Ideas Aren’t Easy. Mind-Mapping Helps.

Long gone are the days where a writer can survive on one published article a month. There’s more competition in the world of magazines and the internet requires a constant stream of information. That means that if you want to survive as a writer, you need a constant stream of ideas, several a day.

I’ve written before about setting up editorial calendars for your blogs. These can help generate ideas for feature articles for magazines or websites, but it’s not the best option. You need something that lets you extrapolate deep and diverse ideas from your subject matter.

For that, I use mind maps. The creative process is messy. Mind maps give that mess organization without sacrificing stream of consciousness, which is central to the creative process.

Here is an example of how to generate multiple ideas from one topic using a mind map.

I’ve used my Felicity Smoak article as a basis for this example, but I should say that this article was an aberration. It’s one of those mythic unicorns of writing. In the middle of an episode of Arrow, I had the “aha moment” about the geek-ditz complex and I wrote the article in two hours (after much self-doubt and fretting, of course).

I created this map with SimpleMind, but there are many other mind mapping tools out there.

Arrow mind map

How to Make Your Map

  1. Pick your topic. In this case, it’s the show Arrow. I create a lot of maps for television shows, films and books, but this concept can work with abstract ideas and current events, as well.
  2. Start with the big concepts and build out. Whether you’re working with fiction or real life, you have standard subtopics. You always have the Who and the Where, how people interact in those circumstances and every story has its villains.
  3. The Who. What do the characters represent? What are the underlying themes of their stories? For example, the main character, Oliver Queen, he’s haunted by PTSD.
  4. The Where. What’s the environment like and how does it shape the story and the people in it?
  5. The How. Simply put, these are the interpersonal relationships within a story. Again, you start with the big concepts, the types of relationships, and then you break them down.
  6. The Enemy Within. In fiction, villains always represent the darkside of the hero’s unconscious and often the darkside of humanity in general. Dig deep until you find that fear and what it says about the character and then what it says about culture as a whole.
    If you’re brainstorming a non-fiction article, look at the effects the villains have on society. How do they change a society’s behavior? Is it positive or negative? Why do we fear them? Do they represent a single physical threat or bring up deeper, more psychological threats?

The most important thing is go off in as many directions as possible and break these ideas down to their core. That’s what will make editors take notice of your pitches and will help you keep those ideas rolling in.

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