How Mind Mapping Can Help Organize Your Writing Process

Mind mapping is a technique for outlining information in diagrams using written text as well as lines, symbols, keywords, colors, and images.

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Updated March 2023.

What is mind mapping?

A mind map is a visual diagram used to record and organize information in such a way that the brain finds it captivating and easy to process. A mind map can aid a writer in structuring and analyzing information, making relationships and interconnected content easier to comprehend, synthesize, and keep track of. It can also help you generate new ideas.

As a writer, mind mapping is a technique for drawing outline information of your book in diagrams instead of writing it in sentences. Mind mapping relies on large amounts of written text, but also incorporates lines, symbols, keywords, colors, and images.

mind mapping cyclical
Cyclical Mind Map

There are several types of visual mapping. The type you might use will depend on the structure of information you are organizing, your purpose, goals, and personal preference. Types of mind maps include:

    • Cyclical map. As the name suggests, a cyclical map represents key terms within stages in a cyclical process.
    • Converging map. Used to represent causes that lead or join to a single action.
    • Radial map. A radial map will have sub-topics emanating from a single thought or word.
    • Comparison map. Used to compare two or more things. There is a central interlocking section that represents the shared characteristics.
    • Linear map. These are lines drawn in a flowchart structure and they represent the linear stages of a process with a beginning and an end.
mind mapping converging
Converging Mind Map
  • Hierarchical map. This type of map is used to represent parts of a larger topic in an ascending or descending order.
  • Interactive map. This is a map where elements will interlink with one another due to shared qualities or processes

Mind mapping by hand or app

You can create functional mind maps drawing by hand, or using a computer. There are several factors that will make you choose which method to use, including time available, the information you are representing, resources at hand, and the relationships between the information you are charting.

Mind Mapping radial
Radial Mind Map

Hand-drawn mind maps

One benefit of hand drawn maps is that as you draw them, you expand your thinking and in the process, can generate more ideas on the topic you are illustrating. For ideas and inspiration, go to Mind Map Art.

To create a hand drawn mind map:

  • Turn a blank page on its side and start writing at the center.
  • Write your main idea here – or use an image or hand-drawn picture.
  • Use colors to add life and to sort ideas by relevance to a subtopic or degree of importance.
mind mapping comparison
Comparison Mind Map
  • Add branches and connect them as they relate to the central image. You can add second and third level branches depending on how you classify our information. Make the branches free flowing and connected to each other.
  • Consider making the branches curved rather than straight lines.
  • Use one keyword per line.
  • Use colors and images throughout.

Benefits of hand drawn maps include:

mind mapping linear
Linear Mind Map
  • Flexibility. Hand-drawn maps are flexible, allowing you to organically bend, juggle, and expand as necessary.
  • Personality. A hand-drawn map is personal and unique to the writer who created it. No two hand drawn maps will be the same.

Disadvantages of hand drawn maps include:

  • Time. This method can be rather time-consuming, especially when working with a variety of symbols, pictures or colors. Depending on the intricacies of your map, any modifications or edits can be difficult to make, depending on the nature of the change.

Computer-generated mind maps

mind mapping Hierarchical
Hierarchical Mind Map

These maps are much easier to use and are available at the click of a button. A lot of software applications have been developed, with new versions coming out all the time. Just do a search for “mind map app” and review the choices from your search results to find the app that best suits your needs.

Before settling on one to use, read reviews as this can be a guide. Many apps offer a free trial period. Some of the major apps are Mindjet Mind Manager, Concept Draw, and Novamind – most of which are available free for a 30-day trial period. iMind Map is available for a seven-day trial period and there are several free apps, including Open Mind and Smart Draw.

Benefits of computer generated mind maps include:

  • Editing. You can easily add or delete information as necessary.
  • Unlimited space. There are no space constraints – you can expand infinitely.
  • Multi-dimensional. Information can be presented from different points of view.
  • Ease of use. These apps make mind mapping easy.
mind mapping interactive
Interactive Mind Map

Disadvantages of computer generated mind maps include:

  • Impersonal. Depending on the app you choose, you’ll have different degrees of control of the output, but it’ll never be as personal and fun as a hand-drawn map.

3D Mind Mapping

Also available is 3D mind mapping software. These packages immerse you in your content, helping you truly interact the information you are organizing from the inside. Download an app like Topiscape and try it out during the free trial period to get a real idea of what it can do.

Benefits of mind mapping to a writer

As a writer, mind mapping can:

  • Help you organize and problem solve by helping manage the contents of your work in a graphical map.
  • Can improve creative and critical thinking as you can piece together a story from bits of seemingly unrelated information.
  • Aid in concentration. The interconnecting pieces, images, colors, and words of the map stimulate the brain as it helps organize the disparate pieces of information into a coherent whole.
  • Improve the flow of ideas. Through a new understanding of the connections between different characters and pieces of information, you are better able to develop creative and unique situations you may not otherwise have considered.
  • Make you feel more confident in your ability to manage the large mass of content you’ve created in the writing process.

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  1. First time heard of mind mapping . But really impressed the way you have explained the use of this. I could use this tool while customizing any projects in less time and definitely organised in an excellent way.

  2. I’ve written professionally for over 50 years as a world-traveled newsman and journalist and recently completed my second novel (success yet to be measured). While I pride myself with having an open mind and being a pragmatic person, I’ve got to say that I’ve never heard of anything so ridiculous as mind mapping! It’s akin to the failed effort of 50 years ago to teach college freshmen proper English by use of mathematics. It’s my measured opinion that there’s a certain blend of natural ability, aptitude, desire, clear thinking, curiosity, and a working knowledge of grammar that’s required to be a good writer…not a kaleidoscope of mental shrapnel being orchestrated in ye old cranium.

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  6. Nice article. Although I am a long-time mindmap user, I picked up several tips and insights. Thanks.

    One suggestion: in your list of free mindmap programs, you include Freemind — but Freeplane (a Freemind fork) has a better feature set and I find it easier to use than Freemind. Freeplane developers are very active and responsive. The Freeplane user forum, also is active, friendly, knowledgeable, helpful and positive.

    • I am intrigued by your mention of “Cyclical map”. Do you plan on another post to elaborate? I would certainly be interested. Thanks again for the great post.

  7. I am a great fan of having an overview of a story that organizes everything at a “management summary” level.

    Anyone writing mysteries needs some form of mind-mapping technique to address how to insert clues for the reader. Some of the best writing delivers information in nuggets that are fed to the reader at the correct times to permit a story to proceed at a pace that is engrossing and delivers all the information at the correct time. You can write a story without this technique, but you may run into continuity problems where you have to assume facts not in evidence. It is easier to visualize and move elements on a drawing than trying to figure out what is going on from blocks of text.

    I have done some similar things – drawing a map of the town where events take place so I don’t have the person going home south in one part of the text and west in another and listing story events as scenes where I can add dates and times and the reason for the scene being there. In the same story, I had events going through Christmas whereas following the timeline meant the story ended on December 02. Oops. So I had to knock out a block of text, but the continuity was maintained.

    Anything that helps with timelines (when they are critical) and locations (when they are critical) and timely insertion of information (which is always critical) is a great help to a writer.


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