Mind-mapping makes writing easier

When you sit down to write an essay, a story or other piece of work, one of two problems often occurs:

(1) You have dozens of ideas competing for your attention and you don’t know where to begin. Thoughts flicker through your mind and disappear. Zip – they’re gone! You’re like a child at the circus – so many lovely, colourful things are competing for your attention, you don’t know where to focus. As a result, you feel lost and overwhelmed. OR (more commonly)

(2) You are totally bereft of ideas. You have nothing to say. You despair of ever getting anything written. However there is a technique for getting around; it’s called mind-mapping. It will help you write faster, have more fun doing it and produce better results. It doesn’t cost a thing. And it’s easy to learn. So let’s get started.

What is a mind-map?

As you can see, it’s simply a group of words with circles drawn around them and lines connecting them to other words. Now you’re probably wondering how a few words and squiggles on a page could possibly help with writing. So here’s the secret: mind-maps are personal.

How can you create your own mind-map?

One of the best things about mind-mapping is that it’s so simple. Take a blank piece of paper and turn it sideways. (This may sound picky, but it’s crucial. Turning the paper so it sits in landscape fashion will give you more “room” to write all around your central idea. This will help make your mind feel open and expansive.)

Write your subject or central idea in the middle of the paper. For example, if you’re writing an essay on the advances of technology, you might write: “Technology.” Draw a circle around this phrase or idea. Now, just let your mind wander. Each time a word or association pops into your head, write it down and draw a circle around it. Link it to the word/phrase that inspired the thought by drawing a line to it.

If you have lots of ideas, this process will be very fast. If you have only a few ideas, you’ll likely start slowly (okay, maybe very slowly), but you will pick up speed as you go. But whatever you’re feeling, be sure to keep these simple rules in mind:

  • Don’t judge or evaluate
  • Every idea is acceptable
  • Just write them all down on the page
  • Reassure yourself that if you don’t like some of the ideas, you can always cross them out later

“Judging” while you’re mind-mapping will cause you to choke. Instead, you should simply write down your thoughts as fast as you possibly can. If you find your mind going blank, don’t panic! Just keep your pen moving by drawing empty lines, colouring in the circles or doodling. Don’t limit yourself to just the facts. The words and phrases you write down should also include feelings, images and metaphors. These will help make your writing more interesting, colourful and lively – and will help inspire you to want to write.

  • Don’t structure.

Apart from drawing links between related ideas, don’t classify or organize. That’s separate work and it should come later.

  • Don’t over-think.

People sometimes wonder if each thought must be distilled to a single word. No! Some people like to use single words; others use phrases or sentence fragments. While a mind-map is meant to be succinct, it doesn’t need to be curt. Do what suits you best. Be creative. Use different coloured pens or pencils. Include drawings or doodles. Your brain likes to be amused; keep it happy while you’re working. It may have occurred to you that mind-mapping is similar to brainstorming. Indeed it is, and you might even want to think of it as brainstorming with yourself.

How do you know when your mind-map is done? Keep putting words on the page until you’ve filled it OR until you feel like writing your essay, story or report. What usually happens is that you will get to a certain point in your map and you’ll think, “Now I know what I want to say.”

Some people call this the “click,” the “shift” moment.


Why do mind-maps work? How can something that’s as simple as a mind-map possibly make such a big difference to anyone’s writing? Funnily enough, that question was easier to answer 30 years ago – when we believed we understood the brain better than we actually do. You may recall the research from those early days. Remember the talk about the “left” hemisphere and the “right” hemisphere? As a result of some interesting studies on people who were epileptic, scientists thought they had discovered that the two sides of our brains operate completely differently. At the time, they said that the brain worked this way:

Left hemisphere


Right hemisphere









Responds to detail


Responds to the whole

Good with syntax and grammar

Good with images

“Sees” in words

“Sees” in pictures


Common sense also seems to support these conclusions. Think about the long list of your friends and acquaintances. You’ve probably noticed that the “artistic” or “creative” ones are more often left-handed, a trait that occurs in only 10 percent of the population.

Over the next 20 years, scientists will undoubtedly have a lot more to tell us about exactly which parts of the brain are responsible for what. For now, it’s probably enough to know that when you edit or polish your writing, you’re using one part of your brain, and when you sit down to create, you’re using a different part. And mind-mapping can help you find and use that creative part.

Advanced mind-mapping techniques

Once you’ve mastered the basics of mind-mapping, you might want to try some of the following strategies: Develop your own special shorthand: For example, when an idea strikes you that seems particularly important or interesting, write it in capital letters, or underline it or put an exclamation mark or asterisk after it. You might even develop some special symbols of your own. Over time, this shorthand will not only make your mind-maps easier to grasp, but it will also make them richer and more layered. Use mind-mapping for note-taking: When you’re researching an essay you’re writing, you can also use mind-maps to take notes.


Mind-mapping may feel a bit awkward and weird when you start using it. But you will soon find it a valuable tool for speeding up your writing (and maybe even organizing your life). The secret is to use it regularly – make it a habit.

By Daphne Gray-Grant, The Publicati

ELT News

ELT News

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