Have you ever struggled to get ideas on paper or create a road map for an article or story? If so, there’s a tool out there that I’ve found quite helpful. In fact, most of my plotting is done this way. So was my business plan.
If you are not yet familiar with clustering, it is a non-linear (e.g. right brain) way of thinking on paper that has been around for decades. The advantage of creating a mind map or cluster is to gently nudge the left brain, with its linear thinking and focus on detail, out of the way to the right brain’s whole picture and abstract thinking can take over. Some people consider it an alternative to a linear outline, and it is, but it is also much more. It has elements of doodling and play, a function of the same part of our mind that writes.
What do people use mindmapping for?
In my personal experience, I’ve found it useful for:
- Plotting fiction by starting with the premise and branching out into plot events and obstacles.
- Organizing non-fiction into chapters, sections, and subsections.
- Dumping my brain onto paper so I can see what’s going on in there (always interesting).
- Planning projects by branching each step I need to take.
- Identifying anxiety and worry by branching out whatever comes to mind.
- Determining my priorities, either in writing or in daily life, by branching all my projects and the steps needed.
- Pulls out new correlations and connections and fosters poetic language.
So what does a cluster look like?
Here’s an image of the cluster I made for this post. As you can see, there are lines between sections for when I duplicate and sub-branches for details. I use colors after the fact. The actual map is created in pencil or ink first, and then colors are added when I discover the connections.
For prose or poetry, start with an idea or two opposing phrases such as old/new, beautiful/tyrant, power/helplessness, creative/destruction, etc.
Why should I make a mindmap?
The right brain thinks differently from the left brain. It speaks in metaphor, images, feelings, concepts. Clustering helps get the right brain to participate and gives the left brain something to see and ruminate over. It is a fantastic way to get the two halves of our brains to work together since the left brain usually does solid work with what the right brain has produced.
What do I do with a cluster or mindmap after I create it?
I put mine in a binder and refer to them as I would an outline. Some are complete. Others get additional branches as a project moves forward. When I’m working on prose or poetic language, I’ll use it while revising and then file the cluster with the finished piece so I can always remind myself where the spark for the piece came from.
For the more personal clusters, I often end up journaling about their contents and gaining more knowledge of self.
For more information on clustering and using mind maps, I recommend Writing the Natural Way and Writing On Both Sides of the Brain. The Write Brain Workbook is fun and playful, though not about clustering. I’ve also included a poetic mind map from the first book and another of mine for a plot (don’t judge the plot, it’s for demonstration purposes).
Have you used clustering as a tool in your writing? If so, how has it helped? If not, would you be willing to try?
Author’s Note: Please forgive the penmanship. My arm is still healing from the accident.