Navigating the Mind of a Storyteller

Picture this scene. You are lying in bed trying to get to sleep. You just start falling into the land of zzz’s and BOING! An idea has popped into your mind. It is the voice of a character. Just as you try to turn over and fall back asleep, it is already 4am and you have had about 5 minutes of sleep, a picture of the next scene in your WIP pops into your head. The first voice of the character you heard has nothing to do with your current story. Which thread of thought do you follow down the winding road of imagination? The new one or the current one? But what if you want to follow both? How do you choose? None of these thoughts are even that cohesive, just snippets that are invading your sleep-deprived mind. It is not as if they make any sense.

You need a Mind-Map.

Mind-mapping is one of my favourite ways to work through all those detours in the road to a great story. It is the law of Imagination that just when you are working on your current story, a brilliant idea or three hit you simultaneously. This is when I pull out my mind-map.

If you have never mind-mapped before, it is like note-taking but in a more visual form than notes. It is notes in picture form. Mind-mapping notes are perfect for those barely cohesive thoughts that you know will lead you down some wondrous path but first you have to connect all the dots. So out comes a mind-map.

Mind Maps just Zing for me. I am not a big note taker. Even at school, I detested pages and pages of notes. Instead I mind-mapped all my subjects. With mind-mapping you can zone out the unimportant and the fluffy, but you can zoom in on the essentials. You have to use bright colours. I have a pencil-case of coloured markers and highlighters specifically for mind-mapping. The great thing about mind-mapping a story is that you can put the mind-map in a place where you can always see it and that way always have a clear view of your story’s plot.

I use Mind-Maps to map my character profiles, my plot, the story arc, the back story, the setting. You get the drift? You can mind-map anything. It does not take long and you can fit what you might take over 10 pages of written notes to put into one mind-map.

The great thing about a mind-map is that it can also navigate you through the tricky parts in your WIP. If you are starting to feel lost in the story and need to figure out whether you have taken a wrong detour or just a more scenic route, you can refer back to your mind-map. It works the same way a road map does when you are driving. One look down at it is all it takes to steer you back onto the right road and miss the potholes.

I use an art-poster pad for my mind-maps. That way they all stay together. I can also keep it next to my bed so that I can jot down that stray thought (path) into a current or a new mind-map at 3am in the morning. Strangely enough that is the most active time in my imagination for new stories to germinate. But you could use any pad of paper or even a notebook for mind-maps. I do advise using unlined paper though.

I love my software so you know that I have some digital software for mind-maps to mention too. These are the top three I prefer to use:

FreeMind – An open source free download for that will work on any operation system whether you use apple, windows or any other OS. This is one of the simplest software programs to use. There is barely any learning curve and it is perfect for you if you are not big on complicated software with all the frills and whistles. This will do the job.

Mind-Node – A mac download that is available both online or in the Apple App store. There is both a free and a pro (paid) version. There is also a touch version that is downloadable for either your iPod touch or your iPad. The one drawback of this is that it is only available to mac users. Sorry pc folks.

Mind-Meister – A free or a paid download that you can sync through your pc/mac, your laptop/notebook, your iPod touch, your iPad and even your twitter/Facebook. The great thing with Mind-meister is that like Dropbox it is a secure online storage. You can also, like Dropbox, share and collaborate on mind-maps with other people though an online account. This one is a new favourite of mine.

Try Mind-Mapping. Whether you try the old-fashioned pen and paper way – make sure you have multiple coloured markers for this, it only adds to the fun – or one of the digital software, you will look at plotting in a whole new light. For those pantsters who cannot imagine taking copious notes this might be the perfect introduction to a very effective way to plot and still give you that freedom of just letting the imagination roam. Your imagination can still roam, you can just mark down the highlights in bright colours so that you don’t lose those wanderings. You could even draw pictures if that is the way you prefer to think. For plotters, you will love the new way to plot because you get to indulge in plotting that story arc or character profile but taking less time to do it.

Try Mind-Mapping out and let me know whether you had fun.

It might just revolutionize your next story. 

What’s your favourite way to make sense of those random 3am imaginings? Do you mind-map already? Are you a note-taker/note-scrawler? Do you use a dictaphone/recorder to tape your thoughts. Share with me how you make sense of those 3am thoughts. 

NaNoWriMo ~ Quality and Quantity

Heffala put paws to novel
Image by bulldog1 via Flickr

3 weeks and counting….

NaNoWriMo is almost upon us. This week has flown by and time is tick-ticking me forward to NaNoWriMo time. This week I have spent a lot of time perusing the World Wide Web for tips on preparation and inspiration for NaNoWriMo. In reflection of these sites, there seems to be a 50-50 sway on Plotting for NaNoWriMo, Some NaNo writers believe that plotting kills the whole concept of NaNoWriMo. They argue that NaNoWriMo should be an organic writing experience. Still others argue that it does not matter what you write as long as you reach the amount of minimum words.

As for myself, in everything I believe in Quality first. Yes I could make life easier for myself and just write whatever happens to enter my mind irregardless of the quality of the thoughts. On top of this, I also add that I take my writing very seriously. Even if NaNoWriMo is a competition to challenge yourself, never-the-less it is still a competition and in the end are we not trained to Go for Gold. Then surely this means that Quality and Quantity need to have equal parts in your NaNoWriMo.

What are your thoughts?

For me writing is reflective of who I am. Writing, whether it be in a blog post, for NaNo or a WIP; is about myself putting my best mental foot forward. When I get up in the morning and get ready for the day job I have a routine:

I have a mug of coffee and eat a healthy breakfast. Then I shower and get dressed. Finally I do my hair and makeup. This all takes about an hour of the day. When I get to work, I prepare the tasks that need to be accomplished for that day. Then finally I am ready for the work day to begin.

If I put so much time and thought into preparing for my day job, why would I put little to no thought in preparing for NaNoWriMo. The answer is I wouldn’t. If I put so much effort into my day job preparation then I must put the same if not more effort into any and all my writing pursuits.

This is why I rest on the side of the plotting and the Quality argument for NaNoWriMO. If I do all my plotting and preparation for NaNoWriMo now then I will be better prepared to write a quality submission. There is also another winning argument for plotting: If you have an outline of firstly what you want to write about and secondly where you want to go with your story, then you have a greater chance of succeeding at winning NaNoWriMo by writing at least 50 000 words of Quality writing.

Preparation is a key to self-discipline. A runner completes time-laps and has training runs to prepare both his body and his mind for a race. A student revises and studies course material to prepare for an examination. So what is the preparation for a writing challenge where you are to write a new piece of prose in a limited time span with a word count tacked on?

On the Twitter #group for NaNoWriMo, they have been doing NaNo Sprints. This is very good training for this challenge. It keeps your thoughts focused on the clock and on your word count. You also get into a rhythm that focuses your writing into a short time period. It also gets you to flex your writing muscles.

Another great way to prepare for this challenge is to Freemind. Freemind or Mind-maps are a visual way to plan your outline. I am a plotter in that I like to be prepared. This does not mean that I always stay in the lines but it does mean that instead of just one puzzle piece, I have a picture to reference that allows me to complete my jigsaw puzzle. Freemind is a tool I use to build the frame of my “puzzle”. Mind Mapping is a fantastic tool to prepare for any given challenge. It especially lends itself to something like NaNoWriMo. It is a very organic way to plot and outline without narrowing your thoughts. Instead it focuses your thoughts in a very visual way. Freemind is such a “free-flow” form of mind mapping that even pantsters can appreciate it. It works better for me than a bullet form or longhand written outline. I can combine short ideas with a visual graph that helps me brainstorm my ideas.

Another great way to prepare those mental muscles are writing exercises. These can vary from interviewing your characters to blogging or journalling in the voice of one of your characters. You could also picture yourself in the setting of your story and write a travel article for that setting. You could write a review of your unwritten novel focusing on the salient points. The ideas for the exercises are endless and are only bounded by your imagination.

One way I am also using to prepare for Quality writing is reading exercises. Reading is one of the best methods to stretch those mental writing muscles and the imagination arteries that fuel those muscles. The plotting, the word sprints, the main mapping and the writing exercises are all work for your mental muscles. They will strengthen and bulk up your mental muscles. However, you don’t just want bulk in muscle, you also want definition and tone. Muscles – mental and physical – are defined by stretching and toning. Reading therefore is the Pilates to your NaNoWriMo. So take the phone off the hook, take your wristwatch off, open a book and start “stretching”. I recommend at least 2 hours a day to these “Pilates” sessions.

Lastly, continue with your other writing pursuits prior to November. The more writing you do the more habitual it becomes. Writing everyday should be as routine as brushing your teeth every day. The more often you write and the more substance you write on a daily basis improves your writing. It becomes simpler to write Quality + Quantity.

There are 21 days left until the flag is waved and the race starts. Use these 21 days wisely. Remember the preparation you put into the simplest daily tasks and use that same self-discipline in preparing your mind for this challenge. Do research on how successful past NaNo winners have succeeded and listen to their hindsight when they failed. Don’t keep this challenge a secret but tell everyone you can about this challenge you are setting yourself. The more people who know you are doing NaNoWriMO, the greater are your chances that you will feel an accountability to both yourself and these people to put your best mental foot forward.

21 days and counting…..

© All rights reserved Kim Koning.