How to use mind mapping for writing?

Having done a fair number of posts on mind mapping (see the list at the bottom of this post), I’ve now begun consolidating these into book form. It is a fun and rewarding project that I’m hoping to fully complete in early 2013.

It also seamlessly takes us to the question explored in today’s post: how can mind mapping aid the writing process?


First of all, i’d like to remark that i mean to use the word “writing” in the broadest possible way, including but certainly not limited to:

  • Factual writing (journalistic articles, news reports, business communication, …)
  • Scientific writing (books, theses, research papers, …)
  • Creative writing (novels, short stories, poetry, travel stories, …)
  • And many other areas (writing a letter to a friend, writing your diary, …)

Why mind mapping helps

Mind mapping can help in all of the above cases and i believe this is because of two chief reasons:

  1. “Expansive thinking” adds breadth and depth to the text
    • Producing a mind map is an “expansive” activity. Starting with a main topic in mind (e.g. “Product launch”, “Sales event”, “Research proposal”, “Family holidays”, “Friendship”, “Meeting minutes”, “Novel”, “Magnum Opus”, “Charity”, …) adding to it is fun and easy to do.
    • Each branch in the map is likely to trigger new ones. The mind is naturally radiant. It’s like pouring warm oil on a flat, glass surface: the ideas spread out easily and it’s an irreversible process. There’s room for rational thought as well as intuition, hunches, etc.
    • Producing a mind map prior to actually starting writing full sentences, in my experience, adds breadth and depth to the text.
  2. Separating the big picture from the small picture saves time
    • Most writers would have experienced the idea of being “unable to see the forest for the trees”. The mind map, just like any other map, provides guidance and helps maintain a sense of direction throughout the writing process.
    • Writing detailed sentences that are eloquent and meaningful (“the small picture”) while, at the same time, fitting them into some compelling but invisible bigger picture is very difficult and time-consuming. By using mind mapping, we paint this larger scheme first – separately, explicitly, and playfully. This division of work saves time simply because the writer “gets lost” much less frequently within the vast archives of his or her mind and spends less energy backtracking futile ideas.

Enough theory. Time for an example.


For one of my current book projects I started off with producing a digital mind map, allowing me to include changes easily and cleanly.

Before long the chapter and paragraph headings emerged. I am now writing my book on the basis of this structure, spending a couple of weeks drafting each chapter.

Mind map of one of my book projects (deliberately low-res).

With the mind map as the “backdrop” of this writing project, I feel I can really focus on merely “filling in the blanks”.

Contrary to simply writing “off the cough” (or “à l’improviste”, if you speak French), the blanks that I’m facing are small enough for me to not feel lost, and big enough to provide space for exploration and creativity.

Most chapters get written pretty quickly. And, not least importantly, I get a real sense of progress by having the mind map as a reference point. I can confidently say that presently I’m at the mid-point writing the book :)


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3 thoughts on “How to use mind mapping for writing?

  1. I like your observation but find it impossible to view your mindmap.
    Even opening the graphic in a separate window and exploding it is not readable. Is a download version of the map available?

    1. Hi Bob, thanks for your response. You’re right, the image detail isn’t viewable. Actually I deliberately blurred it as I’m reluctant to spill the beans re my next book. I have now at least included a comment in the image caption to indicate this. I used the image in the post to illustrate that I have a mind map as a backdrop to my writing, that’s all. Hope you found the article useful.

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