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Rectangular memories

By February 1, 2016Writing

The concept of mind mapping may have evolved from the mathematical spider diagram, but, not being a mathematician, I wouldn’t know about that. What I do know is that by placing a single concept, in the shape of a word, phrase, or image, in the centre of a piece of paper, and using word representations, associations and memories to expand outwards, answers fall into place.

This technique prevents you from losing those tiny peripheral thoughts that may be the nub of creativity, and encourages new ideas to drop from the muses.

I use a mind map at the start of each new story I write. I’ve also used it to help poems along. I start by drawing a circle in the centre of my paper. Inside it I put an image, phrase or word, something core to my initial idea. Alternatively a random word or image can produce quite amazing results.

From this core, I draw a few short lines ending with smaller circles. Using word association, and by allowing my mind to wander in any direction, I fill each circle with a new word. Major ideas often come first, so those are connected directly to the centre, but other ideas branch out, and they can go off on any tangent at all.

One of my students, wrote this in her first Reflective Commentary:

I struggled with Project 4 where I had to describe objects and scenes using only their visual qualities, because I found it hard to let go of their functions. I was trying to describe the row of flats I could see from my window, but all I could seem to come up with was the word ‘rectangle’. I used the OCA forum to ask for help and Barbara Henderson advised me to try word-associating using a mind-map. She suggested being creative with sensory details by linking them to memories.

Soon I had filled a whole page with a mind-map of rectangles. I noted all the rectangles I could see whilst on a walk, and any further associations that came to mind.  I used my ‘rectangle research’ to create an abstract poem, listing objects that reminded me of rectangles, and finally redrafted, adding a memory to each association.  Who knew I could be so inspired by the humble rectangle?

I was delighted by Katie’s methods. Firstly, she used the Student Forum because she had a problem. This is always a good idea. There will no doubt be a writer on the forum, be it student or tutor, who has some sort of answer to any question you care to raise. There are few rules to writing, none of them fixed in the stars. Experimentation is how previous writers have pushed their own boundaries, and from there, the boundaries of literature. So my advice is to at least try out everything suggested. Katie tried out Barbara’s ideas, using a mind map in such a way that the result was this refreshingly different poem.

“Rectangular Memories” by Katie Probert

We played Giant Jenga at cousin’s Jen’s wedding,

stacking towers that teetered and toppled.

My father hung picture frames perfectly straight above the sofa,

on which he sat to puzzle over crosswords and sudoku.

The right angles and margined pages of my maths class.

The pencil case, bulging with rulers and set squares.

Glossy magazines on Dr. Langley’s waiting room table,

lurk like dark mirrors distorting the world.

I played along on my guitar to Crosstown Traffic

as taut metal strings cut into my calloused fingertips

Why not take a leaf out of Katie’s book and try out a mind map the next time an exercise or assignment stalls your writing? Here are some tips to get going:

  • Take a plain piece of paper – A4 on its side (landscape) is fine, but preferably use something bigger, a page from a sketchbook or the back of a piece of wallpaper
  • You’ll need a sharp pencil and a pack of felt tip pens
  • Draw a circle at the centre in pencil
  • Within it write your crucial word. It could be:
  • an abstract word (see Part Four Writing Skills Project 4, Exercise One)
  • a drawing, or small image you’ve cut from somewhere (See Part Two Writing Skills Project 1 Exercise 1)
  • the name of a character you want to develop (see Part Two Writing Skills, Project 6)
  • A random word or phrase plucked from any book or newspaper (see Part Six Writing Skills, Project 1 Exercise 1)
  • Or any other thing you wish – e.g. the working title of a story
  • Join five or six pencil circles to the centre and allow you mind to go blank
  • Inside each one, you can write the first thing that comes into your mind
  • Now draw another row of circles and find associations with the previous words
  • keep going outwards – don’t worry if it starts to look chaotic
  • If you get stuck, return to the centre, or any previous circle, and bring another line-circle-word directly out from it
  • Have fun filling the mind-map
  • Put it away for a time.
  • When you return you your mind-map, first read it through. If any further ideas occur, add them in pencil
  • Now take your felt tip pens. Chose several colours and outline any word circles that seem to link effectively, using the same colour. It will be easier to spot the links again if they are colour-coded.
  • Try writing several single-coloured words from the mind-map on a new page and freewriting the thoughts that emerge, as a whole, from them.

From this work, you can create new plots, new themes, new characters, and perhaps most especially, the starts to new poems. You can also investigate ideas you already are brewing, as I do with my novels. Whatever turns up, it is never a waste, so save all your mind maps in your Commonplace Book.

They are the very essence of ‘rectangular memories’ and can be used time and again.

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