How to Become an Idea-Generating Machine Part 2: Mind Mapping

As freelance writers, you and I are only as good as our next idea.

Someone hires us to write copy for them, whether it be an ad, email, sales letter, or in my case, a speech. Clients look to us for ideas on what to say and how to say it. We're as much idea consultants as anything else.

And sometimes coming up with all those ideas can be a challenge.

Most freelance writers have experienced staring at a blank screen and find it both frustrating and often debilitating. Joel Saltzman says, “No one likes to write, but everybody likes to have written!” That is so true. Wrestling with ideas and how to communicate them is work – hard work!

What if there was something you could do the moment you were assigned a project that would help you begin to generate an endless stream of copy ideas?

In the first of this two-part article, I covered one technique that will help you do that called free writing.

Today, I cover a second idea-generating tool that, as an AWAI member, you should be familiar with: mind mapping.

Mind mapping is a visual brainstorming tool like no other. Simply put, a mind map is a web of ideas. Because of its visual nature, it helps the brain to connect one thought to the other at lightning speed using key thoughts and keywords.

It taps into how we normally generate and communicate ideas. Harnessing that thinking through mind mapping allows you to capture the connections almost as fast as your mind makes them.

I experienced this firsthand when designing our “Master Your Message” seminar. Along with two other partners, we designed a fast-paced interactive seminar that covers the topic of messaging. When it was time for me to merge my presentation with theirs, I mind mapped. The connections came like a rushing torrent, and the main ideas of the seminar were developed then consolidated in short order.

Mind mapping works well for two reasons.

First, it taps into that creative right side of the brain. Its visual stimulation coupled with the rapid-fire recording of thoughts and ideas make for fertile ground in which the seeds of creativity can flourish.

Second, mind mapping works well because it allows you to connect ideas to one another immediately. Unlike a linear outline that would have to be edited, with mind mapping, you just add another branch and keep adding more branches as additional connections are discovered.

Mind mapping is a simple but powerful weapon to have in your writing arsenal. You can do it on your computer using several programs, including iMindMap by Tony Buzan, the originator of the concept. You can also use pen and paper.

Here are a few suggestions to maximize the effectiveness of this tool. Call it your GPS to mind mapping.

The G stands for “Generalize the focus.” Using landscape page orientation, type or write a single word or short phrase that represents the subject for which you need to generate ideas. For example, in mind mapping this article, I would type the phrase “Mind Mapping to Generate Ideas.” That would then become the focus of my entire mind map.

It is the big idea that I want to explore. You can utilize this same technique when you need to solve a business problem, design a business plan, create an informational product, or prepare a speech or seminar.

The P stands for “Produce the branches.” Once you have written your focus word or statement, it’s time to branch out. Don’t complicate this. I will often use the tried-and-true journalism questions of who, what, when, where, why, and how. Make each question a main branch and then add sub-branches to each of these.

In my mind map that was the basis of this article, I used each of these questions as a branch. Then I brainstormed the answer to each, filling in the branch as quickly as possible. For example, the “How” branch became the genesis of dividing the process into GPS. See Fig. 1.

Somewhere during this part of the process, the magic happens!

The brain begins to fire on all cylinders and ideas flow like a rushing torrent onto the screen or the paper. Make sure you don’t try to evaluate the value of the ideas at this point. It will only serve to stifle your creativity. Often, I have generated more ideas than I really need and find that I have enough material for another project.

The S stands for “Summarize the connections.” This is the time when you begin to categorize, organize, and utilize the very best ideas.

It is not uncommon for me to go through three or four mind maps as I am reviewing and polishing. It is here that computer software is helpful. But there is also power in revising your mind map on paper because each time you do, the ideas further clarify and solidify your thinking.

Don't be afraid to go through several drafts of your mind map. Treat it like drafts of copy that you would write. With each draft, ideas will be brought into laser-like focus. In Fig. 1, you see the final sub-branches connected to “How.”

Originally, there were 10–12 ideas attached to that one branch. Some were good, some were bad, and some deserved to never see the light of day! After several additions, deletions, and revisions, I finally had the final draft of my mind map.

What do you do after you have your completed mind map? Use it to create a linear outline or simply jump right in and compose your first draft of your writing project. While it sounds like a lot of work, it actually makes the writing easier because you have already done the heavy lifting!

Got a pressing project? Use a mind map to plan it out before you start writing. Once you begin using mind maps, you will find struggling for ideas will be a thing of the past.

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Published: April 19, 2012

1 Response to “How to Become an Idea-Generating Machine – Part 2: Mind Mapping”

  1. Hi Bob - thanks for the navigational info! Sometimes, it is overwhelming (especially as a newbie) to tap into the creativity well...your articles this week have helped a great deal!
    I also use CD's that support creative brain states through the use of sound technology...the CD's come from the Monroe Institute and really help with focus, relaxation, access to intuitive creativity etc....put on the headset and go! it works to support when deadlines loom etc....Kellie

    Guest (Kellie)April 20, 2012 at 12:35 pm


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