Mind Map

One of my favorite tools to use as a writer and a speaker is the Mind Map. I’ve been using it for years and years, on paper, but in the last year I’ve also been using it on my iPad with an app called iThoughts.

A Mind Map is a visual diagram of thoughts, ideas, or notes of any kind. It is useful if you don’t always see things in a linear fashion or if you like to use ideas to riff off other ideas. I personally like using a mind map when I start to think about any new project, from a speaking gig to a blog post to a book.

Here’s an example of a Mind Map I created for a talk I gave last November:


The Mind Map is so valuable because I can start with almost nothing and it always turns into a robust document. It seems to match the way my mind works.

The Mind Map is yet another way I’ve found to combat “the blank page.” Even if I have only one thought, or even less than a complete thought, I can use a Mind Map to clarify and develop my thinking and move forward with my project.

For example, I’ve been thinking about new doctors lately. It’s getting close to graduation time (end of June for residents, while the medical students have just graduated) and I’ve been wondering how new doctors and newly trained residents think about the future of medicine and what I, as a life coach, could do to serve them.

I started with just one thought (less than a thought, really, as you can see):

photoWhen I put that in the center of the mind map, I no longer have a blank page—I have a center and a starting point, although it may not turn out to be the actual beginning of the project.

Then I start to put down thoughts. When I do it on paper, I can quickly fill up a page, but the page gets messy—I have to be careful or I won’t be able to read my handwriting after I finish my Mind Map. With iThoughts, everything is legible. I love that!

It’s also easily accessible. And I can copy the central thought bubble and paste it into a Word document and it pastes the entire document in a list form.

So my original idea turns quickly into something more meaty, like this:

photoThen I continue to jot down notes, thoughts, ideas, resources, even research to do. I find this method of brainstorming very helpful. It’s less intimidating than a blank page and because it’s not linear, I don’t have to make any judgments about each thought. I don’t have to decide if it’s a headline or a supporting thought, a main idea or a side bar. I just get it all down.
When I create a Mind Map, I usually add to it over and over, but I always put it away for a while before I’m ready to write from it (or prepare a speech from it). When I come back to it, I’m always surprised by how much of the work of organizing and writing I’ve already done.

Have you ever used a Mind Map? I’d love to hear your experience (and tips!) in the comments.

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, speaker, life coach, family physician, mother and stepmother. You can find my life coaching blog at www.dianemackinnon.com/blog.



52 thoughts on “Mind Map

  1. Great suggestion. I was planning on using a similar mapping tool to review and evaluate my story upon completion of my first draft. I can see how a mind map can help along the way as well. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I tried using them, but disorder bothers me enough that not having all the branches laid out in a pattern that looked right to me was a major distraction.

    I tried several programs, but none of them had an automatic adjustment setting that rearranged the branches in a way that looked right when I added something, so I ended up spending more time manually adjusting than gathering ideas.

    • Hi Dave,
      I have noticed that I like to have the branches distributed more or less symmetrically, but it hasn’t become an issue for me.

      I hope you find another tool that works well for you!


    • Hi april4june6,
      You’re welcome! I use a mind map for almost everything I write these days, and I do think it saves me time. I hope you find it helpful.


  3. Mind Maps are a great tool for workshops. They are also a great tool for building a plot, characters, scenes, etc. Mind Maps are not necessarily the basis for my writing, they are useful support tools.

    • Hi Emmanuel,
      You can check out reviews of different types of mind maps on line. Just Google mind maps or check Wikipedia.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!


    • Hi Harliqueen,
      I agree! I love creating a big mind map and then condensing it all down and then opening it up again. I love being able to see everything at once, or focus on one aspect of my project.

      Happy writing!


    • Hi Elizabeth,
      Thanks for sharing your experience with mind mapping. I couldn’t do without it these days!

      Thanks for your comments!


  4. Oh, I’ll have a look at this later when I get home from work. Any help keeping my wandering imagination on track can’t hurt. Just need to start editing and stop rewriting…


  5. Hi Diane. Early this year I purchased Scrivener for writing. I was intrigued with the cork-board feature, but became frustrated with the limitations. Then I took a chance on Scapple, and fell head over heels in love with it.

    I have been using it to lay out my WIP. I have a working copy of the WIP, in 40 scenes. But that only gave me a description of the story arc. I have since build nine character arcs, and am in the process of fitting the story and the character arcs together.

    When I started, I feared my story was too simple. Then, as the complexity grew, I feared I could no longer see all of it. And, as I’ve added more notes, the complexity has only grown. But…with all of it on a single, virtual page, in any order I want, I can still trace through it.

    Soon, I will find out if I just have an exotic mind trap, or a mind map. Ha.


    • Hi Silent,
      Thanks for sharing your experience with other software programs for writing. I know people who swear by Scrivener, but I haven’t tried it. I’ve never heard of Scapple, but I’m going to check it out!

      Thanks and happy writing!


  6. I remember learning the mind mapping method when I was a college student in a writing workshop. I havent used it much because i tend to write shorter pieces, like magazine articls, which I tend to organize by writing the subheads first. However, on occassion I’ve pulled out the technique when I have an idea for a book or something. I’ve also used it to teach my kids how to organize their writing. I think it’s an easier way to learn about organization than the trardiitional outline.

    • Hi Lori,
      Thanks for reading and for your comments. It’s always helpful to read how others do what they do!


  7. I’ve just filled an A3 page with a mind map, but I’ve found that I can’t use them on the computer. The only one I could use was PearlTrees, which was a great way of recording links and thoughts over a period of time, but now they’ve changed it so I may have to build my own until they put it back.

    • Hi lexyneedham,
      I’ve always done handwritten mind maps, but the mind map app allows me to organize all those “bubbles” I’ve written. I haven’t tried PearlTrees, I’ll have to check it out.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!


  8. I think mind maps are a great tool, but then I’ve always liked using outlines to organize my thoughts. If you look at it, a mind map is really just an outline, but formatted differently.

    1. New Doctors
    a. Stress Levels
    b. Victim mentality at play
    c. Other stuff …
    d. Resources
    i. …By Rachel Naomi Remin
    ii. …and Miracles, by Bernie S. Siegel
    e. Tools
    i. Ideal Day Exercise
    ii. The work of Byron Katie

    If you can organize with a mind map, then most certainly you can do so just as easily with an outline. It is the same data organized in the same Node->child node->child node-> kind of way. Most of the mind mapping tools I have tried even let you print out the map in outline format.

    I think the advantage a mind map has over an outline is that you are forced to look at the data it in a totally different way; a more visual and engaging way. Perhaps this is the true beauty of the mind map. It helps you bring out ideas that a plain old outline cannot …

    • Hi Patrick,
      I agree, my mind map is just an outline in another form, but I find it so much easier to get it all on the page when it’s a mind map. When I’m just trying to create an outline, I get all caught up in trying to figure out what goes where and what’s more important or subordinate to something else!

      I do feel I generate more ideas with a mind map because it’s not linear, I just throw it all out there and it almost organizes itself!

      Thanks for reading, commenting, and outlining!


  9. I love mind mapping and typically do them by hand (pen and paper). I don’t have an IPad, but am intrigued by the thought of doing a mindmap on my laptop. Do you or anyone know of a good mindmapping tool for the computer?

  10. I’ve found mind mapping to be incredibly helpful when working on my novel. I haven’t gotten to the point of outlining yet so I’ve become full of ideas and need them to have some sort of sense within all the madness.

    • Hi Jessica,
      Yes! The mind map really helps me organize all my thoughts and get them down in one place!

      Thanks for reading and commenting–happy writing!


  11. Yes – I love using the mind map app: mind mapping used to irritate me because it was so messy 🙂 but using the computer is a great idea.

    • Hi sara,
      I agree, my handwritten mind map gets too messy too fast, but the one on my computer is always organized and looks really elegant, in my opinion!

      Thanks for reading and commenting!


  12. I have been part of talks / brainstorming sessions where mind map tools have been used. I feel that them to be a bit restrictive as a mouse / mouse pad + a keyboard have to be used – they tend to break the flow of thoughts. Touch based application and features suiting the touch would be quite useful. I am not sure if one exists.

    • Hi Gaurav,
      I haven’t used mind mapping for talks, I just use it for my own personal work. I use an app on my iPad so it does use touch technology, which makes it very easy to use.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!


    • Hi Preetha,
      I, too, find mind maps very helpful. How wonderful that you are teaching your students about them. Wish I’d known about them a long time ago!

      Thanks for reading and commenting!


  13. I know the graphic with your post was only intended for the representation of the mind map, but I wanted to tell you how useful I found the information in it right at this point in my life. I just request one of the books through interlibrary loan and ordered two for my kindle. Thanks.

  14. I use OneNote. It’s neat all the capabilities you have with the app you use. Outlines and free writing help me solidify my ideas. I do mind maps from time to time depending upon the project.

  15. As a writer with a ton of projects, thoughts, ideas, concepts, and work in progress, I need a way to gather, organize, reorganize, and present content. Mind maps. My brain doesn’t think linearly, it thinks organically. Mind maps allow that organic thinking to blossom at its own natural way, without forcing it into rigid, structured, big A, little 1, indented half-inch formal outline.
    Check out my post on mind mapping.
    Mind your Maps (or is it: Map your Mind?) | “geeWHIZ”

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