The Best Websites and Software for Brainstorming and Mind Mapping

Because thinking is easier than writing:

from How-To-Geek


FreeMind is a free mind-mapping program written in Java. It supports folding and unfolding with one click and the ability to follow HTML links stored in the nodes to websites or local files. You can drag and drop nodes to copy one or more nodes and to copy text or a list of files from outside the program.

FreeMind also provides a search function that shows the results one by one as you “find next,” unfolding only the nodes for the items found.

Mind maps created in FreeMind can also be exported to HTML with the folding capability converted to links…


XMind is a free, open source mind mapping program for Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X that allows you to plan, capture, organize, and act on your ideas. XMind’s Mind Toolbox allows you to setup relationships between topics, boundaries around topics, summaries of selected topics, labels to categorize and annotate topics, and markers used to express specific meanings, such as priority or progress.

XMind can also be used to create organization charts, tree charts, logic charts, and more, even within one map. You can share your mind maps on the web.

XMind also has Plus ($79) and Pro ($99) versions that offer additional features. You can also sign up for a subscription to XMind for $79 per year.

For more information about XMind, see our article that describes using the Linux version of the program…


iMindMap Basic is a free mind mapping program for Windows and Mac OS X useful for brainstorming, taking notes, planning and organizing, and managing tasks. You can even use it to deliver 3D presentations.

Some of the useful features in iMindMap are the Icon Library, the notes feature that allows you to add a variety of content into your maps, and the ability to export your mind maps as .jpeg or .png images.

There is also a Home and Student version available for £49 and an Ultimate version for £149…


Blumind is a simple, but powerful, free mind mapping program for Windows that supports multiple chart layouts, such as organization charts, tree diagrams, logic diagrams, and more. The program supports themes and contains a lot of built-in themes you can customize. You can also add notes, icons, progress bars and other widgets to your maps.

Mind maps created in Blumind can also be exported to multiple formats, including JPG, PNG, SVG, and TXT.

Blumind is also available in portable format.

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Top 10 Essentials to a Writer’s Life

Erik Larson (In the Garden of Beasts) writes bestsellers, but we forgive him:

by Erik Larson

1. Good Coffee: Every writer has a ritual that begins the day. It’s like turning a key to start your car. For me, the key that starts the day is a good cup of coffee, preferably Peet’s Coffee.

2. More Coffee: Alas, I drink as many as five cups a day. And then switch to tea. My teeth are the color of plum-tree leaves.

3. Oreo Cookies: I mean, look, if you have a cup of good coffee, you need an Oreo. Some mornings—the tough ones—I define as two-Oreo days. Double Stuf preferred.

4. A Sense of Pace: Many writers make the mistake of engaging in what I call “binge writing.” They write for 10 hours straight, riding the perfect wave of inspiration. The problem is, you still need to wake up the next day and do it again. Best is to pace yourself. Write for three hours straight, without interruption, then stop.

5. Knowing Where to Stop: My favorite “trick” is to stop writing at a point where I know that I can pick up easily the next day. I’ll stop in mid-paragraph, often in mid-sentence. It makes getting out of bed so much easier, because I know that all I’ll have to do to be productive is complete the sentence. And by then I’ll be seated at my desk, coffee and Oreo cookie at hand, the morning’s inertia overcome. There’s an added advantage: The human brain hates incomplete sentences. All night my mind will have secretly worked on the passage and likely mapped out the remainder of the page, even the chapter, while simultaneously sending me on a dinner date with Cate Blanchett.

6. Blocks of Undisturbed Time: I set aside a minimum of three hours every morning, seven days a week, during which no one is allowed to intrude except to report an approaching cruise missile.

7. Physical Diversion: When I stop writing, I need an escape—something that takes me out of the work and wholly into another realm. My main diversion is tennis, though I also find cooking to be very helpful. Something about chopping onions is very restorative. Dogs are helpful, too. They force you to go outside and confront the weather, although my dog did once eat a 19th-century edition of a British physicist’s autobiography.

8. A Good Library: For all writers, but especially those of us who write  nonfiction, a good library with open stacks is crucial.

9. A Trusted Reader: Every writer I know has at least one friend or partner who can be trusted to read early drafts of a book and provide an accurate, constructive critique. My secret weapon is my wife, who annotates the margins of my drafts with crying faces, smiles and long receding lines of zzzzzzzzzzzs.

10. A Fireplace: One of the most important things a writer must do is read, and there’s no greater pleasure than settling in front of a fire on a cold night with a good book (and maybe a glass of bourbon). Falling asleep in midpage is one of the delights of life.

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LB: Hey, Gang, My TV Writing Book is Now Available on Kindle

Television Writing from the Inside Out

by Larry Brody

TVW Kindle Cover 625 x 1000 sm


(And, speaking from a slightly more writerly perspective, “Whew.”)

A few years ago I wrote a book called Television Writing from the Inside Out, spilling everything I’ve learned about the art/craft and business of television writing and television in general after many, many, many (oy!) years of dedication, joy, and, yeah, the inevitable moments of despair.

TVWFIO has become a college screen and television writing class staple and as a result has sold a ton of copies. It’s still going strong in print, but let’s face it, the print audience ain’t what it used to be.

When I sold the trade paperback to its publisher, I kept all electronic rights, and TVWriter™ has marketed a PDF version for awhile now. I’ve always meant to branch out to other formats, but – and I admit this with some embarrassment – I was too intimidated by the logistics of formatting and marketing to take the plunge.

Well, that’s over with. As of Friday, November 16th, the Kindle-ized version of my baby has been up and at ’em at Amazon.Com, and I’m writing this to let that teeny weeny little fringe group of you who haven’t yet read Television Writing from the Inside Out know that it’s wriggling and yelping and jumping earnestly, eager to feel your eyes upon it.

And even if you’ve read one of the other versions, you might want to check out the Kindle book because:

  1. It’s revised, corrected, emended, updated.
  2. Kindle books don’t get dog-eared from repeated reading, the way your trade paperback copy has.
  3. You can’t accidently erase a Kindle book like you can a PDF file because it’ll always be available on Amazon’s cloud.
  4. Y’all want to own the complete TVWFIO set, don’t you? Of course you do.

Of course, the real point here is that Television Writing from the Inside Out is, as one Amazon.Com reviewer put it, “a fantastic look into the workings of the industry. He is clearly an authority on the subject, having penned over 500 hours of television.”

And, as another Amazon reader put it:

If you’re an experienced television writer read it.
If you’re an aspiring television read it twice.

It’s jammed with all the knowledge and you need and, possibly more importantly, how to implement it.

I feel really self-conscious about pitching my work, including this book. The bottom line is that I’ve put all of my heart into TVWFIO because it’s all about helping others achieve their hearts’ desires. And I’m as eager to see others achieve their dreams as I was to achieve mine.

You can read more about the Kindle version of Television Writing from the Inside Out HERE.

And, yes, you can buy it there too!

Or what the hell, go to the Television Writing from the Inside Out page at TVWriter™ HERE.

No trees were injured in the updating of this book.


The Writer
Don’t just sit there. Write!


How to Commit to Your Creativity

Some people are said to be scared of their own shadows, but let’s face it, that’s an Old Wives’ Tale at best. Other people, however, really are scared of their own creativity. If you’re among them, hey, get over it, doods. Like this:

 by Jennifer Johnson

Sure, sometimes the well runs dry and we struggle to generate creative ideas, but more often, we have so many creative ideas that we have difficulty committing to one and getting started. We can get really creative about how we avoid creating-surfing the internet for “research,” checking Facebook to see what our creative friends and colleagues are doing, baking cookies, watching TV, talking on the phone-the list is likely endless.

We trick ourselves into believing that in order to commit to something, we need to feel sure-sure that it will be a “success” (however we define that), sure that we have the skill to carry through on our vision, sure that we’ll complete it, sure that we’ll be pleased with the outcome, sure that others will like it, sure that it will sell, sure that when it’s done we’ll look back on it as worthwhile investment of our time. We want a clear “Yes” or a guarantee. Even though as creative people we have chosen a path that often offers little security, we continue to crave security and certainty, when often these are simply illusions to which we cling.

Creative expression typically offers no guarantees, and sometimes it doesn’t come with a clear yes. We may think we have a clear vision when we finally begin, but as we give it voice or form, we learn that it begins to take its own shape, and often it is somewhat different than how we first envisioned it. That’s one of the beautiful things about creative expression, if we can simply learn to enter this flow and allow our idea to show us the shape that it wants to take. We may judge it as “better” or “worse” than our original vision, depending on a variety of factors that day, including our sense of self-worth, our mood, and how well we have eaten, slept or managed stress that week. Days later, we may feel differently about our creation, depending on the above-mentioned variables or something else that arises.

What would it be like to commit to the exploration of our creative ideas? The truth is that most commitments are followed by imperfect actions, and our thoughts and feelings and therefore our subjective judgment of our work varies from day to day and sometimes from hour to hour. What does it take to commit to our creative expression in light of the fact that life is always changing, our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are always changing, and there are no guarantees about anything?

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Use Your Ideas While They’re Hot

…Which means before you get tired of them. Cuz according to Steve Corona, if you wait too long your precious creative babies are, well, they’re toast:

Ideas have a 2 week shelf life – by Steve Corona

I have a new rule that I’m making for myself and holding others to.

If you haven’t worked on something in the past two weeks, you’re not allowed to talk about it.

Idea rot

I’m guilty. But not as much, anymore. My ideas would just sit for months. Stagnating. Ideas rot, and the only way to keep them from spoiling is to turn them into reality.

And I’m not the only one guilty of wasting ideas. I’ve heard about the same projects that y’all were going to start working on “this weekend” for the past 6 months. Stuck on repeat.

When all you do is talk, you forget the most critical step- making. I’m not saying skip researching your ideas, but less-is-more. You don’t need to be an expert to solve a problem and it doesn’t need to be perfect the first time. Cut before your measure.

How to bring an idea to life today

Block off a chunk of time. 6 is good, 12 is better.

This is seriously the hardest part, even though it seems like the easiest. It’s hard to find 6-12 hours of continuous, distraction free time. I love Sunday for this.

No one sees me on Sundays because I cut myself off from the world and spend the entire day creating. I get extreme. No distractions. Not even cooking. I only eat light food, all of it’s pre-cooked or raw. No friends, no phone, no twitter.

Outline. You have 2 minutes. Go.

I learned this technique while writing a book, but it works for everything. Get a pen and paper. Break your project into steps. Even if it sounds stupid, even if the step is “go to the store and buy a pencil”, write out as many actionablesteps as you can in 2 minutes. After 2 minutes, stop. You now have your plan.

The time limit is key. It’s a race to get as much on paper as you can, but it’s fluid and doesn’t need to be perfect.

This is a NO GOOGLING zone.

When you’re creating, Google is off limits, unless you’re looking up how to do something very specific that you’re working on right now. Like, “syntax for creating Rails associations” is fine but “best practices for building a Rails application” is not. If you can’t hold yourself to this, block Google.

I like to write down anything that distracts me- google searches, random thoughts, new ideas, whatever. The point is, if you write them down, they’ll stop bubbling up when you’re in the zone.

The easy part, creating

When you set yourself up for success, creating, doing something actionable, is the easiest part. I know that when I follow this process, I get into that mind-numbing state where I just flow. It’s like all of my energy and focus just pour into whatever I’m working on (it’s how I feel right now, writing this post).

  • Update that blog you’ve been ignoring for the past 6 months.
  • Start coding that side-project, you can build a MVP in 36 hours.
  • Outline that book you’ve wanted to write for years, it only takes 15m.

No one will notice if you don’t, but someone might notice if you do.