How to Get Started Mind Mapping Your Book (and everything else)

by Joel Friedlander on October 10, 2011 · 42 comments

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By Roger C. Parker

I’m pleased to present a guest article today from Roger C. Parker, the author of numerous best-selling books who also self-publishes and runs the Published and Profitable Blog, a source of endless tips for brand-building, graphics, publishing and other interests. I turned to Roger to introduce me to mind mapping and here’s his response:

Although mind mapping as a creativity and productivity tool has been around for decades, it amazes me that many authors still haven’t discovered this simple technique for organizing ideas and creating action plans for planning, writing, and marketing books.

I say “technique” to emphasize that mind mapping can be done anywhere, including the back of a napkin, on yellow legal pads, or white boards.

However, authors who use mind mapping software on their computers and mobile devices enjoy the most benefits.

What is mind mapping?

Reduced to its essence, mind mapping is a form of visual thinking that converts ideas and words into easily-understood visuals that let you to display the part-whole relationships that exist in complex projects, like the chapters and contents of a book or the tasks (and deadlines) associated with a book marketing plan.

Think in terms of clouds in the sky. Take a piece of scratch paper, and:

  1. Draw a big cloud in the middle. Label it My Next Book.
  2. Add several smaller clouds around it, (like planets around the sun). Temporarily label them Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, etc. (Later, you can add the specific titles of each chapter.)
  3. Next to the cloud indicating each chapter, list the ideas you plan to address in each chapter.

The power of mind mapping is that, at a glance, you can see the whole project and how the various parts fit together. From this fresh perspective, you can add, delete, or move chapters and their contents until everything fits together just right.

If you’re mind mapping on a computer, of course, you can simply drag-and-drop chapters and ideas to different locations.

What you can do with mind maps?

Here are some of the ways you, as an author, can use mind mapping:

  1. Organize your ideas into a table of contents for your book
  2. Plan a book proposal or a book marketing plan
  3. Create an editorial calendar for upcoming blog posts and social marketing
  4. Plan articles, speeches, white papers, and marketing materials like one-sheets
  5. Locate and analyze competing books on
  6. Prepare creative briefs for vendors like web designers
  7. Create a business plan for leveraging your book into back-end profits.
  8. Plan, prepare, and present visuals for meetings—even at the last minute

Mind mapping for authors

Click for the complete mind map

For example, here is the mind map I used as the basis of this article. I created it in bed on my iPad, using Mindo,[1] a $6.99 mobile app. After I finished the map, I exported it as a text file to Microsoft Word, for completion on my primary computer. Download a PDF copy of the map.[2]

What features are found in most mind mapping programs?

There are over 100 mind mapping software programs available, but most offer the following 12 features. (Note that the terminology, however, is likely to differ from program to program.)

  1. Topics and subtopics. These are the building blocks of a mind map. Topics  are equivalent to the sections, or parts, of a book. Subtopics are equivalent to chapters. Each subtopic can contain its own subtopics for the main ideas, of topic headings, included in each chapter. Topics and subtopics can include graphics, like photographs, as well as links to files, email addresses, and website URLs.
  2. Icons are symbols supplied with most mind mapping software programs. You can use icons as a type of visual shorthand to indicate topic category, importance, or sequence. You can also use icons to show progress completing a task.
  3. Boundary. Add boundaries to visually group topics and subtopics together by adding a common border and background color. You can also use boundaries to provide selective emphasis.
  4. Comments. Use comments to add brief explanations to topics or subtopics, such as describing the relevance of the topic. You can also use comments to remind you to add more information at a later date.
  5. Notes. Notes are one of the two most often ignored features found in mind mapping software. Notes permit you to add longer text passages, like sentences and paragraphs, to any topic or subtopic. When ideas occur to you, you can start writing your book right in the mind map. Notes are normally not visible, until desired. Thus, you can write as much as desired without cluttering up your map.
  6. Relationships. You can add lines between non-adjacent topics and subtopics, to show cause and effect relationships between them or common characteristics.
  7. Tasks. Mind maps can be used for project management, such as scheduling your writing and marketing tasks. Many programs let you add start and stop dates to topics and subtopics, making it easy to plan, delegate, and track the various tasks involved in complex projects. Another task tool is the ability to add resources to topics, to indicate who is responsible for completing the tasks.
  8. Filtering (or, reporting). Many mind maps can create summary views that display only completed, incomplete, or tasks that are behind schedule. They can display task responsibilities for different individuals or departments.
  9. View. Mind mapping software permits you to display as much, or as little, of each map as desired. You can get an overall view by collapsing your map to display just the chapters of your book. Or, you can expand your map to display all the subtopics associated with each chapter. Some programs permit you to temporarily display just one topic and its sub-topics. All programs let you zoom-in to magnify part of a map or zoom-out to display the big picture.
  10. Collaboration. Mind maps are intended to be shared with others. Special “reader” software permits you to share maps with others, like editors and literary agents—even if they don’t own the mind mapping program that you use. Other mind mapping programs permit multiple users to share and contribute comments, ideas, and information to mind maps hosted online.
  11. Review.  Many programs include a review feature, similar to Microsoft Word’s Track Changes command, that permits you to track individual contributions.
  12. Export is the second important, but frequently under-utilized feature. It’s important to remember that mind maps are not islands, but are intended to be used with other software programs. Most programs can export the information displayed in a mind map to various word processing, presentation, spreadsheet, and project management programs. In addition, most programs can create graphic files for including in print publications and HTML files for display online or embedded in blogs and websites. Finally, many programs can export, or share, files with other popular mind mapping file formats.

Other frequently found mind mapping features

Many programs permit you to select from among different map backgrounds, or you can visually brand your maps by adding your own custom background.

Some mind mapping programs can automatically number topics and subtopics, or sort them alphabetically. Many offer editing features like Find and Replace which can save a lot of time.

Why you can’t go wrong choosing a mind mapping program

Mind mapping software programs are available for all platforms, including Windows, Macintosh, and mobile apps for iPhones and iPads.

There are 2 reasons you really can’t go wrong when you’re getting started.

  1. Risk free trials. Some mind mapping programs are free, and most mind mapping program offer 30-day, risk -free trial versions. This allows you to try before you buy.
  2. File-sharing. Many mind mapping programs can exchange files with other mind mapping programs, importing and exporting data. This allows you to start with one program and not lose access to previously-created maps if you move on to a different program. (Some formatting may be lost, but the ideas will be there.)

Like all self-employed professionals, today’s authors have more to do and less time to do it. Today, efficiency is as important to an author’s success as their ability to express their written ideas clearly as possible.

Mind mapping can make a major contribution to an author’s success by making it easy to organize ideas and schedule tasks at the start of a project. Time spent planning and organizing ideas at the start of a project planning your projects will be more than saved later, when you find yourself writing more in less time. And, you can start planning anywhere, when the ideas strike, drawing mind maps by hand or starting them on your iPhone or iPad, then exporting them to your primary computer for completion.

Invitation: if you’re using mind mapping to write your books, or are new to mind mapping, share your experiences and questions below, as comments.

RogerCParkerRogerCParker-99QuestionsRoger C. Parker is a book coach and consultant who has been advocating mind mapping for authors for over a decade. His Published & Profitable blog[3] contains numerous mind mapping tips and mind maps of current nonfiction books. Roger’s written 40 marketing, design, and writing books, including one of my favorites, #Book Title Tweet: 140 Bite-Sized Ideas for Compelling Article, Book, and Event Titles[4].

If you’re looking for do-it-yourself developmental editing tips, Roger invites you to download a free proof of his do-it-yourself guide to developmental editing, 99 Questions to Ask Before Writing and Self-Publishing a Brand-building Book. It’s a workhorse of a workbook you can immediately put to good use.

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Pilot November 6, 2012 at 7:37 am

Thanx everyone for sharing your experience. I am looking for a project management solution that integrates mind maps, process flows and can be exported to MS Project and MS word. I’ve tested concept draw on the advice of a friend and I am very impressed with it.
I also save bunch of info in evernote as i think this is the best note taking free app so now i can copy all the stuff to mindmaps and send my topics to evernote. I’m now on my phd and these programs help me to keep structured all the information i should collect for my research.
I hope this is the right topic for asking what you think about it and how you do things like this.


Roger C. Parker October 24, 2011 at 2:35 am

Dear J S:
Thank you for sharing another mind mapping resource with us. I will explore XMIND tomorrow. Best wishes on your writing and publishing success.


J S October 22, 2011 at 7:51 pm

I’ve been building a fiction book from concepts through actual chapter by chapter outline with mind mapping software already. I peeked in on your writeup to see if I was missing anything .. I’m using the free software XMIND after trying others out. It works on both Windows and Linux. After finishing with the mind map, it will export as a traditional outline data file too.


Linda Adams October 16, 2011 at 4:40 am

Mind mapping can be very challenging to learn. I’m right-brained, so I should have found it easy — but it still took more a year to really get comfortable with doing them. The most discouraging thing that I had to accept is that I’m not an artist. I do mine by hand — the programs actually get in the way for me — but I’m a terrible artist. Yet, when I looked at all the examples, the mappers were these fantastic artists, and meanwhile I’m drawing a car that might be a cat or a horse. I had to accept that I wasn’t going to be any better than that.

Some tips:

Use color coding on different branches. This makes a huge difference in how the map looks!

Check out Tony Buzan’s books. They discuss techniques for using them effectively.


Roger C. Parker October 17, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Dear Linda:
Thank you for the two tips you shared. That was kind of you.

I was saddened, however, to read of your frustration with the appearance of your mind maps.

Perhaps you’re being harder on yourself than necessary. I think there’s an analogy between your critiques of your own mind maps and the photographs I take.

It probably won’t surprise you that any number of photographers take better photographs than I do; Walker Evans, Ansel Adams, Peter Ralston, Andre Kerstez, and David Plowden. But, I can’t allow myself to compare myself to them.

Likewise, the value of a mind map isn’t how good it looks, but how much writing time it saves you and how much it improves the quality of your writing.

Don’t forget, too, that many of the mind map examples you might see in a book or online portfolio may reflect weeks of work and years of experience.

Take a gander at Sunni Brown’s site and look at the examples of sketches she displays. There’s not beautiful, but they have either helped with a planning project or graphically recorded a live event for sharing with others.

Think of your mind maps as something you’re preparing for an audience of 1–yourself. And think of your mind maps as having a short lifetime, i.e., they only need to last until you’ve finished your article or book.

If you create a mind map with a stick on a sandy beach, and it helps you save time and write a better short story or book, that’s all that really matters!


Matthew Wright October 11, 2011 at 11:56 pm

Great insight – and absolutely spot on. To me, mind mapping is a way of documenting concepts – which, for a novelist, then have to be turned into the linear thread demanded of writing. A skill of its own. Yet to me, at least, paper is not only the starting point but also a fair part of the process – otherwise we’re going to be prisoners to whatever notion the programmer has of how things must work. One way or another. Seriously. Think about all the way philosophers have argued that reality works. As a writer, I often start with paper. Then turn it into a computer file. Spreadsheets or Word tables can help refine those, sometimes. Eventually, of course, the word processor is a vital writing tool. But for creativity, it is vital we are not constrained by the nature or limits of the technology – even today’s. I’m currently pondering that. (‘How to write by spreadsheet’).

Matthew Wright


Maura van der Linden October 12, 2011 at 7:58 am

Interesting, Matthew. I’ve never written any of my fiction via spreadsheet. I use this mind-mapping for non-fiction a lot and sometimes for aspects of fiction, but I use a manual (post-it note and foam core) storyboarding technique for all my fiction.

Again, for me, I think it breaks me out of the routine of sitting behind a keyboard and makes me slow down and think.


rogercparker October 12, 2011 at 11:02 am

Dear Matthew:
Thank you for your contribution to the conversation. I like your dichotomy between “creativity” and “writing.”

My only convent, after becoming familiar with the iPod, is how liberating it sometimes feels to grab an idea or phrase with my fingertip and drag it to another location. My iPod has given me a new perspective on how awkward M&M’s can be–i.e., mice and menus.

I guess the most telling experience of the past month has been the many times I’ve touched the screen of my Kindle, (obviously, not the latest version), and tried to open an ebook or move something.

Best wishes on your writing. Off to explore your website and blog.


rogercparker October 12, 2011 at 11:05 am

Follow-up, Matthew:
I actually do use spreadsheets as a book planning tool, or, at least, Word’s table feature.

When I was planning and organizing the 99 questions in my latest ebooks, #Book Title Tweet and 99 Questions to Ask Before Writing and Self-Publishing a brand-building book, I brain-stormed, then sorted, my ideas in a spreadsheet-like manner.


jseliger October 11, 2011 at 7:45 pm

I’ve never really used mind maps in the way described here, but I am a convert to Steven Berlin Johnson’s style of using Devonthink Pro. It’s close but not identical to what’s above.


Maura van der Linden October 11, 2011 at 12:12 pm

Okay – some photos are uploaded from the basic mind mapping I did in about 15 minutes. I usually leave these on the whiteboard until I finish the outline of the doc because I will think of something to add on the fly a LOT and it makes it easy to just write it in (usually in a different color).

1: Start of map with just main topic box –

2: Three topic boxes added and I’ve “parked” some notes I already had in the bottom right corner –

3: Notes moved from corner to What and Why sections and more notes added to those sections –

4: How section is now broken into three subsections and notes added to those –


Joel Friedlander October 11, 2011 at 2:25 pm

Very neat, Maura, thanks so much for posting those so we can see the process in action.


Roger C. Parker October 11, 2011 at 7:11 pm

Dear Maura:
This is masterful, absolutely wonderful.

Thank you for sharing; it is right on target and it “proves” that mind mapping doesn’t require software.

BTW, do you know what a Prezi is?

It’s a way of creating an online presentation that steps viewers through a sequence of steps. There’s a fairly “unsophisticated” example here:

We should ask Joel if he would like us to work together and create a Prezi of your photos that could be embedded in an upcoming blog post.

Thanks, again, for sharing!


Maura van der Linden October 11, 2011 at 10:01 pm

Glad you liked it, Roger. It’s a fairly simple example but I often do these little mind maps to help both map out what I want to do but also to find patterns among what can be fairly large sets of disparate “tidbits” that I’m trying to wrap a structure around.

Another thing I’ve done is write my tidbits on post-it notes, draw the structure on the whiteboard and then move the post-it notes around into groups while creating more structure to suit the groups until I have something that works. This can save writing and rewriting on the board (my handwriting is decent but can go WAY downhill after a while).

I tend to use the whiteboard or manual methods because it pulls me out of my “normal” mode of keyboard and computer. This forces me to think a bit more slowly and differently than I would if I were just sitting and fiddling with outlines instead. (Hopefully that makes sense).

I checked out the Prezi site and it looks relatively simple to implement. Since I have a pretty clear pattern to how I start and work through the map, it could be an interesting example for people.

I certainly wouldn’t mind partnering for a post, if you’re interested. My email is mauravanderlinden at gmail dot com.

(My co-workers were VERY confused at my taking photos of my whiteboard, lol)

– Maura


James October 11, 2011 at 9:05 am

I’m a big fan of Omnigraffle (Mac), but I’ve been looking for an affordable iPad app. Honestly, I find paper and pen to be the most powerful and flexible option.


Roger C. Parker October 11, 2011 at 9:55 am

Dear James:
Thank you for commenting and sharing Omnigraffle, an important resource for the Mac.

But, honesty is always appreciated, g). There’s nothing wrong with paper and pen…whiteboards, or doodles (see The important thing is to get in the habit of planning before writing.

BTW, James, did you know that Moleskin–the company that has been making notebooks for creatives since the Renaissance–sells a notebook cover that combines a paper and pen pad with an iPad in a very handy package?

See Less than $100. (not an affiliate) Talking about having it your way! This is my next purchase.

Thanks for commenting.


Maura van der Linden October 10, 2011 at 10:48 am

Hi Roger,

Great post on mind mapping. I use mind mapping a lot when writing technical articles or books – sometimes via xMind or sometimes on the whiteboard in my office. It’s really useful when I have a bunch of information that I know I need to include but not where it should be included.

– Maura


Roger C. Parker October 10, 2011 at 11:02 am

Dear Maura:
Thank you for sharing your experiences.

How about sharing a quick iPhone photo of one of your mind mapped whiteboards? It would be a great example.

Best wishes, Roger


Maura van der Linden October 10, 2011 at 11:08 am

I don’t have one up at the home office right now but I’ll be doing a new one at the day job tomorrow because I’m trying to puzzle out how to present something. I’ll take a picture then :)

Maybe I’ll be organized and try to take step-by-step ones :)

– Maura


Roger C. Parker October 10, 2011 at 1:06 pm

Dear Maura:
Sounds like a plan!

Looking forward to sharing it here.


Maura van der Linden October 11, 2011 at 11:45 am

Working on the whiteboard mind map now. Should have pics up in about an hour :) Will post a new comment with picture links.

Maura van der Linden October 11, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Comment with links is up but awaiting moderation. I’m sure it violates the “anti-spam” rules of how many links you should have :)

Porter Anderson October 10, 2011 at 9:35 am

Roger’s Twitter handle, by the way, is @Rogercparker


Roger C. Parker October 10, 2011 at 11:04 am

Dear Porter:
Thank you! I appreciate your adding this important bit of information.


Sergio October 10, 2011 at 8:52 am

Thank you for interesting
I work in a similar way.
I use iThoughtsHD on My iPad for mapping my new works, so I can export an OPML file in Dropbox that I can refine in Scrivener on my desktop. Or, viceversa, I can start from Scrivener and rethink my works in my ipad.


Roger C. Parker October 10, 2011 at 11:08 am

Dear Sergio:
Thank you for your comment, especially your emphasizing that importing files from desktops is as important as exporting files to the iPad.

Thanks for mentioning the iThoughtsHD app; I’ve downloaded it but haven’t had a chance to work with it. One of my mind mapping mentors, http://www.William, also highly recommends it.

Best wishes, Roger


Tom Evans November 28, 2012 at 5:41 am

Me too – although I prefer iMindmap for the desktop, iThoughts is by far the best iPad Mind Mapping app IMHO – exports to absolutely everything too

Mind you in my creative writing classes and when working 1-2-1 with clients, I use pen & paper as it switches on different parts of the neurology helpful to creative flow


Joel Friedlander October 10, 2011 at 11:28 am

Sergio, that’s very interesting. I use iThoughtsHD for the iPad quite a bit, and export mind maps for use in Mind Manager on my desktop. But I haven’t found formats that work for import to iThoughts, just the other way. I really like both programs, but for presentations and speed of formatting you can’t beat Mind Manager. On the other hand, iThoughts is so fluid and interactive it’s my overwhelming choice when I’m working on something creative.


Sergio October 11, 2011 at 8:51 am

Joel, I agree with you on iThoughts, it’s perfect for creative works.
Yes, Mind Manager is a great and powerful program. But I never tried to work with it, because I need a more simple tool (and less expensive :).

My workflow is bidirectional o cyclic: from iThoughts to Scrivener (or MindNode) via Dropbox with OMPL file, and viceversa. It was inspired from these sources:

– @ithoughtsapp: iThoughts and Scrivener
– Never Stare At A Blank Page Again With Scrivener and iThoughts | MichaelSchechter.Me
– MacSparky – Blog – Dancing with OPML


James October 11, 2011 at 9:09 am

Sergio, many thanks for that link. I’m a Scrivener user, and this looks like an awesome workflow idea.


Roger C. Parker October 10, 2011 at 7:08 am

Dear Joel:
Thanks for the opportunity and encouragement to share the basics of mind maps with others.

I appreciate your art direction, i.e., seeing the “graphic hiding within the graphic” of the mind map example, and magnifying just pat of it. Turns information into art!

Best wishes.


Joel Friedlander October 10, 2011 at 11:25 am

And thanks for a wonderful article, Roger.

Regarding the images, I find there’s a lot of graphic interest in many of the most prosaic tools we use everyday, and “going macro” often exposes them.


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