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The power of clustering to generate writing ideas

Recently, I’ve been toying with an idea for a creative nonfiction piece that I want to enter in an upcoming writing contest, but I’m having a difficult time getting all the threads down. After reading about different plot tools in author Holly Lisle’s “Create a Plot Clinic,” I decided to try her idea of clustering to expand on my idea. 

Lisle says, “To cluster, you write a word, a phrase, or a question, draw a circle around it, draw an arrow, write the first word, phrase or question that comes to your mind in relation to the first circle, and keep writing and drawing until you’ve formed a web.” This technique is also called mind mapping, and I’ve used it before but then sort of forgot about it.

So I pulled out my yellow pad and pen (colored pencils and drawing paper are fun, too) and wrote my original idea in the center of my paper and circled it. From there, I drew lines and other circles and wrote down the first words that came to me. Within a half hour, I had my entire piece outlined in the mind map.

Here’s a picture of what it looked like when I was done (don’t be frightened off from my handwriting–it comes from my paralegal days): 

Clustering example

Mind mapping or clustering is a great tool for any project, whether it’s writing, cooking, or a business project.

There are even mind mapping apps and software. For more information on mind mapping you can visit these websites:

Five Best Mind Mapping Tools

Using Mind Maps for Writing

Mind Maps for Creative Writing

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. Could you post a pic of your clustering on paper?

    June 25, 2013
  2. Hi Gideon–I added a photo from one of my recent clustering exercises. I normally circle all the other ideas that come but, in this case, the ideas were flowing too fast. 🙂

    June 25, 2013
  3. Thanks – I’ve had some of my students post theirs and it’s interesting to see how different people approach this idea-generating method.

    June 25, 2013
  4. Look at Gabriele Rico’s book “Writing The Natural Way” It is the chief source for all this.

    June 26, 2013

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