Thoughts for the Month: Mind Mapping

If you are a student, term paper season is nearly here. Some of you may not be turning in research or reflective papers until the end of the semester, but others may be facing the reality of assignments due before midterm.

Retail business owners are also challenged with marketing content ideas this time of year: several major shopping holidays are over and summer sales are a few months away. Customers are watching their budgets. 

Are you staring at a blank Word document?

Writer’s block is one of the most frustrating obstacles to productivity (along with technical “glitches”). 

Sometimes we can work through thought blockages by doing something else for a while–hiking, a workout at the gym…

…but often when we sit back down at the computer the blank screen is just as blank as it was before. 

Getting from blank screen to first draft can be the biggest hurdle of the project.

Mind Mapping is a creative thinking technique designed to restore the flow of ideas during such times of brainstorming difficulty. It can be done with a computer (there are numerous apps that are designed for this) or pen and paper but, speaking for myself, I often step away from the computer and revert to handwritten composition when I’m struggling with writing. If nothing else, it takes me away from the distractions of social media and the aggravations of political maelstrom. But it’s my opinion also that pen and paper can help us access certain channels of the creative thought process. 

To begin your mind map write down every concept or thought that occurs to you. Don’t try to think in complete sentences. When you have written 5 or so words or phrases, circle three or so that appeal to you most. From those circles “branch” out to anything that concept brings to mind.

You may begin to see a pattern or you may be suddenly inspired to pursue a particular line of thought. You might realize that you have much more to say about a particular subject than you realized. 

When it works at its best, I frequently find I have enough ideas to fill my editorial calendar for quite a while after I sit down and mind map for 15-30 minutes.. Sometimes I don’t even need to officially plot out the “map” on paper–I just need to be conscious of activating a line of thinking similar to that activated by the process of mind mapping. 

This approach can be used not only for ideas but for studying and organizing information. See examples at mindmapping.com.

A mind map is not an essay outline, and it probably won’t perfectly structure an article or marketing email for you (at least not the first versions in which you are only thinking about ideas). You will still have to figure out how to organize and present your concepts to an audience. Later versions could be re-written to help plot out presentation.

What mind mapping does is to literally “fill in the blanks” providing a visual of the connectors from one line of thought to another–hopefully enabling previously overlooked sparks of inspiration to appear.

Comment below with your experience of writer’s block and/or mind mapping.

Next month: The Revision Process…

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