By Colorado Review Associate Editor Jennifer Rojas
I’ve lost more story ideas and inspiration written on small slips of paper, in random notebook margins, and on whatever came ready to my hand and pen than I have managed to save.
I couldn’t find that one web page that had an image that prompted a really interesting idea, which I can’t remember anymore, but right now, it’s all I’m in the mood to write about.
So, I made a beautifully decorated and organized writer’s notebook to hold all of my thoughts, inspirations, and ideas.
I lost it, too.
In my never-ending quest for ways to manage my creative writing practice in a manner that enables me to be more productive (and that I won’t lose), I’ve drifted away from my preferred hands-on methods to something more digitally based to record and store my notes. At the same time, I incorporated mind mapping, as a more visual system has worked for me in classes in order to better structure my thoughts.
If you are interested in trying this process for yourself, many different companies offer software and apps that mind map, so you can explore and find the one that suits your needs. I work with one called KnowledgeBase Builder; my examples are all based on their app.
I start a mind map for each new project or event (such as a writing get-together). Since I generally focus my writing on short stories, creative nonfiction, and novels, I automatically set up “branches” for those topics off of which all of my thoughts, inspirations, and ideas will split. Working on short stories, for instance, I collect both one-word writing prompts and screenshots of prompts gathered from various websites. This month, I’ve collected enough prompts from Tumblr to make their own branch. If I complete a story based on one of the prompts, I can easily add the file name and location to the branch itself or as a new branch.
With this method of recording my creative writing process, I am also able to include images and links, and draw connections, seeing all of my research at the same time. In Image Three, I’ve collected some links as a way to begin to address my plotline question, so I’ve drawn a connection between the two branches. When I am ready to begin writing, I can see at a glance where I am in the development of my idea. Is there a need for more research? Is it time to create a mind map focused on this project? Has this idea been explored in another project? It is even easy to keep track of whether a mind-mapped piece has been submitted.
I’ve found that this method allows for a new visual approach that I need in order to be more creative, while still allowing me to keep everything organized in one place. So, if you’ve struggled to keep track of your ideas, organize your creative practice, or just want to explore a different approach to the pre-planning/researching part of your process, consider trying mind mapping.