"Just Brainstorm it!"

I hear that a lot. I think it to myself a lot, too, but I'm often not very nice to myself internally, so it always sounds insulting (and YES, I realize this is something I need to work on. Baby steps.)

"Just Brainstorm it!"

As if that's it. It's just THAT easy. The solution to my problem is so easy to find, I'm just being a dolt for not seeing it. (Again, I'm working on it.)

Thing is, it's not bad advice, it's just NONSPECIFIC advice.

What does it mean when someone says "Brainstorm"?


Enter "Mindmapping".

Mindmapping sounds complex, and every time someone explains it to me with words, I get intimidated and stop reading.

Here's the thing.

You cannot mind map incorrectly. Period. There's no such thing as "doing it wrong" as long as you're getting results. That's key.


The basics of mindmapping involve putting something down as a "root", then branching out from it with ever-expanding ideas.

Holly Lisle spends a LOT of time talking about and encouraging MindMapping in her HowToThinkSideways writing class (affiliate link, because I 100% believe in her courses, and will happily tell you, at great length, exactly why).

I've seen people recommend MindMapping for generating blog ideas, getting past writer's block, solving problems (including plot and character problems), defining your goals, and learning secret things about yourself.

How can one tool do all of that?

Because it's not really a tool, but more of a technique for prying loose bits of change out of the pockets of your brain.


I learn better with examples, so let's look at two mind-maps I've done recently.

For the first one, I wanted to come up with some blog post ideas. I'd been on a blogpost drought lately and just asking myself "hey, what are some things I can post about" resulted with "NOTHING. NOTHING INTERESTING EVER HAPPENS TO US! Why do we even HAVE a blog?! ARG!"

(My muse can be a bit of a drama queen. Ignore her, and let's move on with the mindmapping)

I wrote down "Blog Posts" in a circle in the middle of a page, then drew little circles around it with my main blog categories. "Gaming", "Real Life", "Blogging", "Writing".

As I wrote down the words, random ideas floated to the surface. I quickly scribbled them down and circled them, adding notes if I thought of a quick detail that I didn't want to lose. I didn't focus on any one idea for very long, though, and I didn't try and smother any ideas. If "cookies" floated to the top, then by golly I was gonna write down "cookies".

At the end of the process, I'd managed to fill an entire page with blog ideas.

An entire page.

"Why do we even HAVE a blog?" turned into an entire page of blog ideas.

Example the Second

So, my second mindmap was to get some plotting ideas for a short story I wanted to write.

See, I have the Taven world that Steven and I have been working on since my freshman year of college. On one of those continents, we have factions of people. One of those factions is known as Killer Perfect, and they are a guild of assassins. One of the other factions of people are known as Fallen, and they tend to rule the cities. What would happen, I wonder, if  a Killer Perfect were sent on a mission to assassinate a Fallen?

What could go wrong? What could go right? What would be a great twist at the end?

The answer to those questions would drive the story, and the problem was that I was coming up with too many answers. I didn't know which one would fit the story I would want to write.

So I mindmapped. This mindmap was much looser than the one for the blog posts, because I didn't have a category structure already mapped out. I just did some free word associations, and asked a few questions.

IMPORTANT : I WROTE down the questions I was asking myself. Mentally asking questions to myself/muse/brain/whatever seems to net me sullen, useless responses, if any. Communicating with myself through paper and pen has been most useful. YMMV.

My muse tends to reply to me in sounds and images (Clearly, I need to write a blog post Muse communication, because I sound like a lunatic right now) so this mind map has some quotes on it, like "Why are we here? Not to make money." and "You go before the sword." which are things that make sense to me, I hadn't intended on putting in the story, and which, once they occurred to me, immediately burrowed their way into the fabric of the story I wanted to weave.  I also ended up with the phrase, "sword-marked" and did some quick scribbles to try and figure out what I meant by that.

This is what I needed - signposts along the way to help me pin down a story that, honestly, isn't a STORY yet because there was no plot. There was only a concept and a piece of a world, like an archaeologist finding a shard of pottery and making up stories about how it got broken.

Mind Mapping Tools

Many people (Holly Lisle included) mind map using software. Free and paid mind-mapping software is available for windows, mac, ipad ... you name it.

I've installed a few freebies and you know what I found? There's something about the act of writing on paper that opens doors in my brain that typing just doesn't find.

Notebooks are my friend, despite some lingering guilt over tree death.


What about you? Anyone tried mindmapping and loved it? Hated it? Have a favorite tool you'd like to recommend?

If you haven't tried it, I urge you to give it a go. It can feel pretty silly at first, but I've answered problems using mindmapping that seemed insurmountable before I began. I'd dance around in public wearing a chicken suit if I thought it'd give me the same results as mindmapping. This, at least, has a bit more decorum to it. :D