Word Count

Writers Talk About Writing

From the Mozart of Mindmapping...

Although, as noted by the Book of Ecclesiastes, there is nothing new under the sun, there is something newish in the world of mindmapping. And I'm thrilled to be able to share it with you.

Credit for the development goes to Paul Borzo, a teacher and writing tutor at Metropolitan State University in The Twin Cities. Paul contacted me a little while ago to see if I was interested in what he calls his UNO, which is short for UNiversal Organizer.

I briefly and guiltily wondered if Paul had seen some secret footage of my office -- towering piles of books, papers and dust everywhere. But his invention isn't that kind of organizer. It's for writing. And it's similar to a mindmap -- but with a twist.

As all of my coaching clients will testify, I'm a big fan of mindmapping, a technique I like to describe as "brainstorming with yourself." One of the best things about mindmapping is its breathtaking simplicity. You simply start with a blank piece of paper (which you've turned sideways to give yourself lots of space), write your topic or central idea in the middle of the page and then draw a circle around it. Then, you let your mind wander and each time a word or association pops into your head, you write it down and draw a circle around it, too.

It sounds too simple to work, but time and again, I've found mindmapping has helped me figure a way through seemingly impossible writing jams. And my clients tell me it's waged similar magic for them. But Paul has a slightly different way of approaching the process -- and it's clever enough for me to have given him the informal title of the Mozart of Mindmapping.

Instead of starting with a blank page, Paul starts with a series of divided concentric circles around a central idea. (You can see samples at his writing center.) The basic idea is still simple but this version of a mindmap, or UNO, allows for a tad more organization.

Says Paul, who teaches the concept to students who are having difficulty writing their papers: "The biggest complaint from students is that they don't know how to get started. This gives them a framework. It also encourages them to build on what they already know."

"When you're done, you see where you've got info that's needed or where you have missing info. You can even rearrange sections." As well, the UNO automatically displays your priorities -- that is, the material in one of the inner concentric circles is more important than that in one of the outer ones.

I must confess, I get nervous whenever I start seeing boxes and extra lines on my mindmapping pages -- I like the blank slate and the sense of freedom it inspires. But I can see how the UNO could be a useful tool for certain writing circumstances:

  • For very large projects, such as books, theses or long reports
  • For projects heavy in research -- especially research ranging over a large number of areas or fields
  • For people who have tried traditional mindmapping and not found it helpful enough

Let me wrap up by adding my standard warning about mindmapping: Don't make the mistake of letting your mindmap (or UNO) turn into an outline by another name. Writing is about discovering, and if your mindmap becomes a series of "marching orders" then writing won't be any fun. The object of a mindmap isn't to "complete" it. The object is to inspire you to write. It should take you to the point of thinking, "aha, now I know what I want to say." And when you reach that point, stop mindmapping and start writing!


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A former daily newspaper editor, Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better. She offers a free weekly newsletter on her website Publication Coach. Click here to read more articles by Daphne Gray-Grant.

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Comments from our users:

Wednesday March 19th 2008, 9:44 AM
Comment by: Wm M.
We use a brain mapping program called Visual Mind (Version 9.0); http://www.visual-mind.com. Our use is in a practice of medical/scientific consultancy in support to pharmaceutical companies. Our client’s have found it enormously valuable. Sure, you can accomplish the same thing manually in a group “blue sky” meeting, but it is great to leave the gathering, perhaps with 20-30 people, and be able immediately to provide them with the discussion nicely summarized, spell-checked and printable. We leave them with the work on a pen drive or CDROM.
Wednesday March 19th 2008, 10:47 AM
Comment by: Stephen B.
For the complete explication of this, read "Writing the Natural Way" by Gabriele Lusser Rico. The book has been available since 1983.
Wednesday March 19th 2008, 12:27 PM
Comment by: Glen R.
Good point, can't agree more on MindMapping as a priceless tool.

= However, if you really want the best for drawing one, in a visually most elegant manner? Use Tony Buzan's iMindMap. visual-mind is great, once you are used to it. I'm sure. However, I find Mr. Buzan's remarkably clear, once you learn it. He is the guy who invented it, BTW.

http://www.imindmap.com/ Oberon
Wednesday March 19th 2008, 3:31 PM
Comment by: chas M.
I have used a number of mind mapping tools over the past two decades. Generally, these are great for logical organization. If that's the goal, I recommend it as a habit worth cultivating. If, however, you are looking for creativity, I don't think this is the best format. I'm a fan of intersectional thinking, a term developed by Frans Johansson, author of "The Medici Effect." The intersection of seemingly irrelevant information has the effect of a cue ball on a pool table, scattering all the other facts and rearranging them. The result is a dramatically different view of the possibilities. I believe we settle for logical organization too soon, too often. Great ideas, great solutions and unique perspectives come from a little more exploration. If differentiation is what you seek, you have to look beyond the obvious "facts" and add something unexpected to the mix.
Wednesday March 19th 2008, 3:34 PM
Comment by: Mattie D.
Interesting subject. I would like mor links.
Wednesday March 19th 2008, 4:01 PM
Comment by: Jena E.
Just this morning I was experiencing writer's block, stuckness, wanting to use mindmapping more effecively and I stumbles on this article. Thank you. I will pursue investigation of this subject.
Thursday March 20th 2008, 8:18 AM
Comment by: James C.
I also am a great believer in their value and have used them extensively in my book on learning Mandarin with mnemonics. But I prefer the term "image maps" because they are "maps" of images not of the mind. Image maps appear on the covers of two of my books, but the response has been mixed---why everyone can't see that they provide so much information in such an easy to digest manner is beyond me!

James
Thursday March 20th 2008, 10:04 PM
Comment by: anna S. (South Africa)Top 10 Commenter
I really like this web site.. When I have vocabulary 4 homework I always get on this site to look at what the word means. This site is a very helpful place for people to study or to just play around with. although i would like to learn how to use it better but im sure i will sooner or later (lol)
Friday October 11th 2013, 7:30 PM
Comment by: Bob O.
I want to write a book about real life experiences and how they might benefit those with similar circumstances.
I know the topic. I know the title. I know the audience. I have others who want to contribute.

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