I would like some alternatives to using a mindmap to organize my thoughts while writing. Mindmapping is good, don't get me wrong, but it doesn't preserve the sequence/order, therefore it makes things difficult when I try to organize my thoughts into paragraphs and linking them. Anyone use any other tools?

  • What about Notepad? Feb 14, 2014 at 10:28
  • ehmm.. I need something like a "sequential mindmap" if there is such thing?
    – drhanlau
    Feb 14, 2014 at 10:38
  • I can come up with ideas and paragraphs now, but organizing them into correct logical flow kills me.
    – drhanlau
    Feb 14, 2014 at 10:39
  • Any chance you could be even more specific about what you're looking for? This has the potential to be an infinitely long list of tools. Feb 14, 2014 at 17:02
  • For example, maybe tell us what you like about mindmap software? Because the nonsequential nature of mindmapping is usually looked at as a strength. Otherwise you're just taking notes. Feb 14, 2014 at 18:49

3 Answers 3


I use paper and a pencil.

Paper is extremely flexible. You can:

  • cut out sections and re-arrange them in any way you want (even stack them)
  • have an infinite canvas (as large as your living-room floor)
  • see everything you wrote at the same time and therefore better grasp and play with it in your mind than when only a small section of your work is visible on your small laptop screen
  • glue papers together when you notice you need more room to the left
  • view revisions simultaneously
  • you can draw whatever and wherever you like and are not limited by what the software allows you
  • you can even add anything you want to your mindmap, including physical objects
  • take a photograph, if you need to preserve it (use a tripod)
  • my paper notes from 25 years ago are still compatible with my eyes, while I have many digital texts from ten years ago that I can no longer open in any software and that are now completely lost to me; since I often put projects in the cupboard and reanimate them years later, this is important to me

Mindmapping by hand appears to facilitate creativity for me, while using software hampers my thinking.

"I can come up with ideas and paragraphs now, but organizing them into correct logical flow kills me. – cherhan 22 hours ago"

I print out my text, cut out the individual paragraphs, and then rearrange them physically on the floor. You can write numbers or keywords ("John goes home") on the snippets with a thick marker to better identify the content from a standing distance. After I have found the order I like, I stack the snippets in this order, and then one by one rearrange the text sections in my software. After that I work on the transitions.

But maybe you need to step even further back from the current state of your work:

  1. Read everything you wrote.
  2. Close your software.
  3. Do whatever else you want or need to do for at least one day (sleep over it) or a week or however long it takes for you to forget the details of your writing. In some cases, where I'm very stuck, I take off at least two weeks or even write something else in the meantime.
  4. Sit down and write a rough outline of your story.
  5. Use this outline to arrange your fragments. (If your outline is too rough to know where some fragments need to go, flesh out the outline slowly layer by layer until you have enough detail to identify the correct place.

In fact this is the writing strategy recommended by some writers: When you rewrite, write from the ground up, instead of working on your previous draft. I forget his name, but one author wrote a book on how to write and said he used to completely rewrite his one novel seven times with this method (I have it from him). I think this is great advice, since it allows your mind to free itself of your earlier misconceptions and come up, if necessary, with even a new basic plot idea. I had a book that turned from a present day romance to an action SF in this way (with the same basic story!). You can still go back to an earlier draft and copy-paste well-written sections after you finished the rewrite, but don't do it while you rewrite.


I love Scrivener for this kind of thing. You can put each thought onto an individual page, and then drag them around as you see fit. It even has a virtual corkboard screen so you can see many individual notes at a glance.

  • 5
    As if there were writing tasks where you do not love Scrivener ;) Feb 14, 2014 at 10:58
  • 3
    @JohnSmithers It's rubbish for grocery lists. :) Feb 14, 2014 at 11:12
  • Hi @LaurenIpsum do you mind suggest some resources to read? I am really weak at linking ideas :(
    – drhanlau
    Feb 14, 2014 at 11:17
  • @cherhan I'm sorry, I don't understand what you're asking. I am suggesting that you try a particular piece of software; I don't have any books to recommend. If you need help structuring your ideas into a plot, that's a different question. Search the site or post a new question for the community. Feb 14, 2014 at 11:45

How about Powerpoint (or similar)? Advantage over word-processors is you have "slides" that you can move about. Slides can contain pictures or text. You can label each slide with a large label. Then you can look at a bunch of slides in "slide view" and rearrange them. Disadvantage is that this only has two levels of organization. [i.e., You can 1)rearrange text boxes on a slide, and 2) rearrange slides. {I'm ignoring nesting textboxes within textboxes, which is much clumsier.}]

But I think what you really want is an outline. Most word-processors have an "outline view" which works sort of like a multi-level version of Powerpoint's "slide view." You can expand and collapse whatever section(s) you want, at any level. You can change the order of sections by a simple click and drag, or by easy keystrokes (e.g., Ctrl-UpArrow).

Try one or both of these two methods. If you find one or both helpful, but are still frustrated by limitations and/or clumsiness, then probably you want something more sophisticated like Scrivener (which @Lauren Ipsum suggested in another answer). I checked out her link, and found that the makers of Scrivener supply links to competing software (which almost makes me want to buy theirs just to reward their good behaviour). See Links for Writers.

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