Part Two of non-writing (ish) tools for a writer’s toolbox: Mind Maps

Part One here.

It is always useful to try to trick my thinking out of usual habits and patterns of thought. My brain is lazy and too often follows the path of least resistance to finish a task. When writing, this laziness leads to cliches and shallow (one dimensional) observations that do nothing to pique the interest of a reader (or me, the writer, for that matter). Also, I prevent wider interpretations, deeper meanings, messages from the subconscious, before they have a chance to arise.  Mind maps are a quick and (relatively) easy way to provoke (and see) expansions of meaning and the connections between them.

It is best, when creating a mind map, to relax and clear your mind…think meditation or yoga practice here. Sometimes it is good to set a timer for these exercises – 10 minutes tops – otherwise it could keep unfolding. That’s okay too…just follow your intuition on this one.

On a blank piece of paper, in the middle of the page, write a word or phrase you are wrestling with (or select one at random from the middle of a book, a dictionary, a cereal box, it really doesn’t matter…sometimes the most banal source will yield the richest ideas). Circle the word or phrase. Relax (yes, I keep having to tell myself this). Look at that word/phrase and allow your mind to drift and dream.  Write down the images and associations as they come, anywhere on the page…as the associations are written down, they spark additional thoughts and images. Write these down too. Enjoy it. When the images start to wind down or the timer goes off, stop. It’s good to get up and walk away from the desk for a minute or two: make a cup of tea or gaze out the window. I’m usually too impatient though and dive into the next step, which is to look at what has been rendered on the page and start to draw lines of connections between them (often I do these steps simultaneously too). Very soon, the lines become tangled and cross each other.  This is okay. At this point I realise there’s a lot more to think about than I had originally thought but I can now see avenues of exploration I might move through.

Mind maps are good to use as a writing prompt when facing an intimidating blank page. But they are also great tools for deepening existing writing: maybe an interesting image, or a provocative object, or a weird description or phrase has surfaced in a draft…but it doesn’t feel right—it nags—it doesn’t quite hang together with the sentiments (paragraph) around it. Trust the nagging/curiosity feeling. Copy the image/object/phrase onto a blank piece of paper to use as the starting node in a mind map.

Mind maps might also be used as art making device, subbing in a sort of shorthand thinking for how a work of art might be built. Theo Anthony, an American film maker, uses mind maps to work through generating ideas and connections, but then takes this one step further by planning his shots (camera type, lighting, angle, sequencing etc.) according to the nodes on his developing, evolving, project-based mind maps.  In a way, this allows a lot of technical planning (to be on location, to select film equipment, etc.) without the creative constraint of a complete storyboard.  His process, using mind maps this way, retains a flexibility, and enables resonances and surprises to illuminate organically. In a way, it’s as if he provides the operational support for the art, image, and beauty to reveal itself through the making.