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!