Category Archives: Methodology

Dump That Brain

Have you ever had a great idea for a story that kept spawning plot points along with the perfect protagonist and the most wonderfully annoying antagonist? This burst of creativity keeps swimming around in your head continually building on itself. It’s consuming all your brain power just to keep it straight. You’re jotting notes down on every piece of scrap paper you can find. Smoke wafts from your keyboard as your fingers go numb from the hours long session. Off to the side, you family watches and wonders if you have some new form of OCD. When the brain dump is finally over, you’re left with a mix of handwritten notes, a long typo ridden narrative that you won’t understand a week from now.

There is an easier way. Mind mapping. No I’m not talking about hiring a cartographer to translate your latest CT scan. Mind mapping is a concept that has been around, in various forms, for some time. Anyone that’s been involved in project management has probably seen an Ishikawa diagram, or fishbone diagram. Don’t worry I’m not going to dig into the intricacies of cause and effect as it applies to risk analysis.

Mind mapping is an easy thing to do. Chances are you’ve done it with pen and paper. It involves creating a central idea and then associating other ideas and concepts. You can draw pictures, use color coded lines, and different fonts. There is no limit to what you can do.

Here’s a sample mind map created with FreeMind for Windows.

There really is no limit what you can do with mind mapping. Google mind map and you’ll get a variety of choices you can use. Software is available for almost any platform, including iOS and Android, allowing you to use your finger and tablet while waiting to see the doctor or while the kids are practicing their seasonal sport.

Good software will allow you to quickly move your ideas and branches around. Keep in mind there will be a learning curve, so take some time to learn your software. However, if you find you just can’t figure it out, try another program. On my iPad I use Mindjet to quickly capture project ideas for my day job. If you’re all Apple, all the time, this could be a good solution for you. But there will be some cost.

A low tech ways of mind mapping include white board. Using a Sharpie on whatever surface is at hand. Paper and pen. If you want flexibility and low tech, try note cards. Simply put one idea per card and then you can arrange the cards however you need to. Of course this will require a large table or bulletin board. Levenger‘s has a nice note card bleacher for this purpose.

Unless you’re an author who rigidly follows the original outline, stories evolve, plot points change, character traits change, and settings get altered. Mind mapping quickly allows you to see all this in a visual form and easily rearrange or change it. Next time you’re kicking an idea for a story around, or creating a main character, give it a try.

Do you currently use mind mapping or similar techniques? Please leave a comment and tell us about your methodology or favorite program.

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Filed under Application, Methodology, Writing

If I Only Had More Time

This post will be more about methodology than technology.

If you have ever attended a presentation by Robyn Conley aka The Book Doctor, you most likely received a button sometime during the presentation. It is supposed to serve as a reminder to keep your butt on the chair and write. This is important because so many things can interrupt good writing time. Facebook and Twitter aside, there are important things to be done. Like washing those gym clothes you haven’t used since that time…two or was it three months ago. Or watering those brown plants. Or dusting light bulbs. Or just random self indulging web surfing. You justify these things because you write a little here and there. When the end of writing time comes and you only cranked out four sentences during the last ninety minutes, you wonder where did all that time go?

Writing is hard and we often look forward to the next break to give our brains and keyboard worn fingers (or in my case ink stained) fingers a rest. You’re thinking there has to be a way, a complex productivity system, a bloated Windows application, a spiffy iPad app, a nifty Android driod-something, that will magically force brilliant writing.

Guess what? The answer is no.

But… (Just when we think we have the perfect excuse to be lazy, a big but gets in the way.)

There is a methodology call Pomodoro . It was created long long ago in a century almost forgotten, the 1980’s. For my generation, it was the time of high school and big hair. But I digress. An individual named Francesco Cirillo created it. The goal is to focus your concentration on a single task in 25 minute blocks.

It goes something like this. You schedule a block of minutes, 25 by default, and work on a single task during that time block. If you finish early, take a break and then start a new 25 minutes time block. If you run long, take a five minute break, and start a new 25 minute time block to finish out the task.

I don’t confess to be a Pomodoro guru but I have played around with the concept. Several apps exist for this methodology. You can Google Pomodoro on your PC or MAC and download a timer or use a web base solution. Or you can search in the Android Market or the App Store. Each will present you with a list of choices. I have an app on my Android phone and on my iPad. A good timer will allow you to configure the Pomodoro unit and break time. Or you can opt for the Luddite version and grab your favorite vintage oven timer. Choose a timer that is simple, accurate, and most importantly, one that you will use.

I’m not a purist so I do change my time intervals around. Sometimes I’ll go in 15 minute time blocks or stretch it out to 45 minutes. You can adjust it to match your task, mood, or the environment you are working in. But once that timer starts you mind needs to be on your task and only that one task. The alarm will tell you when it’s time to break.

To me this is one of the great mysteries of the universe. If you surrender to a timer you mind frees itself and the task at hand gets worked. If you try to keep it all in your head, then your like a sugar charged, caffeine infused seven year old with ADHD. You have enough energy to power a third world nation, but nothing gets done.

All I can say is it works for me when I need to get things done at my day job. Work for 25 minutes, take a 5-10 minute walk outside, and then start it all over again. Give it try, don’t be afraid to be creative. If you’re working on a draft, write for 25 minutes and then take a 20 minute walk. While you’re walking, work out the next scene in your head, or use the time to reconcile conflicting plot points. After the walk, spend the next 25 minutes writing it all down.

You can combine a New Years resolution into this methodology. Write for 25 minutes and then hop on the stationary bike for 10 minutes. Exercise, lose weight, and finish that novel all at the same time.

Same goes for editing. Line edit for 25 minutes. When the timer goes off, put the pen down and spend the next 15 minutes reading over the next section. When the 15 minutes of reading is up, reset the timer to 25 minutes, pick up the red pen and start chopping words like you just received a deluxe set of Ginsu Knives.

My point is, we’re not all wired the same. Find what works for you and stick to it. As long as your spending writing time writing, then life can’t be anything but good.

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Filed under Methodology, Writing