Guest blogger Trevor Mcpherson: How to use mind mapping to write a novel and capture ideas

I was recently in a Twitter discussion of mindmapping, a tool that some productivity and professional organization gurus love to recommend. I've played around with it a bit, but didn't know how to apply it. After Trevor Mcpherson offered to share a Freemind template that he uses for plotting and capturing writing ideas, I invited him to come over to Landless and share his expertise.


Freemind is an easy to use and powerful tool for organizing your thoughts. Based on Tony Buzan's Mind Mapping program, it allows for a non-linear and visual organization of information. While it may not be everyone's cup of tea, it certainly offers some advantages for the writer who takes the time to learn the basics. While we're on the subject, I wouldn't recommend going much beyond the basics for the purposes discussed here. Doing so runs the risk of the program itself becoming the focus, rather than its use to organize and structure writing projects. We'll look at a sample mind map I've created called StoryMap.

StoryMap is a tool that is focused on creative aspects of writing. A great deal of the craft of is built on imagination and research. The idea behind the StoryMap was to create a document that focused on these rather than the actual typing. In short, I wanted a way to separate the making things up, and the writing things down. This is what the blank copy of StoryMap looks like:

Click on the image to enlarge. The little circles at the end of a fork indicate a collapsed node.

Right about now the free-spirited and artsy-fartsy in the crowd are likely thinking 'No way man! You establishment types can NOT force my creativity into a formula, man!' Well, hippie, repeat after me: Organization is not Fascism.

This tool was developed to augment the creative flow, not restrict it. A lot of my writing time was actually spent figuring out character traits and plot ideas while trying to achieve word count. This resulted in a lot staring off into space, mumbling to the cats and not getting much on the page. The word:time ratio at the keyboard was abysmal. After a week or two of this, I realized that writing and typing are not necessarily the same thing.

StoryMap evolved as a tool that would help with productivity and the division of labour (the previously mentioned making things up vs. writing things down).

The mind mapping techniques allow for a separation of the non-linear (making things up) and linear (writing things down) tasks. If food analogies work for you, think about having all the ingredients at hand and the prep work done. Character traits sliced and diced, plot marinated over night, and the dialogue spices all measured out and waiting - Just turn on the stove, and go for it.

Here are some of the ways I've found StoryMap to be useful:

AS IDEA CATCHER StoryMap allows for the filling in of what I determined to be some important blanks when creating a story. The nice thing about Freemind is that it plays nice with a handful of smart phone apps (see resource section at the end of this post). Stuck in line at the bank or jealous of how that 45 minute train ride to work cuts into your writing time? Make notes for a scene in act two, or jot down a character idea. Make that alleged down time count towards your story.

Feeling burned out, or pressed for time? Ease your creative guilt by adding to the StoryMap. You might not have the 3 hours you'd like to sit down and write your masterpiece, but I bet you could find 10 minutes a couple times a day to add to the StoryMap. When you do find a few hours to write, you'll have a deep well of ideas and notes to draw from.

AS REFERENCE POINT Freemind allows for the embedding of documents and links. There are options to add icons, allowing for further customization. A lot of your info can be all in one place, and referenced quickly when organized by character, location, objects, etc. The ugly reality is not many of us have the luxury of countless hours to get things done. The visual paradigm of StoryMap allows for a quick scan of what's done and what needs work, allowing you to choose a scene or chapter suitable to the time you have available.

AS SECOND BRAIN If you go the smart phone/app route and/or use multiple computers, consider adding Dropbox to your tool-belt. This program will allow you to keep your mind maps and writing files synchronized between all your devices.

The content of StoryMap evolved as I learned about the writing process. It will continue to change because I'm not done learning. If all goes well, I'll never be done learning. I encourage you download Freemind and use StoryMap as a starting point, and modify it for your own use.

Related Resources

Freemind Software
- the program itself. Open source and free.

UPDATE: Here's a DOWNLOAD link for my StoryMap template, made available to you through a special arrangement with Tony Noland. If you try it out, please leave a comment below.

Mind Mapping Tutorials - watch the video below for a 4 minute intro in the nuts-and-bolts of constructing, revising and customizing a map

Dropbox - a tool to share and synchronize files between connected devices.

Thinking Space - a mind mapping app for Android phones

iPhone app - here's the thing: I couldn't find a Freemind compatible app with good reviews. There are equivalent mind mapping apps available for your perusal. I didn't check them out - I'm an Android kinda guy.


Trevor Mcpherson is the author of a collection of flash fiction, Something's Not Right, and has been published in the anthologies Best of Friday Flash Volume #1, and Dog Days of Summer.

He is currently at work on a time travel novella based on the Dewey Decimal System. Yeah, that's right, that's what he said - the Dewey Decimal System.

All things Trev can be explored at

Thanks, Trevor! So, what do you think, everyone? Could you use this? Do you see advantages to doing an outline this way over a traditional "I.1.i.a." outline in Word? Does anyone have an iPhone app they'd like to share? Would you prefer a cuter, but more stripped down mind mapper like Anyone have any other experiences they'd like to share? How well do you think you could you integrate a mind map with the writing?

Here's the video Trevor linked to:

===== Feel free to comment on this or any other post.


  1. hope you a lovely day, come join us if you can.

  2. I used FreeMind for years. When I wanted my maps on my iPhone I had to make some tough choices. Ultimately I decided on MindMeister which is free (up to 3 maps) and works beautifully on the iPhone. It accepts FreeMind and other formats. I imported your StoryMap and that worked just fine too. So I'll be checking it out...thanks so much for the resource!

  3. Glad people found this useful, and thanks for the mindmeister tip.

  4. Trev --

    I became aware of this when Tom Evans was hawking and hyping this as a 'tool', though I'd used the technique in creative-planning sessions when I'd come across it in a dusty home and my eyes lit up like a new ice cream cone -- well, somethin' like that. ANYTHING that sparks the spark is super and one more reminder that as writers and good life-livers, there really is 'no bounds'.

    Thanks for your share. Tony, thanks for sharin' Trevor. I look forward to the 1-2 punch of the Dewey Decimal system hot novel. For Mr Mcpherson -- you sir, know no bounds!

    ~ Absolutely*Kate


Thank you for leaving a comment. The staff at Landless will treat it with the same care that we would bestow on a newly hatched chick. By the way, no pressure or anything, but have you ever considered subscribing to Landless via RSS?