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:
- Draw a big cloud in the middle. Label it My Next Book.
- 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.)
- 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:
- Organize your ideas into a table of contents for your book
- Plan a book proposal or a book marketing plan
- Create an editorial calendar for upcoming blog posts and social marketing
- Plan articles, speeches, white papers, and marketing materials like one-sheets
- Locate and analyze competing books on Amazon.com
- Prepare creative briefs for vendors like web designers
- Create a business plan for leveraging your book into back-end profits.
- Plan, prepare, and present visuals for meetings—even at the last minute
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, 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.
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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Relationships. You can add lines between non-adjacent topics and subtopics, to show cause and effect relationships between them or common characteristics.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Review. Many programs include a review feature, similar to Microsoft Word’s Track Changes command, that permits you to track individual contributions.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Roger C. Parker is a book coach and consultant who has been advocating mind mapping for authors for over a decade. His Published & Profitable blog 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.
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.