Getting the Ideas Right

This is one of those little posts where I discuss the way that I get things done. Not that my methods will work with everyone. They certainly won’t! However, if you are trying to write up a report for the boss, or get ideas down for an important essay, or even a dissertation, and you just don’t know where to start … well, perhaps this post may help.

I’ve always been an extensive scribbler. I love letting ideas gel in front of me on paper. People complain about writer’s block, but most of the time it is caused purely by the author sitting and waiting for inspiration to strike. Sadly, this doesn’t often work. As I have said often before in these pages and during other interviews, the main thing for a writer is, that you write. Sitting dumbly waiting for something to happen is fine in an insurance claims office, but it won’t bringing the bacon for a novelist.

Scribbling is good. It starts to free up the mental muscles, and means that you can begin to plan and plot. My favourite approach is to think of “Someone is dead” as the middle of a sheet of paper. From that I radiate out with “Why is he dead?”; “Who killed him?”; “How did he die?” I build a series of realistic characters, all of whom could have a decent motive for murder, and from there the story evolves.

However, although I adore my pens and pencils for notes and scribbles, sometimes it’s better to have technology to hand.

Some years ago I was tempted to mind-mapping software. At the time I owned an iPad. I found it a little over-simplistic (this is going back several years) and gave up. Later, when I got an Android device, I was delighted to see an updated form of mind-mapping software, and took that … but the firm was bought out and that package grew hellishly expensive.

Still, I’ve kept with it. In recent years I’ve been using SCAPPLE, which is designed and written by the same folks who wrote the superb SCRIVENER, which is the software on which I write every book. I first bought it in 2007 (I think) and it’s therefore been the main tool for my last twelve or thirteen books. I love it.

Scapple has a massive advantage over other packages. It is fully integrated with Scrivener. This means that you can outline, plan, develop and plot in Scapple, throwing ideas at it at random, pull in odd links and basically play to your heart’s content, and when you’re done, you can output those headings as Scrivener headings – which means you already have your main contents, scenes or themes mapped out before you even open the Scrivener files.

But it’s not quite perfect, sadly. At least, not for me it isn’t.

The problem I have is, sometimes I want to have the mind map with me while I’m out walking, or when I have to go to meetings. For that, I need something that is portable on a mobile device. Scapple is being converted so that it will work on Apple iOS. This means you will be able to create and edit Scapple files on phones and iPads. But that is no good for me because I’m in that low category of humanity that simply cannot justify the expense of an iPhone. I love the look of the iPhone 6 and 6+, but the cost of the phone is out of my league. I am an Android user, and it looks as though I will be for some time to come. So with regret I will have to discard Scapple for personal use.

Just now I am considering my next phone, since my Sony SP is now some two years old, and bits are beginning to feel a little ancient. The on/off button is loose and not always effective, for example. And while it does have a very usable 4.3 inch screen, it’s now time I updated the phone and screen size. I’m going to move to the One Plus, I’ve decided, which will give the performance and screen size I crave.

And I have discovered a software app that will allow me to use mind mapping on the phone and my iMac. It is called SimpleMind, and there is a desktop version for Apple or Windows, and mobile versions that work with iOS and Android. Cheap it is not, but it has the flexibility I need, and in fact on Friday last, while in between meetings, I designed, created and edited three new mind maps. One for a book I’m writing, one for a new book, and one for a new talk I’m developing. It worked flawlessly and when I got home, each of them fired up happily on my iMac too.

Simple to use, easy to create handy outlines and plans

Simple to use, easy to create handy outlines and plans

So, for now I am very happy with SimpleMind. Take a look if you too need easy, flexible software that can be used on mobile or computer. One day, perhaps, I’ll figure out how to port the fields from this into my Scrivener files too!

5 Responses to “Getting the Ideas Right”
  1. Hans van der Boom says:

    Very interesting, especially the scrivener software. Seems everybody is mindmapping nowadays, in all kinds of work files. I must dig into scrivener though. The cost is low $45 for Mac and it will allow to let me do things while researching that are looking very interesting. Thanks!


  2. Me Too says:

    Slightly off topic but there are claims that women have better memories than men. I postulate that men find the ‘delete key’ more easily and use it more often.


  3. Reblogged this on lindamacdonaldcahill and commented:
    Don’t know about you but I like new ideas about where to start a story. Michael Jecks has an idea.


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