Do you think visually? Have you tried mind-mapping?

I’m not normally a visual thinking, but right now I’m pretty stuck. I’m trying to write a Christmas novella and it’s just like pulling a square out of a round hole that I’ve jammed in there really hard. It’s not coming out, no matter how hard I pull. So I’m getting out my pliers, my hammer, a screwdriver, and anything else I can think of to pull the square out—er, to pull the story out of my mind. I know it’s in there. I know I can write this thing. I just have to find the right tool to pry it loose.

The software you’ll need if you want to do this on your computer:

I’m using some free software available on the web called MindMeister. There’s, of course, a paid version of the app ($5/month) if you want to embed pictures, files, or download your work, but the free version is good enough for the casual user like me. I can create up to three mind-maps (with the paid version, you can do as many as you want). The main problem with the software is that it’s limiting. There are three layouts you can choose from to build your mind map: a central idea with sub-ideas radiating out from it, a top-down version (basically an outline), and a side-ways outline (the same as the top-down but with the bubbles moving off to the side).

For something much looser where you can organize your thoughts in absolutely any way you want, Literature and Latte (the creators of Scrivener) have mind-mapping software called Scapple. I’m not quite sure how, but Scapple only costs $19, which I have to say that even for a casual user sounds really attractive. They have a free 30-day trial which is great in order to test it out.

The one thing about Literature and Latte apps is that they are built for Mac users. They have Windows versions of their software, it’s just not as good as the Mac versions. That being said, I use a PC and while the software isn’t as nimble as it would be on a Mac, I am able to use it well enough.

Use mind-mapping to organize your thoughts or brainstorm.

I’m trying both.

Here’s my brainstorming mind-map that I made by hand:

As you can see, I was trying to consider all the complications that could arise in my plot. By listing all the things that could possibly happen, my mind is free to think of anything and everything. I can come up with ideas and throw them away with impunity. The hope is that this will lead me to what should actually happen in the story. This leads me to my actual plot.

When I used Mindmeister to try to organize my plot and the characters in my Christmas novella this is what I came up with:

I tried using Scapple to do the same thing:

I have to say that while learning Scapple is more difficult, I think it’ll be a much more useful, adaptable app. It doesn’t matter which way I organize the bubbles (or notes, as Scapple calls them).

The nice thing about using mind-mapping is that you can write down all the possibilities. If I were plotting one of my interconnected books, I’d be able to easily note down a scene and show, visually, how that scene interplayed in each of the books. I’m sure that even for a simple novella, I could have one scene and show what each character is thinking within the scene with branching notes.

There are a number of takeaways from all this: First, I’m very good at avoiding my writing by playing with these mind maps. Secondly, organizing my thoughts in different ways, moving the bubbles around on the canvas, might very well lead to connections and possibilities I hadn’t thought of before. And finally, while I’m still stuck in my story, I at least have another tool at my disposal that will help me get unstuck. And I’m going to keep pounding, prying, and working at getting that story out.

Have you tried using mind maps? Does it work for you?