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writing with mind mapping software
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Tech Tips

Writing With Mind Maps

By Luigi Benetton

When I start to write a document, the ideas in it never get to the page in publishable order. (I know I’m not alone in this.) Pieces of the “story” float about.

Many writers feel a compulsion to write from the start of a new document. That compulsion could make writing feel like cycling while gently holding the brakes. In more severe cases, it seems to lead to what some people call “writer’s block” and painful delays in drafting a document.

What writers need is a method they can use to create a first draft. Of course, lots of magic happens during revision of that draft, when writers refine their thoughts. (That’s when they apply Word styles.) But they need a first draft to work from. If getting to that first draft is difficult for you, read on.

Writer’s Block, Begone!

I don’t get writer’s block. That’s because, when I start writing, I just write the first things that come to mind. I write each “piece” as it “floats into view” and worry about order later.

In my pre-computer high school days, I was taught to write individual sentences on cue cards, or index cards. Then I could order the cards on a large surface (often a floor in my parents’ home) and move them around as I saw fit. I could also create new cards and remove ones I no longer needed. This was my introduction to mind mapping.

Enter Mind Mapping Software

I’m no fan of cue cards. Instead, I now write those individual sentences in “nodes” using mind mapping software. I open a document, label the central “root” node, then start adding nodes connected by branches. (Do you want to see what that looks like? There’s an example further down this post.) Later on, I move nodes or add and delete them as needed.

Here’s the big advantage of doing this using software: Once I have my nodes lined up the way I want them, I copy the root node into a text document so that I can begin writing. All my points appear in the order I set, waiting for me to link them together, to write from point to point. That’s when I have the first draft.

That first draft is half the battle, and it takes much less time to write than it would using other methods.

A Quick Demo

I use MindNode to create mind maps, but there are plenty of tools available, from free to “enterprise-grade” (i.e., pricey).

Here’s what the mind map for this article looks like.

This is a read-only version. However, you should be able to:

  • Navigate the map.
  • Zoom in and out.
  • Mouse over nodes to fold and unfold them.

(You can also go directly to the MindNode site, here, to play in a larger screen.)

(You might notice that this version does not read the same way that this post does. Remember — the map is only a first draft. I refined the post further after I mapped it.)

And here’s what the mind map looks like when I paste the root node into a text editor. The first line is the mind map’s root node. Subsequent lines are indented according to how “deep” they are in the map’s hierarchy.

Node as it appears in text editor

As this video shows, MindNode diagrams can be exported in various formats and shared in different applications and devices.

Reasonable Expectations

Mind maps don’t fix all writing woes. (Other tools might help you handle some of those.) But mind maps do help you complete a first draft. Just don’t censor or edit yourself too early in the process. Worry about grammar, spelling and other corrections and refinements later.

Other Possibilities for Mind Maps

Mind maps have many other uses besides writing. You can use them to do things like:

  • Plan projects.
  • Create organizational charts.
  • Create lists of all kinds.

Explore mind maps beyond simply writing. You might find they boost your creativity in ways you never imagined.

Do you use mind maps? If so, what tools do you use? What do you create with them? Let us know in the comments below.

Illustration ©iStockPhoto.com

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