Map First, THEN Draft
Mapping—sometimes called clustering, ballooning, or bubbling—encourages writers to play with ideas before creating their first draft.
The aim of mapping is to be loose—exploring ideas and making connections, without restriction. Mapping helps writers generate more ideas at the start. Later, they can sort through the results to work out which are worth developing.
The main benefit of mind-mapping is that the exercise often takes a writer beyond obvious ideas and into new creative territory. It’s fun, and satisfying, to follow where your mind takes you.
Here is a visual of what a mapping exercise may look like when finished. This example is from Scapple, a good, inexpensive, online mapping program. I use it, but many writers are happy to map using a sheet of paper and a pen.
If you have never tried mapping to develop material–short story, essay, speech, whatever—why not have a go?
When mapping, let your mind free associate. Imagine you decide to start with the term crazy love. Jot it down in the middle of your paper, and circle it.
Now, what does the term bring to mind? Capture the first idea that pops into your head: Write it down, circle it, and draw a line to link it to crazy love.
Keep going, adding words and circles. Some circles will have their own offshoots as you think of additional ideas.
At the end of the exercise, your sheet of paper will be filled with a network of circles and lines, words and phrases.
Sarah wants to write a poem about home. She writes the wor HOME in the centre of her page, and draws a circle around it. Then she free associates, adding whatever words and phrases come to mind. She does not censor anything, no matter how silly, but lets her imagination run.
When she thinks she has done enough, she puts her mind-map of HOME aside. Later, when she returns to her map, she not only has lots of material, but she may now have a better sense of which items on her page could work for her. The exercise has taken her beyond her first ideas.
If you haven’t used mapping as a playful pre-drafting activity, have a go. Imagine writing a short story, poem, essay etc. on one of these topics:
- Early memory
- When I was young
- Not again
- If only
- I need
Place your word or phrase in the centre of your page. Then start adding words and phrases as they come to mind. Work quickly. Don’t censor or evaluate.
As you work, add connecting lines, to show relationships. The aim is to work quickly, creating a web of words and phrases. You may opt to leave some terms on their own. With other terms, you may come up with more connections. For these, use linking lines to new circles.
When you have reached a finishing point, put the results aside for at least a few hours, and don’t think about the exercise.
When you return to your map, shift into editor mode. Assess what you want to keep. Perhaps you’ll get a sense of where you want to go with the material. Highlighter pens can be useful here. Use one colour to identify possible main points and another colour for secondary points. Or one colour for items you definitely want to include, and another colour for items you might add. Or start by crossing out the items you don’t want to include.
Once you’ve assessed your mapping results, You can refer to it when developing an outline, if that’s how you start writing. Or perhaps you will start drafting, given that you now have a better sense of your topic and what you wish to include.