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Writing methods: outliners, mind maps etc.

Some time ago I posted an entry about writing methods, in which I said that, unlike many writers, I prefer to write directly on the computer rather than draft in longhand. I compose in an editor (vim), which I find is better than a word processor because you concentrate on the text instead of bothering with formatting. If I need it to look fancy, e.g. for a book, I transpose what I've written to LyX.

The logical next step from writing on the computer might seem to be to use more sophisticated tools such as mind-mapping software. I've experimented with some of these and found that Freemind was the best for me. Yet I don't use it. In fact, I don't even use the outlining facility that vim provides, which lets you collapse paragraphs down to a single line.

When I first tried Freemind I was most impressed. It allows you to make tree views of your ideas, and it ought to be useful for planning any large or complex piece of writing, yet somehow it isn't, at least for me. This tells me something about the way I write, I suppose. I'm not able to plan what I'm going to say in any detail before I actually start to write. At the most, I can jot down half a dozen headings, but if I try to expand these in the way that Freemind allows me to do, I end up with an ever more complicated scheme which I then ignore when I start the real writing. So instead I just put the jottings down at the top of the piece I'm writing and glance at them occasionally, but nothing more. I may alter these sketchy notes as I go on but there is no need to use something like Freemind to do this; in fact, it would be a distraction. What this tells me is that I seem to be one of the probably pretty numerous writers who don't really know what they think until they see what they say.

None of this is meant as a criticism of Freemind, which I think is a brilliant piece of software - and free! I shall probably find a use for it eventually, but not for planning my writing in advance.


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