How to Build a Basic Mind Map

The image you are about to see may horrify some and thrill others. Sometimes you approach it anxiously—eager to share exciting news, pass along lessons learned, have festive fun with other bloggers, or brag on your peers’ accomplishments.

And then there are other times (and plenty of them), when life steps in and demands your attention, or you have a headache and can’t concentrate, are nauseous, tired, or a million other reasons that actually mean…I don’t feel like blogging (or writing) today. Your once most-favorite place to vacation has now become The Land of Dread.

The Add New Post Page

New Post Blank Screen

That dreaded blank page. What are you going to do about it? How can you turn that blank page into one that’s unblank? You have several ideas—topics sprouting in that fertile mind of yours—but how do you develop them into full blog posts…or essays…or whatever you have in mind? And for the record, this process also works for novels, but of course, on a larger scale.

Mind Mapping: What is It?

Simply put, it’s brainstorming on paper, and was developed by Tony Buzan, an Englishman I’d never heard of before today. I zoned into space without blinking through 55+ minutes of his YouTube podcast and although I’m sure the content was excellent, his delivery was monotonous and dry. It put me in a fugue state. By the time it was over, my tongue was a rock and I couldn’t blink without scratching my corneas.

The concept is as such: you have an idea—a main objective for your post or the direction of your blog—but not much more, so you write it down and brainstorm on items needed to achieve that goal.

Gather the ideas you’ve spun and place them around the main objective. These are your categories. Next, brainstorm on the categories to come up with several sub-categories to attain that specific goal. The idea is: Take care of the little things and the big things will take care of themselves.

Perhaps it would be easier to demonstrate. There’s a big problem, though: before this article, I never made a mind map. I saw a better video about making them in an email or a blog post or Lawd-knows-where almost a year ago but couldn’t find it anywhere to review. And I save everything (except that, evidently).

So before proceeding any further, I needed to learn how to make a mind map. And I did—from a nice hassidic jewish fellow on YouTube with the username, Pinnyssuccesthoughts.

His four and a half minute video, with its glottal Hebrew-English dialect taught me more than…well, I fugue-slept through Tony’s lecture, if that tells you anything. Of course, I gleaned information from many other sites, but “Pinny’s” simple diagram and explanation worked best.  As a matter of fact, I mind-mapped this blog article:

Mind Mapping 059

Educate yourself. It is the first step to achieve any goal. If you walk away with nothing else, may that fundamental idea stay with you.”

Therefore, when creating the map above, I began with Education, wrote it on the right-hand side and circled it in green. Then, brainstorming on “education,” placed my thoughts pertaining to that category around the circle and drew branches to them.

I moved clockwise and went through this same process with “Needs,” “What to Include (or write),” “Provide Links,” and finally “Promote” the blog post.

Seeing as though we’re writers, here are a few more examples of mind maps, created by MyThoughts (via Photopin), on The Parts of Speech:

MyThoughts’s maps are quite professional and very easy to understand. Tap on any of them to bring up larger images in the gallery—links to the original sizes are provided at the bottom of the post, or you can find copies on my Pinterest “Writerly” board.

As you see, mind maps can be created for anything that needs defining and detailing to bring it to a full understanding.

Step-by-Step Through The Mind Mapping Process: “How I Want My Writer’s Blog”

Over the recent months—all things considered aside—I have been disenchanted with my blog: what it offered; what I wanted it to offer; what and how I wanted to write; how to make my voice resound; how to distinguish myself from the thousands of other writers’ blogs in this vast uni-net.

I decided to mind map what I wanted my blog to be. Go grab a sketch pad and follow along!

Mind Mapping 001
Where all ideas start, THE BLANK PAGE.

Once again, we begin with the blank page. Fear not. You’re just about to make your first ingenious move. Find a black writing pen (I use Uniball Vision Elite) and a pack of colored markers, pencils, or even crayons, then spill them all over your work surface. Have fun! The brain responds more readily to colors. Now you’re prepared to mind map.

Step One—Categories

Write down your main objective and circle it with the black magic marker. Grab a different color marker (in this case I chose green) and make a branch from your main objective. This may not be the correct nomenclature; it’s simply what I call it. The branches basically ask the question: “What is ONE of the things necessary to achieve this goal?” The answer will be your first category: to educate yourself on blogging.

Step Two—Sub-categories

Write down the category and circle it with the same color as the branch you drew (green).

In my case, I really needed to learn how to blog. I came into this online world knowing how to write, but not how to blog…the fun way blogging can be. I’ve tasted it, but to really enjoy it, I needed to educate myself.

Now add your sub-categories around the category—how you plan to educate yourself, keeping time, money, and other factors in consideration.

Step Three—Categories, Sub-categories, and Sub-sub-categories

The ideas you generate (and they’re pouring down like raindrops now, aren’t they?) will sometimes need further clarification, such as the example below. You’ve educated yourself on blogging and have learned you must find a host provider.

That becomes your next category. Write it down—even if you have a blog—like I did. You’re planning your ideal blog, correct? Then act as if you want it, even if it means relocating. Fortunately, I made some good decisions early in the game.

But you’ve run into a snag…there are free blogs and blogs you pay for (a decision that should have been made during the category brainstorming). Write them down, but don’t worry, they both lead to the same junction, which is Create Your Blog!

This is an example of a category, a sub-category, and a sub-sub-category. Before this branch is finished, there will be sub-sub-sub-sub-categories.

Step Four—Finishing Your Branch

When creating my blog, there were many decisions to make—appearance and user-friendliness being the most important to me. The same now goes for my “ideal blog.” I wrote those and brainstormed how to make them happen, surrounding them with pretty red branches heavy with fruitful ideas.

Step Five—Finishing Your Map

Repeat those steps for all the categories around your main objective. It may look hard, but putting this post together with all the pictures was much harder—believe me! The actual mind mapping was fun and creative!

Rough Draft of Blog Mind Mapping
The only rough draft of mine you’ll EVER see!

If these diagrams look artsy and difficult to construct and you’re thinking, “But I can’t do that; I’m not artistic,” don’t fret. As with everything else in our writerly lives, it took a number of drafts to get to this point. If you don’t believe me, here is one of many rough drafts:

And if you’re one of those dig-in-your-heels people who are dead-set on remaining Old School (dagnab whippersnappers), guess what a mind map really is? An OUTLINE. Yep, it’s true. Only in a prettier package and easier to follow. After finishing my map, I put it in outline form and came up with the following:

Old School Outline.
An Old School outline. I didn’t even get past the second category and it filled the page.

And that’s the skinny on BASIC mind mapping. From my research I’ve seen much more intricate and elaborate maps (and complicated and artistic), but for simple blogging purposes, this should suffice. It should also assist in the development of your characters as well as your stories.

Think about it: your large dry-erase storyboard covered corner-to-corner with a mind map of your next novel. I’ve done similar stuff in the past with post-it notes and index cards—which will never go out of style as far as I’m concerned—but I’m going to mind map the upcoming NaNoWriMo.

Yeah…it’s almost that time again, and I wasn’t going to do it this year, but a friend twisted my arm. It’ll be a much easier book than last year, when I had BIG plans (still in the works, though) of writing the next MG/YA blockbuster series. Ah…to dream.

MLSwift MindMap
All in all, I think it turned out rather well.
Take charge of your life; map your own path!

Hmmm…perhaps if I mind map that whole series…


ML Swift

Photo Credits: Nouns, Adverbs, and Prepositions courtesy of MyThoughts via Photopin ccAll others taken by the author.


57 thoughts on “How to Build a Basic Mind Map

  1. Mike, as I was reading this I kept thinking: this is so Mike! I love to plan things out but not with that much detail but can see, especially for NaNo how incredibly helpful it would be. I used to teach my students this technique. One aspect I do like about it over an outline is its non-linear format. I think it taps onto the right brain a bit better.

    1. That’s exactly what appeals to me too, Julie. I hated (and still do) writing outlines for my papers. I love graphing, designing, and drawing, but as I did it, I realized all I was making was a graphic outline. That’s why I showed one at the end (well, a page of one to get the gist across). I took to this like a newborn calf takes to a teet.

  2. Thank you Mr. Swift. Mind Mapping is my favorite tool. I am using it since 2011 and it is quite helpful. I learned more about Mind Mapping form this post. I am thankful to you for visiting to my blog, as a newbie you supported me a lot and one more thing post was cool.

    1. Sakib!

      Good to see you. You’re doing a mighty fine job over at your blog. Have you posted recently? I haven’t seen anything in my reader, and I’ve been looking.

      When I have something I’m truly stuck on, I think I’ll use this method to solve. Heck, I may not even have to be truly stuck!

      Thanks for coming by. 🙂

      1. For some reason, the two study posts are not coming over my reader feed. I just checked Bloglovin and had to search for you. You’re not coming up automatically, and I’m following you, so I don’t get it. All these sites glitch up every now and then.

        I’ll have to get over and catch up. 🙂

  3. Fantastic post, Mike! I must admit, the whole mindmapping thing has kind of been a mystery to me. I’m a very visual person, so this was great. I’ve liked and shared this post in just about every format I can think of. Well done!

    1. Thanks, Reese!

      Almost a year ago I received an email with a self-made video of mind-mapping your blog from one of the many subscriptions to blogs, websites or something…heck, I read so much stuff I can’t remember for sure. It might not have even been an email, but it seems as though that’s where I saw it. Did a search to no avail. Even wrote the author who I thought sent the email, but never got a reply, and we’ve exchanged past emails when he wasn’t as big as he is now. Oops. I originally wrote “not” for “now.” I wonder if that was Freudian.

      So I’ve been researching this for months! Not constantly, of course, but I wanted to use the method to focus on the exact content and style I wanted to convey.

      I didn’t even know the name to google it. Just kept using different keywords. Finally found something on YouTube about the process. It helped a lot. I’m a creative and visual soul as well. Thanks for all the different sharing of the post. 🙂

    1. This was after two rough drafts and a couple of mess-ups on the “pretty” final. I kept mapping when I should have been stopping to take pictures.

      You know, I took to it quite readily and will probably be using the method regularly. Thanks for coming by, Richard!

    1. You know, I’ve seen some that were very artistic, very much like the way we were taught to take notes in architecture lab… with sketches and such… whatever comes to mind that may remind us of that part of the lesson. Word/drawing association. These were my first two, and with that little bit of experience (and the college note-taking) I can see where they can become works of art.

  4. I love mind-mapping, and then converting my artistic map (I usually include smilie faces and hearts to keep me motivated) into category list with bullet points and sub bullet points and then turning those into action plans by dates and… no wonder I rarely get around to doing anything!

    Yeah, NaNo – I’ll take it on (I usually make it a family project – you know how I like to torture them). Absolutely no idea what I’ll be writing this year – I need a starting word for my mind-map! How about MUD – everyone likes mud, right?

    1. You will have to “friend” me at NaNo. I’ll be under ML Swift. Last year I didn’t know too many people. I think I’ll write an older kid/family thing about the dog I got when I first moved here. I’ll make the story fiction, but use the events from the dog’s real life. That sounds like a plan to start my mind map.

      Dang. I just reread your first paragraph. You are so organized, it’s not even funny. I covet those skills. I’ll take notes and doodle and scribble and circle the scribbled out things which mean I really want them and draw arrows totally around the border of the page and use asterisks if I run out of room and go to the edge and…and…

      Thanks for coming by and sharing on FB. You’re a doll. 🙂

  5. This looks way to organized and effective for me. I’m more the go-out-and-run-with-it-without-planning-ahead-and-watch-it-backfire kinda girl. Ya know? (;

    1. You know, Elise, when I saw examples of finished products, they almost scared me away. “I can’t do this,” I said. But as you can see, it all starts with ONE branch, ONE category. Keep adding categories, keep adding sub categories. After that, if it backfires, there must be a little water in the gasoline. 🙂

  6. Okay, Mr. Swift, you’ve schooled me once again. I love the idea of a mind map–the visual aspect of it stimulates my mind. I’ve tried to do “old school” outlines but can’t seem to stick to them. I would definitely have to include all the pretty colors, like you did, in my mind map if I created one. The downfall to this is I’d get so wrapped up in creating the map and making it pretty, I’d never get any real work done. Which defeats the whole purpose of having the map in the first place. I am, however, going to keep this blog post as reference material, because I’d definitely like to try it.

    1. Ms. Gray! Good to see you! Are you back? Last I checked, not yet.

      Oooh…I could have really sunk my teeth into artistic design, but the article was about making a basic one, so I kept it simple. An at-a-glance type of thing.

      I loved doing it. Remembering to stop and take pictures kept messing me up. Then downloading, etc. But I will be trying them out…first one will be for NaNo.

      My suggestion for you, so you can use them: budget the time in your writing schedule for them. Or whatever your purpose for them is. Figure, if it takes a few hours, days, weeks and add that in.

      I hated making the O.S. outlines.

      So good to see you!

      1. Great idea, Mike, about budgetting it into my schedule. That’s an ongoing problem I have, I don’t factor in the “prep work” that goes along with writing. Then I get pissed off with myself because I feel I’m wasting valuable writing time when prepping. Which in actuality I’m really not, but the brain thinks I am. Oh what a vicious cycle.

        Also, I’m still on break (hiding) from my blog. I saw that you blasted me out over there today while I’m still trying to lay low, under the radar. Swift move, Swifty.

      2. Even prep work has prep work! LOL.

        I hope that “blasting” didn’t make you feel pressured, because now there are only TWO days until fall. I’ve just missed you, girl. 😉

  7. Hey Michael,

    What an informative post. It took a map just to get here. Although I do understand what you are trying to allude to, personally, I couldn’t use such structure in my life when it comes to writing or blogging attempts. I just do what I want to do when the mood strikes. No illustrations, no maps, just whatever comes to mind. This is what works for me or Penny the Jack Russell dog and modest internet superstar! For us to plan would reduce the spontaneity of our writing process.

    Respect to you, my friend.


    1. Hey Gary,

      I hope this finds you and Penny the Jack Russell and modest internet superstar doing well.

      This helped clear my head and put all the things floating around (and there was plenty of room to float) into their respective and proper order. ORDER! I will have order!

      Seriously, I needed something to keep me on track. It’s so easy to lose myself in here.

      Thanks for coming by Gary, and for your unfailing promotion, devotion and commotion. Here’s a biscuit for Penny.

  8. You have beautiful handwriting, Mike! My sister is coming up to visit me this weekend and I may have her analyze your script–she does that.

    Never stop dreaming. Never.

    1. You know, Suze, I’d love it if your sister did that! I’m into things like handwriting analysis, especially if there’s an iota of scientific backing. Even if there isn’t. I believe we tell a great deal about ourselves in our unspoken actions.

      Plus, for the last umpteen years or more, I’ve really been trying to figure out what makes me tick. Or people tick in general.

      Make sure you pass on the results. I probably have the handwriting of a serial killer. A nice serial killer, but a killer nonetheless. 😉

  9. Holy, Swift, it must be exhausting living inside your brain!!!!

    What a cool post. I LOVE the blank page… gosh, I honestly think it’s the blank page itself that inspires me. I wish I could be more like you–I’m trying to be better at mapping things out, but I’ve been unsuccessful to date. Perhaps after this post I can be converted. 🙂

    Hope you are well—you’re one of my most favorite bloggers. I always enjoy your posts!

    1. Morgana!

      It’s a daily grind inside this place (my head)…especially when everybody else is in there. I hate it when they all show up at once.

      Personally, I love the blank page too, but it’s people like you who inspire me.

      Start with a little map, like I did (the one for the post, itself). Nothing major. That will get you hooked. After awhile, you’ll be sketching out walls of mind maps. Remember…take care of the little things and the big things will take care of themselves.

      Hope you are also well. And thanks. 🙂

      1. Ohhh… thanks, Swift.

        I’m going to try this. I really am—and see how it works. What great advice–and I know what you mean with the whole head feeling crowded thing… if you ever find a solution, will you make sure and share the secret??? 🙂

  10. I’ve heard of mind maps before but honestly wasn’t sure what they were. This is fascinating! I may give one a shot, especially as I’ve just decided to participate in NaNo again this year. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Great! Another NaNo friend! My main advice on these are to keep them simple. Write your categories first, then expound on each category with your subs, sub-subs, etc.

      I’ll be starting my map for NaNo soon…

  11. A friend of mine bought my son Mind-Mapping for Kids by the same author. I’m sure I’ve always been aware of this method although I’ve never used it – at least not on paper. I tend to map in my mind, but the problem with that is forgetting where I started. Perhaps paper is best!

    1. That’s the whole point, Annalisa…to get it out of your mind and on paper. I keep too much in my mind, which is why there’s a little bit of loo-loo in my manner. Gotta get some of it out to keep it straight and yourself from going absolutely loony!

  12. OOO, outlines! I can do outlines!! 😉

    I just today sat down to write a post, and had that exact moment of doom as I stared at my blank ‘New Post’ page. There is something so daunting about a blank page sometimes, isn’t there? And the post IS about trying to figure out how to brainstorm, in a way. All of which is to say that this is beautifully timed, and I’m so glad you wrote it.

    Maybe I’ll try a Mind Map today… it can’t hurt!

    1. Didn’t your post have something to do with organization of thoughts? Outlines for your research or something? Well…wasn’t this post timely?

      If you NaNo, we’ll “friend” each other!

    1. Sorry about that, Alex. Sometimes you’re just too quick for your own good.

      What happened was that I finished the post, but didn’t plan on publishing until Monday (ended up being Sunday). I accidentally hit “publish” when I meant to hit “preview” (I’ve done this before), and rushed to return it to draft. It still needed a final polish.

      So it wasn’t your Feedly that messed up—it was ME, of course! Thanks for coming by, Alex. You’re always excused from visiting…I know how many irons you have in the fire and I appreciate your taking the time to come read and comment.

      Plus—on top of all that—a new release (woo hoo!) and blog tour are on your plate. How DO you do it (and I’m taking notes!)?

    1. Thanks, Lyn.

      It actually helped me out…I’ve always hated outlines, and when I saw this a year ago, banked it away in the crevices of my mind. Of course it got lost in there.

      The handwriting? Thanks again. I was always interested in good penmanship and taught myself calligraphy. Then, in college, my engineering prof was a Nazi about perfectly structured letters. Once I switched majors to architecture, we were allowed a little more freedom and individuality in our lettering, but still had to conform to a uniform standard.

      And I made you jealous? My work for the day is done. 😉

  13. Your usual wit always does the trick, Mike. I know I’ll be entertained by every read.

    I’m not sure if map mapping is for me, but I appreciate the concept.

    Psst, is that nice hassidic jewish map maker guy single? Your description of him got my attention. And now I’m humming, “Map maker, map maker, make me a map…” Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.

    Hugs and kisses,

    1. Oooh…you’re so good (and funny). I didn’t even see that connection, but he’s definitely one of the bottle dancers!

      I’m definitely going to do this before planning NaNo…we’ll see how it goes. It’s a good way to get out of a rut.

      Thanks, Robyn. Always good to see you.

  14. Somehow, with a name like mind-mapping, I expected something Sci/Fi-ish. Thanks for explaining it’s just a fancy name for brainstorming and outlining. Very helpful – thanks! 🙂

    1. The Vulcan Mind-map Meld! 😀

      Yeah…just a different, more visual way to outline. There are some real works of art out there in mind map land. Thanks for coming over, Lexa.

  15. That was certainly an in depth coverage of this topic. I find this to be an interesting and useful process for gathering and organizing thoughts. I do something similar when I put together a blog post. Not so much with diagrams, but listing words and ideas and inserting them where they should go in my text. Then I add more words around those to make complete thoughts, sentences, and paragraphs. And, voila, I’ve got my post.

    Very good presentation of mind-mapping.

    Wrote By Rote

    1. Thanks, Lee. You know, I do the exact same thing. Write words I want to use, phrasing, possible quotes, and a beginning thought, middle, and end. I try to keep posts at around 750, but sometimes…many times…I go a bit over!

      I do it for flash fiction or anything really short, too, where all I need are a few ideas to put in place.

      But I’ll definitely give this a try for my NaNo piece.

      Thanks for coming by! 😀

  16. Hey Swifty, I’m here to sit a spell! Let’s have some lemonade and color in our mind maps together!

    Actually… I gotta tell you, brainstorming things like that on white boards and circles and lines takes me back to my Corporate America years and breaks me out in major hives. I’m much more into making up and down lists.

    I’m really more of a scribble in a notebook girl right now though. Then I transfer those jumble of thoughts onto a computer screen. That works with short pieces (less than 3,000 words), but I know if I tackled a novel, outling or even an idea board with tons of sticky notes to shift around (kind of like mapping) would become critical.

    Stephen King is the theme tomorrow–it’s his birthday!–and I have a couple writing-themed quotes… Come visit!

    Have a great night,

    1. I most definitely will be around for the Stephen King tribute!

      Honestly Christy, I’m an unorganized mess of organization! I used to be better put-together, but add a few family members to the mix, take away my office (for their stuff), and voila! Mike doesn’t know where crap is anymore and sure can’t spread out to plot a novel.

      For most of my stuff (3K or less), I can make notes on what I plan to write at the top of the page. Words, phrases, etc., that I want to include. Beginning, middle, and end thoughts. That tides me over pretty well. Post-its and index cards have been what I use for bigger things (the moveability factor). We’ll see how this goes.

      Gus talked me into doing NaNo again this year—I was going to pass. Think I’ll try the mind map on that and see what happens. A lot of people swear by it.

      I’ll be over Sat. or Sun. Thanks for coming over…and the flowers. 😉

  17. Mind maps can be an incredibly powerful creative tool! I’ve used a couple of software programs to do them when I get REALLY stuck on something, and they’re genius.

    Loved this post btw! Very illustrative and cool. 🙂

  18. Wow–ML…this is an incredible post! I’m very, very glad I came across you on Follow Fest. Off to join any of your social media outlets I’ve yet to join…and I’ll be Tweeting about this here post for sure!!

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