Mind Mapping

I’ve been using mind mapping to help me brainstorm about projects and goals. Here’s a bit of a breakdown for how that works for me.

I first learned about mind mapping from a writer friend. They showed me one night over drinks at my kitchen island how they used mind mapping to create story ideas and develop plots for their science fiction novels. We shared a common background in graphic design so thinking in this more visual way felt really right to both of us. At the time I wasn’t working on anything that needed a mind map so I just filed it away in my brain.

But like any person with a new tool, I made a way to use it! And I’ve been trying it out on every project I can think of since then. I’ve had some successes and some not so muches in the past few years. I thought it would be a great thing to talk about though because it’s just so useful in getting your ideas down on a page regardless of how successful the end product is.

How I use mind mapping for goal setting

One of my favorite things to do at the end of the year is to take myself on a little mini-retreat and brainstorm about what I want to do in the new year. I like to spend a day or two over the Thanksgiving week on this mini-retreat. I am at the beach with family so out of my normal routine during that week. The salt air and watching the water invigorates me so I am usually in a good head space to ponder my work.

I’ve talked about my guiding principles here before. I work off of two ideas that are key for me. Make art and have people see my art. I usually spend a good bit of time on how those two ideas will play out for me over the course of the year. My first use of mind mapping was taking these guiding principles and building a mind map for my year in 2020.

We all know how 2020 turned out. But! Making a mind map has provided a framework to get started in the years since then thinking about how I want to spend my time in the new year.

How I use mind mapping for writing projects

I also used mind mapping to construct my outline for my How to Create Your Art Practice series. Here’s the mind map for that project:

I used the mind map to create my chapters which are individual posts. It’s pretty easy to see how I went from this mind map to the blog posts you see now. I originally wanted this to be a book and I’m not opposed to that (publishers email me!), but having it serialized here on my blog makes me really happy because anyone can access it at any time.

I also talk about that mind map in a podcast about this writing project.

How I use mind mapping for visual art projects

I’ve talked about how my work has shifted in the past year several times here. That shift has caused me to look at my previous workflow and make adjustments to how I create. I’ve been thinking of my new process much like a gardener might graft plants together. I’m taking two things that seemingly don’t go together and trying to figure out how to splice them to each other and get them to grow. I’ve spent much of this year in this transitional phase and let me tell you it has been pretty uncomfortable at times. I tell my kids “hard is where you learn” and I am now full of regret for trotting that out to them so often over the years.

In early October I realized that if I sat down and mind mapped my current project, it might help with clarity. I wanted to make a crochet book and this is the result of that brainstorming session:

Since I made that mind map, I’ve changed course dramatically. There are no books but there are two new wall hangings and a third in process! I wouldn’t have gotten there without this mind map to use as a brain dump for ideas.

So even when they aren’t successful for me, they actually are useful for producing outcomes. This one was really helpful in capturing the idea and then connecting possible crochet patterns with the ideas. Along with this original map, I’ve made a lot of notes on patterns and color choices to go with it. So this map created a fantastic first step on the paper trail I needed to keep up with this project.

How to get started mind mapping

All you need is pencil and paper (maybe a larger sheet of paper if you are brainstorming big ideas). I like to use unlined paper but lined also works if that’s what you have. There’s lots of software out there for generating mind maps. If that works for you, great! I like to work old school because it feels like I’m really getting the thoughts outta my brain that way.

Start with your central idea in the middle and start adding secondary topics around it. The secondary ideas don’t have to be in the correct order, just get them onto the page! From the secondary set you can add all the thoughts you want to go with those secondary ideas. You can organize all of this at a later stage with an outline or a formal list.

That’s really all you need to know to get started. Once you have your mind map you can add research or further thoughts in a synopsis if you need to. As you can see in that last picture, I have some pretty hefty lists to go along with each section.

Mind mapping plus plus plus

Sometimes I also like to do some additional longform journaling to go with this process. That is particularly helpful to me when I’m needing to clarify or articulate my thoughts on something I am working on. Sometimes I struggle with naming bodies of work so I’ve had some success with using a short version of Ira Progoff’s Dialog with Works method (It’s #9 on that list of 12. I spend a few of hours with it on any given project). I learned about the Progoff method from Elaine Kiziah at Joybook. Journaling has been instrumental for me to figure out what I am thinking in regards to the work I make.

What’s your experience with mind maps? Is this new to you or are you well versed? Tag me on socials or email me.

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