How to make a map of your mind

A technique to get unstuck: Start in the middle of the page...

When ideas aren’t coming, or I’m confused about what’s going on in my head, I’ll make something called a mind map. Starting in the middle of a notebook page, I’ll draw a picture, or write a word or phrase with a box or a circle around it, then I’ll write the first word or phrase that comes to my mind next to it, enclose it with a box or a circle, and draw a line connecting them. I’ll repeat this process until the page is full.

Here’s a video of me making one:

There’s not a whole lot to this simple technique, but it’s one of the easiest ways I know to get myself going when I’m stuck. It does at least 2 things for me:

  1. It serves as a form of “free writing” — it gets things out of my head quickly so I can look at them on the page. (I think because you’re starting in the middle and working out, the radial pattern tricks your brain into loosening up.)

  2. Because it’s nonlinear and the words are spread out, I can see or make connections between things that I might not if I were just writing straight prose.

I’ve made so many of these maps over the years…

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…they almost function as snapshots of my brain at certain moments in time.

I usually make these maps on a smaller page in my diary, but it’s a technique you can scale up. When I’m trying to tackle a bigger project, I’ll grab a gigantic sheet of paper and a Sharpie and work on the floor:

This would also work well if you have a whiteboard or a chalkboard nearby. (See Brian Rea’s website for inspiration: he blows these things up into gigantic works of art.)

In literature, there’s a phrase called in medias res, which means “in the middle of things.” There’s something about starting a story in the middle that throws us into the action, and I think it’s also true of the page. Next time you’re stuck, give it a try and tell me how it goes…

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