Poets & Writers Toolkit: Mind Mapping

Ever had a huge idea come to you with perfect order and timing, so you were able to capture the whole thing in your writer’s notebook (or that file on your computer) without losing a bit of it?


Me neither.

Usually when that big idea strikes I am left scribbling notes on a napkin and always, like a dream you just woke up from and can’t quite recall exactly, something gets lost.

But one day as I was frantically sticking Post-it® notes on my white board and drawing connections with a fat red marker, it dawned on me that there might actually be software that lets a person do all this on her computer (or iPad, Droid, whatever you love). And sure enough there was.

The process is called mind mapping and it is used for everything from project planning to brainstorming, from fleshing out a creative writing idea to getting a complex pile of information under control. Mind mapping is a visual way of capturing, connecting and presenting details of non-linear ideas.

Although the process is simple, the extras and features of some mind mapping apps can add depth and resources that are impossible to do with an ordinary notebook or text file.

The basic steps of mind mapping your idea are:

1. Write your big idea or project name in the center of the page

2. Add sub-topics, the lines will be automatically generated for you

3. Add and rearrange topics and details

4. Add links, emails, icon indicators as needed

Before you know it, you will have something that looks a bit like this:

image of a mind map example

I have used it to plan websites, a non-fiction book, and parties. I have made maps of our family tree, our adoption process, and visualizing a class I taught. In each case, using mind mapping software was not just useful and fun, it also added a creative element to the process that generated an amazing amount of detail.

If you would like to try mind mapping, here are a couple of apps worth exploring:

FreeMind (free, java-based runs on multiple computer platforms)

MindNode ($10.49 for use on iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch)

SimpleMind (free/$4.99 for use on Androids)


Photo by Ivan McClellan, Creative Commons, via Flickr. Post by Sandra Lynn.


Buy a year of Every Day Poems, just $5.99 — Read a poem a day, become a better poet. In March we’re exploring the theme The Pantoum.

Every Day Poems Driftwood


  1. says

    I have not thought of mind maps since college. A Spanish professor taught us to use them, and that’s how I studied from then on. Never thought of applying it to writing, though. Thanks!

    • Sandra Lynn says

      You’re welcome :-) I would love to see how they are used for learning a second language. This type of technology was not around when I learned French but I can see how it might benefit my children as they begin a foreign language.

  2. Harley King says

    I have used mind maps for 30 years to brainstorm new projects — writing and otherwise — using pen and paper. Does the computer slow you down?

    • Sandra Lynn says

      Wow, 30 years? You are a trendsetter for sure!

      I used to love doing the maps on my whiteboard but then once I started using the computer version, I got hooked. There are so many features in many of these programs that add such depth (like live urls & emails, priority setting and delegating, and creating dependencies and due dates). So in some ways that can add more time to the overall creation of the map but it enhances its usefulness and viability throughout a project.

  3. says

    Great post, I want to add other mind mapping tool that is also worth exploring. I have been using DropMind (www.dropmind.com) and it’s great tool to better manage your project, your work time, your ideas.
    Tnx DropMind

  4. Aaren Martis says

    Hey there, iam an amatuer at poem writing, could you please direct me in the direction of when can i participate in one of the theme writing events, please email me with the details.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *