I confess. I am a random thinker. I love to see where my mind will take me if I suspend logic for a few minutes and give in to what Stephen King calls “the boys in the basement.” These are all those ideas we keep locked up for fear they are too rowdy, too unconventional, too messy for others to see.
So when I was completing my Master’s of Education in the 80s and discovered mind mapping, I jumped for joy. It was the best of both worlds, this tool for releasing all those wild-eyed ideas but taming them enough so they made sense to other people.
Since then, I have used mind mapping to encourage divergent thinking in classrooms with everyone from excitable first graders to gifted upper school students. When the buzz started in business and management circles, I was delighted to see a successful tool in education crossing over to other fields.
WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED A MIND MAP?
While image- and word-centered maps have been used as an organizational tool for centuries, the term “mind mapping” is said to have been coined in the 1970s by British psychologist and author Tony Buzan.
Some people like to think of a mind map as a tree, but for me it is more of a fluid, non-linear idea picture. The lines branching out from the main idea or home base lead to other interesting places, which may or not become part of your blog post.
But that is the beauty of a mind map. It frees your mind to brainstorm diverse ideas and becomes a bank to revisit whenever you want to withdraw more sub-topics. Use them now or use them later because there is no expiration date.
A mind map is a useful tool for generating new ideas and using logic to organize them into a coherent piece of content. At its simplest, it is a map with side roads that lead to more interesting stuff.
You can create digital mind maps now and there are several programs out there. (See the resources section at the end of this post.) But I still prefer the old-fashioned, longhand way. For me (and the research supports this), the ideas flow faster when they come directly from my brain, down the arm, through my fingers in spatters of thick, gloppy ink.
But use the option that works best for you.
Why should you try mind mapping?
Stimulates both sides of your brain.
Most of us are more proficient with one hemisphere of our brain than the other. The left brain’s strengths are logic, rhythm, lines and lists. The right brain is more skilled with imagination, images and whole-picture thinking. By drawing on the two of them, mind mapping helps in both the creation and organization phases.
Helps you find manageable blog post topics.
A mind map can create order out of chaos, especially when your original topic idea is overwhelming. If you keep practicing, you will start to see when that just-right sub-topic jumps out at you, begging to be written about.
Stimulates the generation of new ideas faster.
There is nothing as exhilarating as a mind mapping session that pulls dozens of ideas out of your brain and lays them all out in picture form.
Makes the natural connections of ideas easy to see.
You can see immediately the relationships between your ideas and which ones will naturally fit together in one post.
Helps you figure out gaps in your thinking and identify missing pieces of content.
The logic part of a mind map will trigger for you the gaps in your post and the points you have left out.
How to create a mind map
Think of a mind map as a visual of your ideas, starting with a large topic and moving from general to specific. Your goal is to break your topic down into consumable pieces for your reader.
The easiest way to show you this is to re-create my mind map for this blog post. The three parts of this post are branching out from my main topic, “Mind Map Your Blog Post.”
For this post, I didn’t start with the gargantuan topic of “mind mapping” because I already had an angle: the specific use of mind mapping to develop blog post content. This time, I wasn’t using the tool so much to brainstorm new ideas for blog posts as to plan the content of one particular post, but you get the idea. By using mind mapping, I was able to break my topic into pieces the blogger new to to this strategy can easily understand.
On the other hand, if I had started with the broad topic of “mind mapping” in the center, I could have brainstormed many more topics for future posts. The choice is yours.
In my mind map, three circles from my thinking are branching out from the center topic, which is mind mapping a blog post. The “what” was a logical place to start. I decided to define mind mapping and then focus down to its use in producing online content, including blog posts.
Next I plotted out the “why,” explaining how mind mapping can help my readers become better bloggers and idea generators. Because if not, why would they even want to learn how to do it? The why circle has branches leading to those benefits.
Finally, I brainstormed the “how,” the meat of my post, with basic steps, getting started tips and mind mapping software resources for the digitally inclined.
Your mind maps can become a treasure trove of ideas that will trigger more topics for future blog posts. I pull mine out every once in a while and usually find new gems of content lying there in plain sight.
TIPS FOR GETTING STARTED
1. Turn a blank page sideways to give yourself enough room to branch out in all directions.
2. Write your general topic in the center of the paper and draw a circle around it. Think of it as your home base, the point from which you will take your “day trips.” This is where your thinking will start.
3. Work from the general topic in the center to the specific, connecting your sub-topic branch to your central idea using a line that leads to a new circle.
4. Use single key words or phrases—the shorter, the better.
5. Always look for a sub-topic that is a manageable, bite-sized piece of content.
6. Continue mind mapping from your chosen blog post topic to brainstorm your post’s main points.
7. Save your big mind maps to revisit for additional posts, or even to create a blog series around your main topic.
An audio version of this post: