Why you should try this magic bullet for writers


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If you’re looking for the secret formula to making writing easier, it’s time to give mindmapping another try…

I was speaking at a conference several years ago and talking about mindmapping. (If you don’t know what mindmapping is, check out one of my previous columns on the subject.)

I spotted one tall, skinny guy in the middle of the very large hotel conference room, smiling and nodding his head vigorously. I could also see a few rather grumpy faces – people who looked either disappointed or disbelieving. A few even looked angry! I moved my eyes back to the smiling guy. I didn’t want to be derailed by the folks who were smouldering.

Immediately after my speech, the smiling guy raced to the front of the room. He pumped my hand and thanked me profusely. “I read your column about mindmapping several months ago,” he said, “and it totally changed my style of writing. It made it so much easier.

One of the grumpy people also nabbed me. She didn’t think mindmapping would work. It seemed too easy, too inconsequential. I took her to the lobby and I remember sitting with her, for about an hour, explaining how the process worked and trying to persuade her to give it a try.

I have no idea whether she ever did – given her attitude, I suspect not – but I wasn’t going to give up easily. Mindmapping is the closet thing to a magic bullet for writing that I’ve ever found.

I spend a lot of time thinking about mindmapping and I often wonder why it works like a charm for some people and completely flummoxes others. Here is what I suspect:

The people who don’t like it value their analytical minds so highly that mindmapping seems like a betrayal. Perhaps their reasoning goes something like this:

…I have a good brain and if I think things through carefully, and methodically, I should be able to come up with a reasonable way of approaching this writing job…

…Stories and articles are by definition organized and linear so the process for their construction should also be organized and linear….

…Mindmapping seems too undisciplined, too haphazard. Surely a logical outline makes a lot more sense…

It’s true. We all count on our logical brains for a great many resources. They help us with spelling, grammar and basic arithmetic, with tidying our houses and cooking dinner, with doing the work our bosses want us to accomplish.  But they can’t do everything.

The thing about mindmapping is that it gives us access to another part of our brains. The deeply creative part. The unconscious part. The inventive part. You can be blown away by the material a mindmap will generate because it is so unexpected. (The story about my speech – at the beginning of this column – came from my own mindmap. I would never have remembered it otherwise!)

If you’ve been reluctant to use mindmapping, or if you’ve tried it and it hasn’t worked for you, then I urge you to give it another go. Simply turn a piece of paper sideways (landscape fashion) and write your idea or your angle in the centre of the page. Draw a circle around it.

Then write the next idea that springs into your head. Draw a circle around that one too. And keep up with this “brainstorming” until you know what you want to write. (If you’ve signed up for my free newsletter, you will have received a very useful free booklet on mindmapping when you registered. If you haven’t signed up yet, all you need to do is enter your name and your email address in the box underneath my photo at the top of the page on the right.)

But don’t put mindmapping in the same “must do” category as losing weight, discovering exercise or quitting smoking. Instead, view it simply as another tool you can put into your writing basket. Just as sometimes you might go for a run (without becoming “a runner”), or bake a cake (without becoming “a baker”) or try a meal without meat (without becoming a vegetarian), you can also produce an occasional mindmap without becoming a mindmapper.

We all need a reset once in awhile. Let mindmapping reboot your writing life.

Have you ever tried mindmapping? How does it work for you? We can all learn from each other so please share your thoughts with my readers and me by commenting below. (If you don’t see the comments box, click here and then scroll to the end.)

Posted July 9th, 2013 in Power Writing

  • Tony Nicholls

    Hi, yes I mindmap all the time and have done for some years now. It helps with all sorts of tasks from making notes, building on ideas, organising thoughts, creating speaker notes and, yes, in structuring my writing. Why doesn’t everyone use it? Probably more to do with why not everyone likes to wear flip flops (which I do by the way).

    • I think more people don’t use it because it’s seldom taught in school. This makes me very sad!

  • Heidi Croot

    Take away my mindmapping and I would turn to stone. I just had a client tell me yesterday that a business case I’d developed had clarified for him his own game plan—the
    logical flow of which had eluded him and his team until he saw my draft. “Do you ever use mindmapping?” I asked. Nope, he has not.

    Love it. Magic bullet for sure. Don’t know whether to laugh or cry that more people don’t climb aboard. You’re doing great work: thanks for being a mindmapping champion.

    • Thanks for your kind words, Heidi. I didn’t confess it here, but I interviewed Gabriele Rico, author of Writing the Natural Way (in which she promotes mindmapping), 25 years ago and I still didn’t mindmap because I thought it sounded too “easy.” I guess I’m trying to make up for my mistake now.

      • Heidi Croot

        That’s fascinating: that’s the very book that taught me about mindmapping, also about 25 years ago. I’ve read other authors since, but revere Rico as my portal.

  • Judith

    Yes, I mindmap and appreciate your reminders to do so more often. I map great ideas yet don’t actually write the article. I’m not sure why I’m resistant when I know writing is important to growing my business. Your articles inform, motivate and inspire me for which I thank you.

    • Well, if you’re mindmapping but not writing, I suspect the issue is you haven’t yet developed the “writing habit.” If you need some accountability on this issue let me know. I know I could help you with coaching.

  • Edith Kurie

    Maybe in its perfect simplicity analytically-minded persons (I number among them) think, that’s too easy, it can’t possibly work. But I have tried it and it even worked for me. ** I just read one of your responses below. You already made that point.

    • Thanks for posting this, Edith. I always aspire to persuade more people to give mindmapping a try. I appreciate your testimonial!

  • Melissa L. Weber

    I have been a reluctant holdout for mind mapping. Then, last month I had a BIG project due to my boss – I was absolutely stuck, making lists, crossing things out. FInally, I took a break for lunch – and got locked out of my office suite. Guess what? I did a mind map on a small note pad during the 30-minute wait (until someone returned with a key). I got back in to my office, and did nearly a whole draft of the dreaded project in less than two hours because of that map. I still find them difficult because I’m a LIST maker – but I certainly see the value of them now.

    • So glad to hear this, Melissa. Congratulations on getting your project done in record time! I don’t think being a list-maker should deter you from mindmapping. Mindmaps just allow you to go in more than one direction! Maybe if you can think of it that way you’ll become even more enthusiastic?!