In my last post, I talked about Freeing Your Muse—why your muse is important to your writing. What I didn’t get into was how.
There are a variety of methods, but one that works for me is mind mapping, otherwise known as clustering or free association. Here’s what you do.
Take a large white board (mine is 36″ x 48″) or a large piece of paper. By large, I mean the back of those blotter style desk calendars. Barring the availability of those, tape 4 or more pieces of printer paper together in a large squarish rectangle. Gather as many colored dry-erase pens (or a multi-pack of sparkly gel pens if you’re using paper) as you can find. Your muse likes color.
Write something in the center of your space and circle it. The “something” depends on what problem you’re trying to solve. Sometimes I put my character’s name in the middle. Sometimes I put a sticky plot problem there. Sometimes it is the name of a fictional setting I need to know more about.
I note the first thing I think of, circle it, and draw a line back to the center word or phrase. Maybe that will remind me of something else, and I create spurs off that word. Sooner or later I’ll go back to the center word and find new ideas that relate directly back to it.
At first I’m using ideas I already had in my head, simply laying them out in a “reasonable” manner, but after a while, random ideas jump out and onto the white board (my preferred space). Sometimes ideas and words connect in ways I wasn’t expecting.
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Let’s say my plot problem is that Jhonal is facing a test, and I’m unsure what outcome is best for the story. Write TEST in the middle and circle it. A bunch of scenarios jump to mind. He can succeed (write that, circle it, and connect to TEST), he can fail (ditto), he can be interrupted (ditto), he can cheat (ditto), etc. How many options can you think of?
Then, for each of those, scribble down ideas of what the repercussions of that outcome would be, and link them to the relevant outcome. If he succeeded, then what? If he failed, what might happen next? What might happen to interrupt the test? What might that lead to?
Follow your imagination down each path. You may quickly realize it’s too early in the story for Jhonal to succeed in passing the test. Maybe you see what you need here is a loss, not a victory. Or maybe a victory is perfect, and the loss will come right on its heels.
Tracing the options using a white board enables your muse to jump to all sorts of ideas and conclusions in a more visual way than using written-out prose to explore them, and may lead to surprising results.
Mind mapping can be used for all sorts of problem-solving whether related to your work-in-progress or plans for a birthday party.
Try it! This might just be the tool that frees your thought processes.
P. S. You can search for mind mapping software via Google. There are free options and paid ones. I’ve used several, but I find that moving away from my laptop gives my thoughts greater fluidity. Your mileage may vary.
Image courtesy of pakorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net