What is Mind Mapping? | Mind Mapping for Writing: Kickstart your Writing Project

by William Barton | Last Updated: March 19, 2020

What is mind mapping?

You’ve heard about this simple little trick that can help you shake off the writer’s block and give your writing project a kick in the pants.

So what is it? And does it really work?

Maybe you’re stuck.

Or maybe you’ve got a great idea but you don’t know where to start.

Well, even if you don’t even fully know what your idea is yet, mind mapping is an amazing exercise that can give you a direction for your writing.

In this post, you’ll learn:

  • What is Mind Mapping?
  • How to use Mind Mapping effectively as a writer.
  • How Mind Mapping can not only give you your “big ideas,” but it can also inform your voice and tone.
  • What food item makes me fart uncontrollably.

If you’re ready to quit being stuck and crush your next writing project, keep reading below.

What is Mind Mapping?

Mind mapping is a visual way to organize your thoughts.

Essentially, you’re giving your brain free-reign to explore in any direction it wants.

For instance, I created a simple mind map for this article.

mind mapping done

Personally, I use different mind-mapping tools for different projects.

I have three favorites that I’ll share with you in this article.

For articles, I like to use a piece of paper and a pen. Old school, ya dig?

It’s quick and easy and doesn’t require a lot of space.

But for larger projects like podcast seasons or building out a content calendar with a client, I use an online mind-mapping software like Mindmup.

laptop computer with crumpled notes and coffee

Programs like this are great because you can continue to add and add without running out of space. They’re easy to print out so you have your ideas at hand, and they’re much neater than pen and paper (if you write like me, some of your best ideas can get lost in translation).

I save the big guns for last, though.

For my big hairy goals, I use sticky notes.

I’ll tell you why I use this method a little later on in the post.

The most important aspect to mind mapping is that you don’t turn on your “internal editor.” It’s not a finished product. It’s not an essay. It’s not an article for a client.

It’s a simple brainstorm.

Each bubble (or node) you create deserves to be explored to its fullest. Take it to its conclusion and move on to the next.

Mind mapping is my favorite way of throwing ideas onto paper and getting them out of my head.
Chances are, you’re like me. When you don’t get your ideas out of your head, you start to feel anxiety.

That’s why I always make mind-maps. Even if I never look at them again, just the act of getting my thoughts on paper is helpful.

3 Mind Mapping Examples: How to Mind Map

You can use software, pen and paper, or use the sticky note method like I do. Like I said, I use all three for different purposes. Try all three and see which you like the best. The idea behind it is always the same.

I’ll start by illustrating the pen and paper method:

Mind Map Method #1: Pen and Paper

Start by putting your main idea in the center of the page.

So if you’re writing an article about “the best dress shirts for men,” go ahead and write that in the center.

Starting a Mind Map

From there, go ahead and write out some of the most important subtopics you can think of.

My first two topics here were: office attire, and business casual.

And then something interesting happened. I knew I wanted to talk about the placket (a part of the shirt). Even though that’s a detail, just putting that detail on paper led me to think of a bigger subtopic: “How to Wear a Dress Shirt.”

Adding a bubble to a mind map

Having that subtopic available brought to mind collar stays, shirt stays, how to tuck in your shirt, etc.

You can see which direction my mind went. That’s what makes this a literal mind map.

mind map for writers on a roll

Take this as far as you want. Some people use mind maps to plan out their business, novel, article, essay—you name it. It’s a fantastic technique for all of the above. But the size of the project will usually define the size of the map.

Just to make sure you’re giving yourself enough time to follow every rabbit-hole, set a timer for ten minutes.

If you feel like you still have so much to write, set another timer.

I mostly write articles, so I stop when the page is full. At that point, I’m usually ready to move on to outlining.

But if you’re brainstorming a much larger idea, that’s when software and digital tools can really come in handy.

Mind Mapping Method #2: Software

I’m a big fan of brainstorming on paper. Since I basically run my entire business through my laptop, it’s nice to get a break every once in a while.

But obviously, paper has its limitations. And it’s pretty clear you can only tackle smaller projects like articles with a pen and paper.

I bust out the software for longer projects like Podcast or YouTube seasons. Also, sometimes when I’m planning out content with a client, we’ll break down how we’re going to link the pieces together for maximum SEO impact.

Having a tool that’s dynamic (meaning it can change easily) is really important.

Also, my handwriting fiercely sucks. I’ve had ideas that I couldn’t read a few days later. They probably weren’t that great anyway. But still.

mind mapping software in use

Recently, I’ve been using Mindmup. It’s free and you don’t need to sign up to get started. It doesn’t have a lot of frills, but it gets the job done when I want to spend a few hours visualizing a larger project.

Mind Mapping Method #3: The Sticky-Note Wall Octopus

This isn’t a technical term, but it should be.

I use this method to plan out my big hairy goals. I’m talking 1-year, 3-year, and 5-year plans.

And I like to put them up on the wall so I can see them every day. I’m lucky to have a home office where I can do this without making a fugly mess. For those of you who don’t want to make a big fugly mess on your wall, get creative.

white board with sticky notes being used as mind map for brainstorm for writers

A great option is to buy one of those large sheets of paper, or even a white, foldout cardboard thing they use for science-fair projects.

You can mind map on sticky notes and place them on the board. When you’re not using it, you can fold it up and store it. Just like that, the fug is gone.

I recommend using sticky notes instead of drawing directly on the board (or your wall). The reason is: life has a habit of changing. Sometimes you don’t get to one of your goals in the three months you gave yourself. Other times you finish three month goals in a single day.

multicolored sticky notes for mind map use

I’m a big believer you should always have a firm, concrete goal (SMART goals for the win!).

But you also need to stay flexible so you can take advantage of opportunities and pivot as you approach the proverbial dog-poo on the sidewalk of life.

Best Tools for Mind Mapping

Because I work mainly with short-form pieces like articles (around 2k words) I find that I can fully cover the main topics on a single sheet of 8×11 paper.

But if I was planning something larger like a novel or a business plan, I’d opt for a software tool. As I said earlier, the one I’ve been using is Mindmup. There’s nothing special about it. But it works, and you don’t have to sign up or pay anything for it. So I guess that is special.

Working with digital tools has the advantage of being able to expand as large as you’d like. You never have to worry about running out of room.

Plus, you can always read what you’ve written. I have terrible handwriting—please, don’t mention it in the comment section. I’ve heard it a million times from my teachers growing up 🙂

(They do say that geniuses have bad hand-writing… just floating that out there.)

When I was a teacher, we used to use Popplet. It’s only available for iPads and iPhones. It’s more fun to use than Mindmup because you can make things pretty colors and move them around easily. But it’s $5.

If you use mind mapping software all the time, it’s up to you to decide whether those five smackers are worth it. It’s basically the price of a latte. And while I love latte’s, they make me fart. A lot. So maybe I’ll get the software.

The Most Important Part is Yet to Come…

Now that you’ve learned what mind mapping is, and how you can use it to fuel your creativity, it’s time to put it into action.

There are so many different ways you can mind map. Just pick one and give it a try. If it doesn’t help you kickstart your writing project, try a different type.

Ultimately, the end goal isn’t a bunch of excellent mind maps. The end goal is to finish your project, to write an amazing article, to impress people and dominate the world with your brilliance.

The mind map is just one simple tool in your belt.

Use it wisely.