Defeating Writer’s Block: Mind Mapping

mind-mapA few weeks ago, my husband walked into our office and found me sprawled out on the floor.  Our conversation went something like this:

“Honey, why are you on the floor?”

I threw one arm over my eyes (I may have a flair for the dramatic) and groaned, “I’m so stuck with this story. I know what has to happen next, but I just can’t write the words.”

“You solve your problems from the floor?”

“Yes!  This is the Rug of Many Sorrows,” I said, giving the floor a hard slap.  “And today I have many sorrows.”

He stepped over me and arranged his work laptop, work laptop No. 2, IPad, and phone on the desk.  “Do you think it might be more productive to map out where your story is supposed to go?”

“No! Outlining is the devil!”

“Well…” he paused, and I could hear him shuffling around a bit.  “I didn’t mean an outline, per se.  I meant a Mind Map.  We have this really cool software at work and…”

When he reached the word ‘software,’ I stopped listening, rolled onto my stomach, and continued my pout.

Two days later, I was still stuck and feeling desperate.  So I finally hit him up for a few more details about this magical Mind Map that solves his problems.

Here’s the crazy thing: His idea totally worked.  Mind mapping got me unstuck!

If you’re like me and you don’t know what mind-mapping is, think of it like a glorified flow chart.  There is super fancy software that has some amazing functions (like collapsing fields, colored boxes for different themes etc.), but I am not that cool.  My mind-mapping is a lot less techno (but maybe as effective?).  Here’s what works for me:

1. Know where you want to go

For THE STORYSPINNER’s sequel, I had to write a really complicated scene with a billion (or six) different characters whose success or failure depended on the other characters. It was one of the trickiest things I’ve ever had to write.  I’d love to show you my mind map, but that would spoiler central.  So, instead I’m using the well loved A Christmas Carol, by the fabulous Charles Dickens — who I’m certain never got writer’s block — to illustrate how mind mapping works.

Let’s pretend that Mr. Dickens knew he had a miserly character, and he wanted this character to learn his lesson, but the details between those elements were little hazy.  He’d write the beginning and end on a sheet of paper like this:

Becky’s Super Awful Mind-Mapping Drawing No. 1

2. Work backward or forward or whatever feels like it’s going to unstick you

Mr. Dickens realized that the best way to scare any person into sainthood is to show them their own death.  So he adds that element with a little box.

Becky’s Super Awful Mind-Mapping Drawing No. 2

I am not one of those people who can write scenes/stories out of order, but I know a lot of people who successfully beat writer’s block by jumping to a different scene.  If you can write that little bit before THE END, then go for it!  For me I have to add more elements to my map.

3. Identify the HOW.

If Mr. Dickens was stuck, he’d have to make a list of all the hows. How would he show Scrooge his own death? Where is it going to take place? What is the scenery going to look like? How is Scrooge going to feel? Then you add the sub questions like: how is Scrooge going to get to the graveyard?

Your little mind-map starts to look more like a porcupine with idea bubbles bristling all over the place.

Becky’s Super Awful Mind-Map Drawing No. 3

4.  Fill in the blanks

Use your map to flesh out scenes and connect sub-plots.

Becky”s Super Awful Mind-Map Drawing No. 4 


You can call it outlining if you want to, but I don’t!  Since there is so little on the page (and so little at stake if you decided to ditch your map completely), this process gave me the direction I needed, but still left room for my characters and plot to develop organically.

I’m sure there are other people out there who mind-map better than I do, but this was a new concept for me.  I hope that if any of you are struggling with writer’s block, that this might help you along!

Good luck, friends!



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