Organic Writing

An elaborately drawn mind map on time management.

An elaborately drawn mind map on time management.

Do you ever feel like the process of writing is too linear, like you can’t stand the thought of squeezing your ideas into a series of letter strung up between straight lines? When I feel like this, I switch to organic writing.

Organic writing, also called mind mapping, is a visual writing technique developed by Tony Buzan that shows shows the relationships between ideas.  Based on research about how the brain works, organic writing engages the right brain and can be used for recording any type of information efficiently and effectively.

I use this technique extensively with my work. It’s a great way to organize large amounts of information, like help systems. I also use it to organize my ebook content and presentations. I also use it frequently in my personal journal.

Organic Writing Guidelines

The rules for organic writing are very simple.

  1. Start with your subject or topic in the center of the page.  Use a single word or a picture if possible.
  2. Draw a branch from the center for each main idea. Use curved lines instead of straight lines when possible. Branch out main ideas into more detailed ideas.
  3. Limit the number of words per line. If possible, use a single word for each branch. Do not use whole sentences.
  4. When possible, write in all capital letters.  It seems that when the brain sees all capital letters, it processes the information as a picture instead of words, which helps you to remember what you have written.
  5. Make your writing more like a picture.  Use color to create interest.  Use other graphics. Make an effort to use symbols instead of language throughout your mind map.
  6. Add arrows to connect related ideas on different parts of the diagram.

Organic Writing Uses

Here are some ideas to get you starting with organic writing.

  • Writing in your journal. You can make one note for the whole day, or make one for each of the subjects you want to write about.
  • As a “do-to” list for today.  The major branches often represent the categories of things to do, such as housework, errands, writing projects, administrative tasks, etc.
  • Preparing a speech or presentation.  I always use organic notes to develop my talks, and then use them to deliver the talks.  I find that they help me to keep my mind fresh because my talk isn’t scripted out in exact words.  It also helps me if I get lost to find my way back to the outline.
  • Organizing the content of a project.  Every project I work on starts as an organic note, including my help systems and ebooks.  Even my company website started as an organic note!
  • Taking notes from a book or lecture.  Very often, I create organic notes when I’m collecting information.  It lets me organize what I’m hearing or reading according to what is important to me.  I don’t have to follow the book outline or the speech delivery!
  • Collaborating with other people.  Very often, my projects involve input from several people.  I have found creating a joint organic note helps everyone to see the big picture of the subject we are discussing, and leaves the prioritizing until the end.

I have been using organic writing for almost 30 years. I go through periods where I use it every day, and then I won’t use it for several months. Like all writing techniques, you should use what seems helpful and juicy to you at the time.

If you don’t enjoy the artistic, hand drawn effect of your organic writing, you can get mind mapping software.

Get inspired by these great examples of mind maps.

Learn More About Organic Writing

Here’s an instructional video by Tony Buzan about organic writing. Tony has trademarked the term “mind map” which is why I don’t use it when talking about this writing technique.

I encourage you to begin creating organic notes and see how they change the way you think and organize information!

About author:

Charlene is the information strategist behind Crow Information Design.

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