To me, there is just one benefit: my handwriting is hard to read. So if there’s any reason for me to keep a mind map for more than a day, I know it makes sense for me to put it into software (because, otherwise, I’m unlikely to be able to read it.)

  • Lex McKee

    Hi Daphne
    Great to connect with another proponent of Mind Mapping.
    I used to be the UK’s Master Trainer for Buzan Centres – training trainers in Mind Mapping. Happy to contribute some of the ‘Aha!’ moments students have inspired me with over the years.
    As Tony Buzan says,
    Floreant dendritae
    (May your neurons flourish!)