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Three Step Creative Writing Process

Whether you are writing an essay, speech, or developing personal goals, the following three-step process can be applied:
  1. Idea Collection: Use various brainstorming techniques to gather your thoughts on a specific topic.
  2. Idea Mapping: Create Mind Maps that organize your thoughts structurally.
  3. Conversion to Linear Form: When writing or speaking, ideas must be presented one word after another. The challenge is to present the material in a way that the associations and structure of the material are not lost.

These are general guidelines to be adapted to specific circumstances. For example, when doing presentations, I'll sometimes do step 3 "on the fly", trusting my subconscious to pull the material off the Mind Map spontaneously.

Idea Collection Sheets

Idea collection sheets serve as a bridge across the space and time that separate the great ideas you are capable of coming up with on any specific topic. The steps are:

  1. Use unlined paper. Lined paper shuts down the right brain. I use 11x17 or larger paper when tackling major issues.
  2. Try turning the paper sideways. "Landscape" mode seems to work better for me in part because it helps me see more of the page at one time.
  3. Write the topic in the center and circle it, or quickly sketch a symbol representing the essence or theme of what you plan to write.
  4. Set your stopwatch for 5-7 minutes, or just jot the ending time in the upper left corner as a reminder.
  5. As quickly as possible, write as many ideas related to this topic as you can. Use personal shorthand, abbreviations, symbols you've developed, or any other method you have for writing at higher bandwidths. This is not a steadfast rule. To evolve an idea, I sometimes choose to write a short sentence. Collecting ideas is an art, not a science. Your success is measured by the quality of the ideas you come up with, and not by how many of the rules you followed in coming up with them. Use whatever writing instrument allows you to write the fastest in the most comfortable manner. Avoid pens that drag across the paper unless held at a certain angle.

The idea collection phase differs from the Mind Mapping phase in that some of the aspects of Mind Mapping disrupt the rapid flow of ideas during this phase's mental burst. For example, in the idea collection phase:

  1. Use the same writing instrument throughout. Don't take time to switch pens to write or draw in a different color.
  2. Write down your ideas as they flow without judging whether the idea is related to the topic. Some ideas are "mental bridges" to other useful and more directly related ideas.
  3. Write your ideas in the first place that comes to mind. Don't take the time to position the idea in the optimal place. Placement is a Mind Mapping step.

After completing the initial mental burst, take a short break to incubate related ideas. The 5-10 Minute Break Ideas section later in this chapter offers some ideas. After your break, take 30-40 minutes to pull related ideas from various reference materials. Follow this session with another short break or just move on to another project. Some topics require multiple passes.

If possible, place the idea collection sheet in a place where it will be handy over the next day or two. When related ideas come to you, write them on this sheet, or jot them in your calendar and transfer them to the idea collection sheet when convenient. I usually carry a portfolio around which contains a few sheets of unlined paper for this purpose. Idea collection sheets in progress are often stored here or in the adjacent pocket. Carrying my idea collection sheets around with me allows me to round them out from the perspective of a variety of mental states.

When writing a paper or a speech, the most difficult decision is often which topic to address. Doing an idea collection sheet is an excellent way to brainstorm possible topics for future projects.

Categorizing Ideas

Using idea collection sheets as a precursor to Mind Mapping was inspired in part by material in Charles Thompson's book, What a Great Idea . Thompson suggests using various symbols such as circles, squares and triangles to help categorize the points on the idea collection sheet before organizing them into a map. For example, in reviewing an idea collection sheet, you might notice that there are four main themes to the ideas. You could place a circle around all ideas related to theme one, a triangle for ideas related to theme two, etc. These symbols make it apparent how many ideas relate to each theme, which helps you decide how to organize them in the Mind Map.

Now that you've gathered your thoughts, you are ready to organize them into a structure based on how they relate to each other. This leads us to Mind Maps.

"Surveys of creative thinking have emphasized the importance of encouraging an initial right brain visualization, an intuitive solution, which can subsequently be evaluated logically by left brain processes." Colin Rose

Converting to Mind Map Form

An abbreviated list of the rules for converting ideas into a Mind Map are as follows (refer to The Mind Map Book, by Tony Buzan, for a complete listing and explaination of the rules):

  1. Use unlined paper or a whiteboard. Sometimes bigger paper allows "bigger thinking". One client made an entire wall into a whiteboard for strategic thinking and planning.
  2. Start by drawing a color symbol in the middle of the page that uses at least three colors. This encourages right brain activity from the outset. If an image doesn't come to me in 10-15 seconds, I use keywords and circle them with a border. Sometimes the border is simply a geometric shape such as a square or circle. Other times I use shapes like a 3-D book or computer monitor. At any rate, the best way to get it done is quickly!
  3. Branch the main ideas off this central image.
  4. Use one keyword or symbol per line. Avoiding clutter permits more ideas to be represented and encourages your mind to see how they relate to each other.
  5. Print the words on top of the lines. Printed words are easier to read than cursive.
  6. Use color throughout. This can be especially useful in grouping related ideas.
  7. Use images throughout your Mind Map. In practice, I usually include a few quick sketches and symbols. But I don't think "on the job" is the best place to create a drawing masterpiece unless they are to be used by others. Most of my Mind Maps are used as means, not ends.

At this point, you know what you want to communicate--the substance. You still have to figure out the how--the sequence. Whether you are writing a paper or delivering a speech, these are linear forms of communication where the material must be presented one word at a time.

Conversion to Linear Form

In the case of a speech, you have three possibilities: writing it out word for word (extreme left-brain approach), winging it from your Mind Map (extreme right-brain approach), or something in-between. Sometimes I write out the speech based on my Mind Map simply as a mental exercise, then use new distinctions gained from this writing to evolve a new more sequential Mind Map organized something like the following:

"Linear" Mind Map for speech delivery.

The more right brain deliveries you rehearse from such a linear Mind Map, the better your chances of "winging it" successfully in front of an audience.

The following sections on reading and memory will discuss how these Mind Mapping concepts can be applied to these mental processes.

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