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"Just be who you are, calm and clear and bright." - Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

Flashwrite #7: Mapping the Mind

Ecosystem notebooks, an alternative to the Moleskine notebooks I recommend in Flashwrite #1. I forgot to mention they’re also made from recycled paper! What’s not to love? Thank you, Amiee!

A bit more on mind mapping in Ideas, part 2.

If you’re interested in any of the things I riffed on in my mind map, here are some links:


Mind mapping at Yaddo, April 2010.

Hello! You’re strapped to my dining room chandelier!

Before I get started with the mind mapping technique, I want to tell you about this alternative to the Moleskine journal–it looks like a Moleskine, but it’s produced by a company called Ecosystem (a trademark of Sterling Publishing Company, which I think is affiliated with Barnes & Noble–?), and you can get this at Barnes & Noble for a dollar less than the Moleskine. It’s got all of the same cool features, but it’s made in the USA with soy inks. It’s the perfect alternative [as I mentioned in Flashwrite #1, Moleskine journals are manufactured in China.] This was a birthday gift from my lovely friend Amiee. Thank you so much for this, Amiee–it’s a great idea.

Now I’m ready to talk about the mind mapping technique! I’ll briefly show you some examples here–I use them for fleshing out story ideas. I begin in the center with my tentative title, and then I splash out and start to connect my ideas. It’s a wonderful story development technique. I use newsprint, 18 by 24 inches–the bigger the piece of paper, the better. You don’t need to spend ten bucks on a newsprint pad; you can use an old piece of posterboard left over from middle school art projects, any kind of scrap paper, it just has to be a big piece of paper. Don’t try to do this on a regular piece of looseleaf paper because you’re not going to be able to splash out the way you ideally would with a larger piece of paper.

I’m going to show you a story idea I’m fleshing out myself for the first time, in real time, so you can see for yourself just what a marvelous technique this is. It’s so versatile–you can actually ask yourself a question, if you’re feeling confused (it doesn’t have to be “about” anything), you can write yourself a question and then sprout out from there, and answer the question for yourself, and you’ll be amazed at what kind of answers you come up with. It’s a really surprising and versatile technique. I recommend it for any time you need to get answers, whether it’s about a particular story you’re trying to flesh out, or just general life confusion-existential crisis-et cetera, et cetera. It’s pretty awesome. (It has worked for me in that capacity, so I can vouch for that.)

In general, when your ideas start to take shape and connect with each other, this wonderful feeling happens: you start to see that your mind is this gorgeously intricate tapestry of ideas. The chaos becomes art. That’s what I love best about this–that’s what I’m getting at here.

So I’m going to set my alarm for four minutes, because I think I can give you a good sense of how this technique works in only four minutes. Here we go. So this story is actually not a novel this time, it’s a travelogue–an Ireland travelogue. The point of this is that I’m getting away from the Lucky Charms, the golf courses, the Guinness Brewery, the Blarney Stone yada yada. There’s so much more to Irish culture than what people in America (and elsewhere in the world) see it as; for me this is encapsulated by this line, Where the f*** is Glocca Morra?, from this musical called Improbable Frequency that I just love. So that’s where I’m starting off with this.

The first thing I can think of, the first essay, is about stained glass. Specifically the stained glass of Harry Clarke. I need to make some notes for myself: I need to go to the Crawford Gallery in Cork and the National Library in Dublin. So those are some research notes. I also want to make reference to my old teacher, Mike McCormack, who is an amazing writer. I might use his story, “The Stained Glass Violations,” for an epigraph. (In that story, a woman literally eats stained glass.) What else? I want to write about “obscure” Irish writers. See? I’m making this connection. [Mike is] not obscure, but what I’m saying is, anyone who is not Yeats or Joyce or Wilde.

Oh! I will be doing some sort of long-distance walking trip. Possibly the Kerry Way.

Ooh! Here’s one. Lord Dunsany. [Connecting line to ‘obscure Irish writers.’] I want to read him, I haven’t read him yet. Ooh! And here’s another thing: I want to do a tour of haunted Irish castles. I don’t know if Lord Dunsany’s castle is haunted [connecting line between ‘haunted castles’ and ‘Lord Dunsany’], but I can definitely visit, and we’ll see what happens.

What else? I can talk about the Irish language. Here’s a note: Padraig, my teacher at NYU in my Irish Studies course–go to the Donegal summer school where he teaches? We can connect this [Irish language] with this [obscure Irish writers.] Oh! The Midnight Court, I might want to touch on that, for an epigraph or otherwise. That is an Irish-language poem by Brian Merriman. So this is a really good start, actually. [Four-minute alarm goes off.] Perfect timing.

So you can see how I begin–and I’ll start fleshing it in after this. But this is where it begins. Obviously I took down a few notes [beforehand] in my regular journal, but it makes all the difference to see it spread out like a map. This is your road map for your project, and it becomes a sacred document. It’s beautiful. It’s a really inspiring technique. It fires you up to write whatever it is you’re fleshing out here.

Our exercise for this time is, of course, do your own mind map! I would love to see your results. If you want to leave me a comment and let me know how this worked for you, what kind of paper you used (did you take a big piece of brown paper that came in a package from the post office, or did you use a big piece of posterboard left over from middle school art class, whatever), and tell me how this worked for you. Tell me how you felt when you started to see these connections being made. I hope I’ve sufficiently communicated my enthusiasm for this technique!–and I hope you enjoy it. As you can see, I love this. I absolutely love this.

Thank you so much for watching, and let me know if you have any comments or questions.

[A brief clip from “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?” The version I used is Jeannie Carson’s on The Irish Album.]

(All Flashwrite episodes here.)

4 Comments to Flashwrite #7: Mapping the Mind

  1. ait.mzm's Gravatar ait.mzm
    November 19, 2012 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    You already know how much I love this technique. Thank you for sharing it with all of us. I hope your other readers will try this and find as much inspiration as I have from this exercise.

  2. crazyliberalkate's Gravatar crazyliberalkate
    December 7, 2012 at 4:56 am | Permalink

    I want to do a tour of haunted Irish castles!
    I had no idea that this was a technique.
    P.S. I like the bit of the song added to the end 🙂

  3. annebweil's Gravatar annebweil
    January 18, 2013 at 5:30 am | Permalink

    I love this technique. I’ve always heard about it as a good one, but I’ve never tried it. I think it would be good to flush out new series ideas, etc. for my blog. Thanks Camille!

  4. February 4, 2018 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    Hey!!! I’m already using the technique (I always have big rolls of brown paper to wrap parcels, I use those) – I find it more challenging for a novel though – if all you have is a basic idea and setting. I love the idea of asking myself questions and will definitely introduce that! Thanks for this!!!! Oh, and I LOVE this song!!! Ireland is on my list, haven’t been there …
    Love, Chantal

    P.S.: My website is bilingual – not that I have any books out in English (yet), I did it mostly so my many friends all over the world can check it out 😉

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Hi! I'm Camille. I only write stories that could never ever happen in real life, though I do believe in real-life magic. If we were in the same room I'd fix you a cup of tea, but for now we'll have to settle for a virtual connection. I'm really glad you're here.