So, I mindmapped. Now what?

Reading time: Less than 3 minutes

If you’ve ever struggled with turning mindmapping into writing, here’s some advice for you…

I like to describe mindmapping as a little bit of fairy dust for writers. But recently, a writer named Omer wrote to me saying, “So, I mindmapped. Now what?”

If you haven’t read my no-charge booklet on mindmapping — because you haven’t yet subscribed to Power Writing — please go here to subscribe. There’s no charge and you’ll also get my free booklet in about two minutes.

If you have read it, here is some extra information.

Mindmaps (for writers) have one of two purposes: to organize or to inspire.

If you want an organizational mindmap…

  • Reserve it for a very big writing project, such as a book or a major report. (Something of at least 10,000 words.) If your work is shorter than this, you should not be doing an organizational mindmap because it won’t help you. Instead, see below for inspirational mindmap instructions.
  • Write your mindmap on a very large piece of paper. Use butcher’s paper or clean newsprint stretched across a boardroom table or your dining room table (with all the leaves in.)
  • Allow yourself plenty of time. Maybe as much as an hour.
  • Don’t edit yourself. If an idea springs to your brain, no matter how ridiculous it sounds, write it down.
  • When you’ve finished your mindmap, take a closer look at it with a set of coloured felt pens in hand. Look for items that fall within certain categories or “buckets” and highlight them with pens of the same colour. Then, when your map is all marked up…
  • Make a linear list of chapters (or, for a report, sub-categories) and put them in an order that makes the most sense to you.
  • You’re done! Now, don’t write any further until you’ve done an inspirational mindmap.

When you want an inspirational mindmap….

  • Take a blank piece of paper (I use an artist’s notebook with coil binding but scrap paper is perfectly okay). Regular sized paper is fine although I like slightly larger — 9 x 12. Just be sure to turn it sideways. This will alert your brain that you’re doing something different than writing a list.
  • Have an angle rather than a subject. Here are some examples of the differences:

Subject: Shakespeare.

Angle: Hamlet is the best play Shakespeare wrote.

Subject: Ebola.

Angle: What is the real risk of Ebola to people in North America?

Subject: Mindmaps.

Angle: How do I turn a mindmap into a story?

Do you see how having an angle is both more specific and more interesting than simply a subject? If you can’t figure out an angle, I suggest you go for a walk (or do some other activity such as running, swimming, biking or cooking) that keeps you busy but allows your mind the freedom to roam. Once you’ve identified your angle you can go back to your desk and start mindmapping.

  • Don’t edit yourself. If an idea springs to your brain, no matter how ridiculous it sounds, write it down. Be sure to include stories, metaphors and feelings.
  • Don’t worry about organizing. It’s not terribly important to link the ideas to particular “parent” ideas. It’s far more important to get your thoughts on the page!
  • Don’t write too many words. People often make the mistake of writing more words than they need. You don’t require complete sentences! You just need memory hooks. If the few words you write are enough to remind you of the idea, that’s all you need.
  • Don’t stare vacantly into space. Social psychologist Robert Zonic has shown that smiling makes people feel Similarly, moving your pencil across a piece of paper will make you feel like writing more. If you don’t know what to say, doodle. Seriously! Keep that pencil moving and soon enough your brain will catch up.
  • Be prepared to do more than one mindmap per story. There is no rule that says every story requires a single mindmap. Yours may require three or four. (In my experience, you can do most inspirational mindmaps in five minutes or less.) Keep mindmapping until you have the “aha” experience. That is, until you feel the overwhelming urge to write.
  • Be prepared to abandon your mindmap. If you have the “aha” experience, start writing immediately, even if you haven’t finished your mindmap.

Omer, the “now what” is all about provoking the “aha.” If you don’t have the “aha” you’re not ready to write. If you repeatedly fail to get the “aha” then something is going wrong with your mindmapping. Reread the instructions above and see if you can figure out what it is.

Mindmapping is fairy dust, but the fairy needs to know how to wave the wand.

Do you mindmap for your writing? If so, how does it help you? If not, why not? We can all help each other so please share your thoughts with my readers and me, below. If you comment by October 31, 2014 I’ll put your name in a draw for a no-charge copy of the novel, Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi. If you don’t see the comments box, click here and then scroll to the end.

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