Wordsmith Wednesday–Brainstorming Techniques

Mindmapping Diagram credit: Grace Fleming

I do write (and have published) nonfiction articles for magazines and thought today it might be fun to discuss a process called mindmapping which, in the past, I used for problem solving  in the world of health care management. It works for writers, too.

Mindmapping allows you to take in idea and organize your thoughts in a visual manner so that when it’s time to write an outline, you have an idea of where to take it. I believe that this technique works especially well for us right-brained, artistic types who conceptualize using the sense of sight.

When I mindmap, I take a central idea and write smack dab in the middle of a piece of paper and draw a circle around it. That becomes the frame of reference for all that is to follow. Then jot down ideas that spring from the initial prompt and draw a circle around each of them, drawing a line to connect them to the main subject. Each circle will give birth to its own subset of circles until you’ve exhausted the idea.

In the example above, Civil War is the center point. The creator then branched off into two categories: secessions and leaders. Following that, she identified two leaders for the one and years of secession for the other with the states that seceded from them sprouting from each year.

This can work in other areas of writing, too. Let’s play with an example for poetry. I want to write a poem about a frog. Frog will be my center circle. From there I identify 3 sub-circles: visual appearance, sound and environment. I take each of those and branch out into descriptors that apply. For example, for visual appearance I identify size, shape, color–and so on.

In an article I recently wrote for caregivers of persons with dementia, I filled a legal-sized sheet of paper with circles. When it came time to write it, I found I had more than I could cover in one article. This gives me the opportunity to mine this mindmap for multiple articles or even use as the basis for a nonfiction book proposal.

I hope this gives you a tool to serve you in your own writing. As always, I appreciate your feedback–negative or positive–and your ideas! Feel free to comment.


14 thoughts on “Wordsmith Wednesday–Brainstorming Techniques

  1. vivinfrance says:

    This is something we were taught to do write at the beginning of my creative writing studies – it works equally well for prose and poetry. When stuck, I revert either to mind-mapping or to freewriting, which sometimes turns out to be a ready-made poem! Keep spreading the word.


  2. […] built a mind map as described in liv2write2day’s Wordsmith Wednesday’s Brainstorming Techniques https://liv2write2day.wordpress.com/2011/02/16/wordsmith-wednesday-brainstorming-techniques/; however, I use a free program, FreeMind, I downloaded to actually create my mind maps. Using the […]


  3. This is a good suggestion. I used it years ago to good effect. As time went on and I wrote more and more, I didn’t need to use it anymore for writing. However, I do use it to figure out what my dreams mean.


  4. Mike Patrick says:

    For something you may want to check into for another Wordsmith Wednesday post, there is another free download I found through Kim Kamando. It’s called Verse Perfect http://verseperfect.en.softonic.com/. Coming from Komando, I know it is safe, or I never would have downloaded it. I’ve been using Verse Perfect for a month or so, and to be truthful, it is almost like cheating.

    It gives you a screen split three ways. The main screen is where a verse is written and edited. Along the left edge is an automatic syllable (although I double check, sometimes it gets off one). Clicking on any word in the main screen brings up rhyming words from the McGill Dictionary of Rhyme. It is not as extensive as my rhyming dictionary, but it is pretty darn good. The third screen (if you clicked on the thesaurus button) gives a list of “context” words derived from the one you clicked on. If you need a similar word, but one with a different syllable count or emphasis (iamb instead of trochee i.e.), it usually can usually be found there.

    Across the top are buttons linking instantly to a Hyperbolic thesaurus (whatever that is), online lookup, Wikipedia, Wictionary, dictionary.com and Google.

    A poem created in Verse Perfect can be saved within the program or cut and pasted into Word or another word processer.

    Sorry this is so long, but I like this thing. My only complaint is that the font size on the edit screen is rather small and cannot be changed. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at Hoppy40@aol.com


  5. Mike Patrick says:

    You picked a great subject today. I read a book on mind-mapping several years ago and have used the technique every since. I do not remember the exact name of the book, Amazon has a bunch of them listed, but it opened whole new areas of creativity. I taught a couple of my grandchildren to mind-map and it is fun to watch a third and a fourth grader see how much they can expand their ideas.

    You may not know who Kim Komando is (she is a computer guru I trust and read every day at http://www.komando.com/), but several months ago she recommended a free software program called FreeMind, instantly found by Google. It does mind-mapping and with a mouse click it will print it out in that outline format you were talking about. I have been using it while working on a novel. FreeMind has a bit of a learning curve and can be aggravating when you first start with it, but quickly becomes simple. It allows me to save my mind-maps to the computer and update them whenever I want to—I can lose paper notes almost as fast as I can make them. I love it and use it all the time. Just a thought.


  6. trisha says:

    thanks for this priceless suggestion victoria- a bit organizing always brings out better works.



  7. ladynimue says:

    I always look forward to your writing ideas .. might try this soon 🙂


  8. ladynimue says:

    I always look forward to your writing ideas .. might try this son 🙂


  9. Bodhirose says:

    I like this idea of “mindmapping”. I can see how this technique could make it more concrete to put words down and work from an outline of sorts to “unclog” your flow. I’ll let you know if I use it.


  10. Thanks for this great article and the reminder of this process. I’m stuck on a story, so I’m going to use this technique (which I don’t think I’ve done before) and see where it takes me.:)


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