Mind mapping is a graphical way of representing ideas and concepts. It was invented and popularised by Tony Buzan who believes that a mind map mirrors the way we actually think (i.e. visually and dynamically) rather than linearly. Unlike linear note-taking methods such as lists or bullet points, a mind map lets you brainstorm and develop your ideas by associating and connecting your ideas and pieces of information.
Mind mapping can be used for almost anything where you want to map out you thoughts using connections, triggers and associations to generate more ideas. It is particularly useful if you are a writer because it helps you to brainstorm and plot the contents of books, stories, a series of blogs, articles, life stories, family histories etc..
A mind map is typically constructed by placing your main theme/central idea in the middle of a page or computer screen (but feel free to put it wherever you want) and then letting your ideas (sub topics) radiate or branch out from your central theme linking them with connecting lines to the central theme. You then repeat the process for your sub topics. Here is a simple example:
How to create your mind map
If you enjoy using pens and pencils then you could sketch out your mind map on a large piece of paper (the back of wallpaper is good for this). Alternatively, get yourself a whiteboard, some sticky notes or some non-permanent coloured pens and markers. You could also use a cork poster board and pin on post-it notes or sticky notes. Post-it notes and sticky notes can easily be removed or moved around as your ideas evolve and develop and you can use a variety of colours to highlight the different branches and sub topics.
Although you can create a mind map on paper, whiteboard or cork board, if you want to be able to update your mind map easily then the best way is to create it on a computer. There are a number of specialised mind mapping software programs available for Windows and Mac including iMindMap (endorsed by Tony Buzan) which you can try out for 7 days before purchasing a single user edition for £65 (it is also available as an app for iOS and Android) and Scapple which has a 30-day free trial and then costs 14.99 USD (the mind map above was created using Scapple).
Why are mind maps so useful?
- They are good for collecting and organising material for stories, books, blogs, articles etc..
- They help you to consolidate information from a variety of different sources.
- They enable you to brainstorm and develop your ideas quickly and creatively.
- They not only help you to generate more ideas by association but they also help you to spot what is missing.
- They are far less restrictive than linear notes and lists.
- They can evolve and grow over a period of time.
- They provide a graphical overview of a much larger and deeper topic/subject area.
How to make your mind map effective
- Only use single words or short phrases (mind maps are not the place for lengthy descriptions).
- Use images and pictures to add visual interest (for example, a mind map for a family history story could include pictures of your main characters/ancestors).
- Use colour coding to differentiate between the branches and sub topics on your mind map.
- Be as creative as you like.
Think of your mind map as work in progress
You don’t have to complete your mind map in one go. Think of it as a working tool/document which evolves and grows over time as you come up with new ideas or find things you want to change or remove.