Writing Creatively with Mind-Mapping, WorkFlowy and Spiral-Writing
Using the tools and techniques of mind-mapping, WorkFlowy, and spiral-writing is helping me to write even more and even better fiction, essays, articles, correspondence, and posts than was usual for me.
A Mind Map I Made with Color Pens and Markers
Tony Buzan Mind-Mapping
Sometime in February 2014, I chanced to see somewhere a mention of the mind-mapping method of taking notes invented by Tony Buzan. I Googled mind-mapping, read about it, watched YouTube videos about it, did some interactive tutorials, and began mind-mapping.
Right away, I had astounding results. I used a ballpoint pen and scratch paper to take notes for my own use the mind-mapping way at a church committee meeting. Later, guided by that mind map, I wrote a summary of the meeting, which I shared by email. Committee members expressed amazement at the thoroughness and accuracy of my summary. Making the mind map during the meeting, while I was actively participating, was quick and easy.
I took mind mapping notes during an hour-long telephone conversation with my brother in California and afterward, guided by the mind map, wrote a summary of the conversation. I was happy to have thus captured and retain the family news and anecdotes that otherwise would have faded within hours, even minutes, from my memory—forgetting is one of the curses of old age.
Normal linear note taking and writing will put you into a semi--hypnotic trance, while mind mapping will greatly enhance your left and right brain cognitive skills.— Tony Buzan; from "Top 10 Tony Buzan Quotes" at blog.thinkbuzan
Mind-mapping to Prewrite Plans, Fiction, Articles and Essays
Besides mind-mapping notes about a meeting, a conversation, a lecture, or a book, I use mind-mapping to brainstorm plans—from what to do on a day trip to what to do with my life to what social justice project ideas to suggest to the church I attend.
I use mind mapping in fiction writing to brainstorm such questions as what shall I name each character, what shall each character's point be on the enneagram of personality, what shall be the story's location, what shall be its plot points, and so on.
Mind mapping is very helpful in structuring ideas for an essay or article. Related ideas come readily to mind during the process.
I mind-map on scratch paper or any paper I can get free or cheap. Depending on the complexity of the topic, I mind-map on pocket-size paper, letter-size paper, or large sheets of drawing paper or newsprint tacked to a piece of cardboard. I have even used the backside of wallpaper.
I had a chance recently to buy a large dry erase whiteboard for $5 at a garage sale, but my wife said that we don't have room for it. I wish I had obeyed my intuition and bought it. I could have stored it behind my chest of drawers. It would have been ideal for mind-mapping.
Whenever I can, I mind-map with a variety of colored pens or markers.
Mind Mapping Software Programs
Nothing beats mind-mapping by hand with pen and paper or whatever tools. That can be done just about anywhere, and ideas seem to flow one from another and to interconnect most readily during by-hand mind-mapping. Using software to mind-map is almost as effective and has advantages, such as better legibility and more convenient storage. The best (one assumes) mind mapping software programs, such as iMindMap Ultimate (the one endorsed by Tony Buzan) or Mindjet, cost hundreds of dollars, which I can't afford. Some mind mapping programs cost a monthly fee, ranging from under $5 to over $30. For those with the money, I suppose an expensive program is worth it. Do your research.
Of the many freeware and open-source mind mapping programs, the one I like best so far is Coggle. It is a Web-based program with a set-up that associates it with one's Google account for login.
I am grandfathered into the old freeware policy. For new accounts since July 1, 2015, the free version includes only "open" mind maps, meaning indexable by search engines and viewable by whoever has Web access. A version called Coggle Awsome, priced at $5 per month, is needed by those with new accounts to create private mind maps. Mine are private by default, but I have not felt a need for them to be. There are no ads either way. The reasons for the change are explained in a Coggle team blog post.
A Coggle mind map can be exported as a PDF image, a PNG image, a TXT plain text outline, or an MM file.
Sometimes I create a mind map from scratch using Coggle and sometimes a handmade mind map is all I need, and sometimes I will create a mind map by hand and then dictate it via Dragon Naturally Speaking into Coggle.
Free mind-mapping programs that I also like, though not nearly as much as Coggle, are FreeMind and XMind. Each is open source. XMind also has Plus and Pro editions that cost money.
A mind map I made using Coggle
Are you an enthused mind mapper?
Screenshot: My WorkFlowy Content Condensed
WorkFlowy: Handy for Lists and Much More
I have been using the web-based program WorkFlowy for several years. At first I used it only for making lists. On it, I have my grocery inventory and shopping lists, my pack for trips lists, my Do lists, my books to read list, my knapsack office packing list, and many more lists. The free version is adequate, ample even, for that use.
But I soon discovered that WorkFlowy is not just for writing lists. I often use WorkFlowy to write the first drafts of stories and articles. It helps me to organize my thoughts at the same time that it encourages my ideas to flow. When I found that the free edition was too limiting for my very extensive use, I signed up for the Pro edition. It has been costing me $49 per year, which comes to $4.08 per month.
The screenshot above shows my WorkFlowy content completely condensed. Within it, as of when I last checked, are 50,656 words, including entire essays and stories. In the screenshot below, I have partially expanded the view of my WorkFlowy content to show a couple of paragraphs that may or may not be included in a book review hub in progress.
I think it is nifty that I can export a Coggle mind map as plain text and then paste that text into WorkFlowy as the framework of an article. After working on it in WorkFlowy, where the parts or the article are easy to manipulate, I export the text into a word processing program, such as Apache Open Office Writer, for final revising and editing, perhaps ready to go into a new hub.
What I write in WorkFlowy is automatically and frequently saved and is backed up to my DropBox account—an option in Setup.
Screenshot: My WorkFlowy Content Partially Expanded
A Tutorial Video
I am going to love WorkFlowy (or already do)
An Example of My Spiral Writing
When I first started mind-mapping, I tried writing prose the mind-mapping way, but that did not work well for me. A mind map is what Buzan calls 'radiant'. It branches from a central image or concept. A story, article, essay, or post, on the other hand, is sequential, linear, with a beginning and an end. A mind map is great for brainstorming, capturing ideas, taking notes, and planning, but it just does not fit the forms of prose writing.
By trial and error, I came up with the adaptation of writing single words in columns when free-writing the first rough draft of whatever. I used that technique for months. But the technique was inherently limiting and unflowing, with a jerky drop down motion to put word under word.Then this past 2014-2015 winter I made the adaptation, after more trial and error experimenting, that instead of writing words in columns, I wrote them in spirals. That has been working well for me.
If I have pens of various colors handy, I make each paragraph in a continuous spiral a different color. I start each paragraph with the ¶ paragraph symbol. When I am spiral writing, ideas, notions, and figures of speech form in the imagination dimension and flow from my brain-mind to my fingers to my pen to my paper as words, sentences, paragraphs, passages of prose on paper with amazing ease and readiness compared with my usual agonized mental struggle to produce a first draft. Writing in straight left to right lines in the usual way is stop-and-go jerky, and writing in single words in columns is more subtly jerky, whereas writing in a spiral is a continuous flow. I stop when the remaining space on the page gets inconveniently small.
I always carry scratch paper in a pants pocket. I spiral write when I have an opportunity, such as while waiting for a ride, waiting for a bus, waiting in line, riding in a car during conversation lulls, walking for exercise (when the sidewalk ahead is clear), waiting for water to boil, waiting in bed to get sleepy, and so on.
Later I dictate my spiral writings using Nuance Dragon NaturallySpeaking into a word-processing document, email, or post.
A variation that blends mind-mapping and spiral writing is writing prose in meandering, curving lines from a central concept. The difficulty with that technique is that, to say the same thing, it requires a much larger piece of paper than does spiral writing or ordinary line by line writing. I mostly use it for rough drafts of brief memos and replies. I am curious about experimenting with curvilinear writing using large sheets of paper.
Do you sometimes write in spiral or curving lines or in any way other than in left to right straight lines?
© 2015 Brian Leekley