Trials and Tribulations: Finding a new route with Idea/Mind Maps

Brenda Hutchings

Bea Hutchings

Anyone who has used Mind Maps successfully will understand the enthusiasm of this week’s author, Bea Hutchings, who has been experimenting with three different approaches and presents her conclusions below.

“At a recent Zoom meeting for CWC I mentioned I was going to start a new novel. I’ve had the idea in my mind for quite a long time now, and I did a sketchy intro for the first chapter in 2018, using Word. I’d already done a lot of research and also written copious notes and character references, but, as I found out, not nearly enough to begin to outline or structure the story, especially as I was changing the genre from crime to romantic comedy. So, I had to rethink how I was going to write this time-slip, romantic comedy almost from scratch, using the same characters and research.

I turned to the tried and tested method of Idea Mapping (Jamie Nast 2006). Nothing new there; I’ve used the technique for everything from shopping lists to workshops and presentations, which have worked well, and I’ve also tried using Idea/Mind Mapping software which I haven’t been so inspired to work with for various reasons. I have dabbled with Freeplane, but hadn’t used it for quite a while, and I’d drawn the conclusion that maybe Mind Mapping software wasn’t for me.

However, then I heard about Scapple, a Mind Mapping software product designed by the team from Literature& Latte, who created the writing software Scrivener. It’s been around since 2013, so not that long, but long enough for it to become very popular. It’s available as a free download for 30 days, and I was curious enough to give it a try, and also test out the three tools I now have to hand for Idea/Mind Mapping to see which one was, for me, the best one to use. Was it:

  • Paper and coloured pens?
  • Freeplane Mind Mapping Software?
  • Scapple Mind Mapping Software free download?

Paper and Pens

How was I going to do this? Well, I quickly penned an Idea Map on a piece of A4 paper, covering the whole page with advantages and potential disadvantages, and there is so much on the page it would take a long time to go into any specific detail.

Maps hand

Idea Mapping by hand

My conclusions were: paper and pens are excellent to work with to get the initial idea down, using the branches and keywords to develop the map, and do some drawing. All great, nothing wrong with that at all. The disadvantage is, it can all become a bit of muddle with branches going all over the place, not enough room on the paper to write all the ideas down, and would you wish to share it? Me personally, not really. It’s my map I know what I’ve written, but sharing would take explaining and I can’t upload it onto any writing software without extra time and effort. So, it needs refining. Which is good fun and not a problem, unless I run out of paper with even more ideas and drawings.


I have the open source Freeplane installed, but it’s been a long time since I’ve used it, and I’ve had to revise the tutorial. It’s fine, I remembered; Freeplane has all the branches I need, I can put icons on the map, I can colour it, make it into a super, useful map, and it uses nodes which I can move around, tidy up, add child nodes and sibling nodes, aunties, uncles, grandparents, great grandparents – the list goes on. It’s a super piece of software which is well worth downloading for pretty much everything you may have used a list, or notes for in mind mapping format, without worrying about running out of paper. And, I believe it’s possible to export to Scrivener, although I haven’t tried, but there is a compatibility info blog on the Freeplane website to check this out.

Idea Mapping with Freeplane


Scapple has been something of a learning curve. It’s more than a Mind Map, inasmuch as it doesn’t have so much. Don’t be put off by that. It is a basic piece of software you can just throw your ideas onto, insert research, map out a plan, outline a book…not worry about anything but getting words onto the screen, or running out of space. You can stack notes in various ways, it has lines and arrows as connections, and it has an Inspector. However, for anyone who is using Scrivener and recognises the name, it isn’t the same. This Inspector is for highlighting, colouring, etc, but there are no icons, just basic no nonsense lines, bubbles, squiggles, clouds and boxes. Scapple is available for 30 days as a free download then you will need to buy a licence for it, which is under £20, but that’s it, yours for ever, to use as many times as you like.


Maps Scapple

Idea Mapping with Scapple

Michael Jecks, author, has been using Scapple for 6 years and finds it invaluable for plotting his books, and encourages his students to use it for essays, etc. And, I have to say that now I’ve got used to it, it’s brilliant. Individual nodes can be dragged into Scrivener, whole maps can be exported without difficulty, and it’s all there at your fingertips.

So, my conclusion is this: You can use all three tools. Whatever you prefer, there is no right or wrong, it’s all down to personal preference. I’m sticking to these three as they work for me, but if you find yourself running out of paper…

Happy Mapping.”
Bea Hutchings.

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