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Writing Creatively with Mind-Mapping, WorkFlowy and Spiral-Writing

Updated on August 6, 2015
B. Leekley profile image

Brian's avocation is creative writing. His fiction has appeared in little magazines. He posts essays and articles on HubPages and Medium.

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

handmade mind map
handmade mind map | Source

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

A Coggle mind map
A Coggle mind map | Source

Are you an enthused mind mapper?

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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)

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An Example of My Spiral Writing

A spiral writing example
A spiral writing example | Source

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?

See results

© 2015 Brian Leekley


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    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      2 months ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      Thanks for commenting, Cygnet. I use WorkFlowy daily for many things—simple lists; notes to self; get done priorities; first drafts of anything from fiction to essays to opinion pieces to emails to social media posts; databases such as recipes, and more.

      I'm the only person I know who sometimes freewrites by hand in a spiral.

    • cygnetbrown profile image

      Cygnet Brown 

      2 months ago from Springfield, Missouri

      I have done the mindmapping since the mid-80s and I am not sure how well the spiral writing will benefit me, but WorkFlowy looks interesting and I plan to check it out.

    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      2 months ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      I hope they work well for you, Mark.

    • Mark Tulin profile image

      Mark Tulin 

      3 months ago from Santa Barbara, California

      Some good organizing ideas I will likely try. Thanks, Brian.

    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      8 months ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      Thanks for your comments, Kate.

      To share a hub on Twitter, I think simply copy its URL address and paste that into a tweet saying what and why you are sharing. My understanding is that Twitter will automatically convert the URL into a short form.

      A Google search finds numerous free and low-priced mind map software programs now available.

    • KatyWhoWaited profile image

      Kate MacAlpine 

      8 months ago from Anywhere, USA

      This is a very informative and comprehensive article. (I wish there was a Twitter social share on HubPages.) Years ago when I was tutoring college students there was a great piece of software for mind-mapping with cool circles, squares, etc. Maybe someone here will remember the name. I don't think it was part of the old "Writers' Resources" software, but it might have been. This is an article to bookmark for sure! Thanks for the content!

    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      21 months ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      I'm glad you found this hub helpful, Marlene.

      I agree that it is hard to get used to the one word per branch advice. I think for Buzan each word represents a whole block of thought, standing for a phrase, a sentence, or even a paragraph. I'm not used to thinking that way.

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 

      21 months ago from USA

      Oh, wow! This is quite interesting. With the exception of the one word per branch concept, I have been mind mapping all my life and did not even know it. I learned some additional and very helpful information here. Thank you.

    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      23 months ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      Actually, Nikki, three techniques. I don't know anyone else who writes some first drafts in a spiral. I discovered that my thoughts flow better when I'm handwriting a nonstop line. I'm still learning how to mind map the Tony Buzan way. Mind mapping is useful in many circumstances, especially brainstorming and note-taking. I use WorkFlowy daily—for making and updating various lists; for keeping track of notes to myself; for piecing together a first draft, and more. I hope you find one or more of the three writing tools helpful.

    • nikkikhan10 profile image

      Nikki Khan 

      23 months ago from London

      Wow,,, what an interesting way to create an effective writing.

      Learnt a lot to shape me writing into a good one and meaningful one.

      This technique is so different,,I’ll definitely try this one in my coming writings.

      Thanks for sharing your ideas with us.

    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      3 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      Thanks, DDE.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      An interesting way to create writing. I learned a different style.

    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      4 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      Thanks for your comment, Miranda.

      I don't know why my ideas flow more readily when I write in longhand in a spiral.

      I hope you find WorkFlowy (at workflowyDOTcom) as handy as I do.

      I continue, little by little, to get better at mind-mapping.

    • MirandaStork profile image

      Miranda Stork 

      4 years ago from England

      Really well-written article, and some great ideas here. I haven't used the mind-mapping method for years, since I was at school, but I think I might brush it off again - it really does work well. I don't know if I would try the spiral writing, but I find the thoughts behind it fascinating, so I might just have to give that a go too! And the WorkFlowy method sounds great for if I'm doing my essays; it's very similar to when I do an essay plan. Thanks for a great hub!

    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      4 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      Thanks, Frank. I hope you find these ideas helpful. I do.

    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      4 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      Thanks for commenting, RTalloni. Mind-mapping has lots of uses. I hope you like it when you try it.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 

      4 years ago from Shelton

      first of all I love the idea, and it kept me interested with its swift pacing and dynamic schematics.. yeah awesome :)

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Thanks for a neat read that has inspired me to learn more about mind-mapping with a view for practicing it in mind.

    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      4 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      Thank you for commenting, paolaenergya. I don't know why writing by hand in a spiral makes my ideas flow more readily from mind to paper, but it does. Maybe it's an instance of Tony Buzan's finding that the brain is bored by straight lines and attracted by curved lines?

    • paolaenergya profile image

      Paola Bassanese 

      4 years ago from London

      Just read your article Brian, thank you for sharing all these tips! I am particularly fascinated by spiral writing.

    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      4 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      I agree, Ann.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      4 years ago from SW England

      I've done a few hubs referring to dyslexia and mentioned mind-mapping as part of the techniques which help. Spiral writing was just something to play with, another possibility to experiment with. Different techniques suit different people, be they dyslexic or not, so it's all a matter of what fits, what works and what's preferred. As long as the choices are there, that's the important thing, along with guidance as to how to use them.


    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      4 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      You're welcome, Nadine.

    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      4 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      Thanks, Dzy. If you find mind-mapping to be at least occasionally a handy habit, I hope you will write about your experience.

    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      4 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      I hope that you will, Eric, and that you will be pleased.

    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      4 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      Hope you like them, Ashley. Thanks for commenting.

    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      4 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      Thank you for commenting, Kathy.

    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      4 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      Bill, right! Give all three—mind-mapping, using WorkFlowy, and freewriting in a spiral—a try.

      A question for the Monday mailbag: What were your judgments of the results?

    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      4 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      Your comment did come through, Ann. Thank you for it. I approved it and replied to it a little more than a day after you posted it.

    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      4 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      Thanks, Ruby Jean.

      If, when a word comes to mind, you jot it in the middle of the page and then circle it and draw a branching line from the circle and on it write a word that comes to mind because you associate it with the first word, that is the beginning of a mind map.If another association pops into your mind, draw another branch and jot that word. And so on. When you later look at your jot pad, you will see not just a word but rather several words that are in some ways associated. Explore the possibilities.

    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      4 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      Thanks, Ann, for your nice comment and the share.

      Have you considered telling in a hub about your personal and professional experiences with mind-mapping—or have you done that already?

      I agree that mind-mapping by hand is best.

      I'm fascinated that you have used spiral writing. Have you done so only as a teacher or also personally?

      Dragon Naturally Speaking 13 is the best yet. I hope and expect to review it soon.

    • Nadine May profile image

      Nadine May 

      4 years ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

      Interesting that you used it for writing ideas. I have the book as well. Purchased it many years ago but never used it. I have no many ideas there is just not enough time in a day to implement them all, so I will find that book again. Thanks!

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 

      4 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Interesting. I first heard of mind-mapping back in the late 1980s-early 90s when a friend of mine formed her own reading and comprehension workshops for high school students. She'd lost her job in the local school district, thanks to budget cuts and 'downsizing,' so she went independent and formed her own company.

      I like the idea, but I've rarely used it, largely because I forget about it, and haven't used it enough to remember to do it. Ironic, I know.

      After reading your article, though, I believe I'll give it another shot, and check out the tutorials.

      The thing I always hated about having to take notes in school, was the fact that while I was concentrating on writing down what had just been said, before I forgot, I was then missing what was currently being said as I wrote.

      Voted up, useful and interesting. Bookmarked for future reference as well.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      4 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Thank you for writing this for us. I learned a whole lot and hope to incorporate that learning into my life.

    • Ashley McRay profile image

      Ashley McRay 

      4 years ago from New Braunfels

      This is new and interesting information for me. I have never heard of these writing techniques. I'm excited to try them out! Excellent hub.

    • The Stages Of ME profile image

      Kathy Henderson 

      4 years ago from Pa

      This is an interesting hub and new information to me, thank you for sharing. Have a blessed day!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      It's always interesting to learn new techniques, Brian, so I thank you for this great explanation and for sharing examples with us. I've never done this...maybe I'll give it a try this weekend. What can it hurt, right? :)

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      4 years ago from SW England

      I thought I'd left a comment on here! Maybe it hasn't come through yet. Will come back a little later.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      4 years ago from Southern Illinois

      I find your article different and interesting. I'm a person who is a jotter, by that I mean when a word comes to mind I jot it down and usually forget it until I look at my ' jot ' pad then I may get an idea for a story. Mind mapping is certainly a different approach. Thank you for sharing.

    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      4 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      Thanks for commenting, bravewarior. I have a "Writing Ideas" hanging file, too.

      One of the things I like about mind mapping is that I can do it with pen and scratch paper anywhere. It is a way of jotting notes to myself, whether about writing ideas, interesting things to do ideas, what to learn from the book I am reading, or whatever. Buzan's talks and tutorials explain why it is the best way to write notes. The more I've played around with the method, the more I've liked it.

      WorkFlowy is to me useful for much more than list making and outlining. I work in it much as in a word processing program, with the advantage that I can in a jiffy collapse or expand, make disappear or reappear, or reposition whole paragraphs, segments, scenes, and chapters. It is quite handy in the early stages of developing a vague idea for an article or story.

      I am the only person of whom I know so far who writes in spirals.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      4 years ago from SW England

      This is a great hub because it points out wonderful alternative ways of creating.

      I've used mind-maps for many years with my dyslexic students, especially the more visual learners amongst them. It's useful for just about everybody, dyslexic or not, and aids focus and lateral thinking.

      I also prefer to do them by hand, as the kinaesthetic and 'touch' part of learning is important too; a multi-sensory approach works wonders.

      Spiral writing is another way of doing just that. I've also used Dragon Naturally Speaking though not for a while as I'm retired from teaching. I believe it's come on in leaps and bounds over the last 10 years.

      Great hub, well-explained. Up ++ and shared.


    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      4 years ago from Central Florida

      Interesting tools, Brian. These would be great for those who outline their work. I don't, but many agents, publishers, editors request outlines when pitching a story or article.

      I'm old school as far as keeping track of my story, article or book ideas. I jot them down and put them in a file folder called "Writing Ideas". I suppose I could utilize some of the tools you mention here, but reaching for a physical folder comes naturally for me and I don't have to have my computer up in order to access it.

      You article is very informative. I wasn't aware of any of these applications. Thank you for sharing.


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