✎ Mindmapping: Your Messy Best Friend

I’m a neat freak in certain areas. These areas do not include my room or any other physical living spaces. I live in a pig sty. But put me in front of my writing – BAM. “Should I type in a serif font today? Oh no, I still don’t know what’s happening in Book 1. I must start from the top and work this mess out… Oh. Em. Gee. Is that a double space?!”

Yeah, it can get messy.

Here is what I’ve realised: If I start something neat, it must stay neat. It means I will pretend I can remember that tiny detail instead of marring my perfect page with a disgusting correction. It means I am limited by myself. It means I can’t brainstorm properly.

In comes the mindmap.

I’m sure we’ve all used a mindmap in the past. If not, you’ve at least scorned it. I’ve always used them; not religiously, just occasionally. I used them in high school, when I brainstormed theses for my English essays. I used them when I came up with new plot bunnies. I used them to jot down random world-building notes.

So you can see it’s quite a facepalming moment that I hadn’t realised earlier just how indispensable a simple mindmap can be to my writing.

See, I’ve been stuck for a few months now. The story is in my head. I know what I want to write; I can picture the scenes, hear the characters, feel the atmosphere. Yet it just won’t translate onto paper. I got up to chapter 4, then decided to scrap everything and restart. Now I’m back in the planning stage. There’s usually a big pressure in this step. A good plan can save your story. A bad one can send your characters scurrying around your fictional world for a plot.

If anyone else finds the planning stage difficult, this is my tip of the week: go back to the basics and try a mindmap. I can tell you now – it’s a messy process. And that’s exactly what you want.

Half the time we get stuck because there is just too much going on in our minds. We’re only human! Empty those thoughts and ideas onto a mindmap. It’s best to do it with pen and paper, so you don’t completely erase the things you cross out. Start with a main idea in the middle; it could be the title of your story, an event, a character – anything. Just don’t leave it blank. Your thoughts are like a tangle of yarn; you need to give it something tangible to wrap around.

Next step: dump. Branch from that main idea with a secondary idea. It could be ‘WORLD’, ‘THEMES’, ‘POWERS’, etc. If you are using your mindmap to outline your story, start with a major inciting event – or a story arc. It doesn’t even have to be the first scene of your story. Keep the idea general, just specific enough that you know what you’re talking about. Then branch off from that idea and let loose. Surround it with all the details, big and small, that have been plaguing your mind. Make connections. Draw arrows. And, more importantly: reach for more paper.

Let me clarify: it is perfectly fine to be messy with your mindmaps. They are not organisational tools. They are dumps of information to help orient yourself. Afterwards, organise away!

Mindmaps won’t make or break your writing process. I know for a fact that it doesn’t work for everyone. I also know that the mindmap is the first tool some writers draw on – it’s the vanguard of their writing. As always, everyone has their own styles. But if you’ve exhausted all your options and am still stuck on square one, try mindmapping. On days where you just can’t write, try mindmapping. You might just be surprised.

I’m going to finish off by showing you guys how I went about mindmapping for my fantasy series. It was hard work, I’m telling you! My main problem was that I didn’t know what order events should happen, or how they would relate to each other. Three hours of mindmaps, 5 A4 pages later, I felt pretty awesome.


My beast, unruly but tame.

The process:

  1. Grab a stack of paper and a good pen. Get comfortable.
  2. Write the WIP name of my series in the middle of the page. Circle it.
  3. Write down the first major event/story arc that comes to mind. Underline it.
  4. Branch off from that event. What happens? Who is involved? What results?
  5. Branch off from the branches. Why does something happen? How does it influence other parts of the story? Does it lead to another event?
  6. Keep repeating steps 3-5.
  7. Done! Celebrate by highlighting the events from step 3 so I can see them better.
  8. Get another piece of paper. Write BOOK 1 at the top.
  9. Cherry pick from step 7. Organise events into order.
  10. Next: BOOK 2.
  11. And so on and so forth.

How mindmapping helped me:

  • Connecting everything. The scenes I’d had in mind felt so much less whimsical because they now had a purpose.
  • Brainstorming new scenes. My creative juices were pumping hard!
  • Three books became five. Oops.
  • Confidence. I kind of know what I’m doing now! Coming from an ex-pantser, this is pretty good progress.
  • Fun. It was incredibly enjoyable. No pressure, no neatness. Just me and that not-so-blank page. Feels good.
  • Productive. Okay, so I was just avoiding the headache of actually writing. But my mind was focused on the project and my story was enriched by it. Best procrastination ever.

Another ‘messy’ way I’ve recently adopted to help with my writing is scrapbooking. Basically, I collect all the information I have and pop it into a physical folder. It’s surprisingly motivating. I’ll make a post about this in a couple of weeks, so stay tuned if you’re interested!

Do you use mindmaps to help you write? Love ’em or hate ’em? What’s your planning success story?


3 thoughts on “✎ Mindmapping: Your Messy Best Friend

  1. Pingback: Doing Camp NaNoWriMo. For real this time. | Plotting Bunnies

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