Reader Q: Mind Mapping and the Writing Process

Mind Mapping and the Writing Process

From time to time I get this question, in person, via email, or via social media, so I thought I’d address it in a post. The question is this,

I have some ideas for an ebook. How do I get started writing an ebook? How do you do it?

I use mind maps as a way to organize information + ideas for large projects Click To Tweet

Mind Mapping for Better Brainstorming

Initially, I just wrote and wrote and wrote.

However, I’ve boiled it down to a writing process now that I use when I have a great idea I want to develop further.

My solution is to create a mind map for every large project I have.

What is a Mind Map?

A mind map is a way to visually organize information. You start off with a main topic, then sub topics, then sub topics under those, and so on. Each of these sub topics are called nodes on a mind map. Mind maps can be as large or as small as you need them to be. When looking at a mind map, you can also hide all of the sub nodes under different topics if you’d like, to clear up the clutter while working on a different part of it.

I mostly use mind mapping as a way to organize information and ideas for large projects.

I use mind maps as a way to organize information + ideas for large projects Click To Tweet

For example, I have a mind map that is ongoing for fixing things in our old house. The main topic is “Home Repair Projects”. The main sub topics are the different rooms or areas of the house and yard. Under those are the different projects that I want to do. Under each project, I’ve created other nodes that show what needs to be done, found, or prepared for each project. I like to salvage things for my repair projects, so keeping this on my phone helps me to keep an eye out at flea markets, yard sales, and salvage places.

I’ve also taught my kids to use mind maps on paper to organize essays and other composition projects for school. This is a simple way to organize the information before you write an English paper.

Mind mapping is a simple way to organize information before you write an English paper Click To Tweet

Thankfully, with mind maps, not only can you develop what information to use and what you’ll need, but you can rearrange information if you think the order or the grouping of information doesn’t fit.

How to Use Mind Mapping When Writing an Ebook

Usually, when writing a book or another large writing project, I start with a main thought, which I put into the very center of a mind map. Ideas that support this main thought are then also created. Using Simple Minds, I like to make them each different colors, because as you can see, a mind map can quickly turn into a tangled mess.

Thankfully, again, a feature of Simple Mind and most other mind mapping software (unlike paper mind maps), you can collapse each bubble down, so that you don’t have to always view all of the nodes containing thoughts, ideas, subtopics, and such. I only opened up all of mine in the picture below to demonstrate. Normally I don’t leave everything open like that. Too chaotic!

A Sample Mind Map

To demonstrate this, I’m sharing a screen grab from one of my mind maps. This one was not for an ebook, but rather was used as I was trying to decide how to better lay out my website’s content, and trying to figure out where the holes in my content were, relative to my goals for the website. However, the process I used was the same

In this sample mind map, the blue bubble in the middle which says, “Thoughts and Designs”. This was the main topic: my website. From there, you see branching out several different main ideas, all color coded differently: Thoughts, Tips, Designs and Tools, for the main categories of the website. In terms of ebooks, this would be the main chapters of the ebook.

Branching off from those are different ideas and topics that fall under those headings. In the case of my website, some of those were pre-existing, but I organized it in there anyway to get a good overview of how my website looked, content-wise. I also color coded different series and related information too, so that I could see it better at a glance.


The Tools for Writing

Now, let’s talk tools. What I use right now for writing makes a huge difference. I alluded to this a bit in my article about using a Bullet Journal. I prefer to do any large project with either mind mapping or mood boarding.

Usually anything written is written using a mind map process using Simple Mind mind mapping software. Anything artistic is usually done using a mood board via Evernote, which I’ve written about here.

I prefer mind mapping, instead of just writing. I feel it’s easier to not only get my thoughts down quickly. I can decide  what to include, but also to then organize the information in a logical way before I ever start to write.

Mind Mapping Software

There are many good mind mapping software options out there, but I like Simple Mind because I have it both on my phone and on my computer. Before that, I used FreeMind, which is free, but didn’t have a mobile version.

This means, I can easily work while I’m waiting in the doctor’s office waiting room, for example, then share it with myself via email or my Dropbox account.  I frequently use downtime to brainstorm ideas, instead of reading old copies of People magazine.

Paper Mind Maps are Another Option

Mind maps can also be made on paper, of course.

Using one sheet of paper is not as flexible if you need to rearrange the information, which is why I like Simple Mind Pro. Mind maps can also grow very large and become unwieldy when done on paper.

However, another good option, if you have a large wall to work on, is to use post it notes to arrange the information. I have also used index cards to organize information for large projects, using one index card like a node on a mind map.

Starting the Writing Process

So, now that I’ve explained a bit about mind mapping, here’s how it fits into the writing process as I get started.

I use the mind map, both on my phone and on my computer, to plan out the topics I want to cover in my book. I don’t worry so much about chapter titles or sub titles, unless something really strikes my fancy. So, I’ll use a title if I had one in mind to start, but in general, I just type out a brief thought regarding the chapter, then supporting ideas under that. Under each chapter node and subtopic node, I usually will create additional content nodes for each idea I want to cover in that chapter.

Initially, my goal as I start writing an ebook is to just do a sort of brain dump, to get all of my ideas out there. I can clean it up later.

So, I don’t worry about:

  • re-organizing it “better”
  • phrasing things “just right”
  • perfect grammar
  • completing each thought beyond the original idea I had

The main idea, at this stage, is to just get the information from my brain into the mind map. Once I’ve done that, I can play around with my writing. I can make my idea better, fix it, rephrase it, and so forth.

Slow Cooking Ideas

Just as slow cooking brings out the flavors in a meal, slow cooking ideas only makes them better. Usually after this preliminary brain dump, I do some tweaking, but then I leave it alone. After I come back to my mind map, I can better see patterns and gaps. I’ve noticed I can develop ideas better if I walk away for a week or two to gain perspective.

As I look over the information, I can see how some of it should be organized.

  • Maybe this topic node needs to go before that one over there.
  • Perhaps I should combine these two topics into one chapter.
  • Or should I take this chapter and make two chapters out of it?

I can look at topics in the mind map and see what additional information a reader might need to help them work through this topic and better understand it. I can see where quotes from others might work better in this spot here, or where a graphic, chart, or table would be helpful.

After different changes, I usually let my mind map slow cook a little longer, before looking at it again.

Once I’m pretty sure I have the structure just right, I copy the contents of the mind map as an outline.

This is a feature in most software, and is usually done by collapsing all of the different nodes, until only the main idea is visible, then right mouse clicking, and selecting “copy”. Alternately, if you just want to copy one node and everything under it, just right mouse click that node and select “copy”. Sometimes you’ll be prompted to choose “copy as outline” or “copy as image”. You want an outline. In Simple Mind, you need to select the tools icon, and then select copy from the tool bar that appears.

Moving Your Ebook to Word

Now, you can paste that information from your mind map into Word or whatever other document software you prefer to use. I like Word, since I use it to create the actual ebook formatting for Kindle.

By pasting the information you’ve copied, you’ll have your whole mind map imported as an outline.

In Word, I flesh out my ideas better, and actually write my book based on the ideas I’ve already organized. In the past, some of my ebooks were written straight in Word, without organizing first. I find organizing thoughts into a mind map works much better, and makes for an easier work flow.

Solicit Honest Opinions

Next, after I have the content the way I want it, I usually ask someone I trust to read it over. They are not necessarily proof reading, but if they find errors, I appreciate it, of course. I’m mostly hoping to find out if the content was understandable and clear. Usually someone who is not familiar with the topic can point out what bits of information are lacking and need to be developed better.

This last part usually is the longest part of the writing process, as I do a great deal of back and forth with different friends who help me perfect my ebook.

When it comes to books with recipes in them, it’s important to try to find people to test some recipes for you. For me, this is always super important, since I never cook from a recipe myself. Everyone pleaded with me to write Shopping and Cooking Frugally with my “recipes” and I probably spent a year testing my own recipes and trying to figure out measurements (I usually eyeball it). Every now and then I tweak recipes in that book when I find an error someone points out that my testers missed.

A Note on Proofreading

Finally, I hire someone to do some actual proofreading on the ebook.

Normally I’m one of those people who can spot grammar and spelling errors a mile away.

The exception is when I’ve written the book.

I’m blind to my own spelling errors. Studies have shown that the average person does not notice their own spelling and grammar errors. I sometimes will go back and read something I wrote a few years ago, and notice a few mistakes here and there that even the proofreaders missed. However, I notice next to nothing immediately after I’ve written something.

Formatting and Publishing

Once the ebook is done, it’s time to make sure the formatting is correct, and then publish it.

Properly formatting an ebook for Kindle is another topic altogether, which I’ll cover on this site another time.

Suffice it to say that, when reading on a Kindle, it’s important to have your book function properly, such as:

  • Clickable Table of Contents
  • “Back to Top” links
  • Headlines and body text that make reading easier
  • Clickable footnote links
  • An attractive cover

If you’ve ever had an ebook in your kindle bookshelf that didn’t “function”, you probably realized just how important these little details are.

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