Every artist has their own ritual / practice for creating.

When I’m decorating cookies, I like to have the kitchen as clean as possible. When I’m doing watercolor painting, I like to collect all of my supplies before I sit down to a clean sheet of paper. When I’m writing, I need music, something to drink, and a view out a window.

When I’m making a film, I like to make a mind map before I start editing video. It helps so much. Here’s a peek into that process for anyone who’s curious about it.

I started making mind maps with my very first film back in 2008. This is my (very messy) desk when I was editing that film.

A mind map is exactly what it sounds like, in my opinion. It’s a map of all the thoughts that are swarming my mind when I work on a film. It has high levels and can go really deep down into the weeds. The point of it is to get everything out of your mind so it will stop circulating, and down on paper where you can see everything.

I used the door to a closet to collect my thoughts on index cards while making Abandoned Allies.

Once you’ve jotted everything down – and I mean, everything – you can start to categorize the ideas. You’ll see repeating ideas, and some will start to rise to the top. You’ll start to see that one thing is more important than another thing. And you can eventually see the order in which the info has to be shared. For example, this bit of info doesn’t make sense without knowing this other thing first. It makes it really easy to organize all of the ideas.

I used index cards on this film. I currently have a wall of sticky notes for a new project I’m working on.

Having everything in writing where it’s visible makes it so much easier to organize things. It also helps you see what’s actually important. Because, when you’re editing, a segment or clip may feel important to the story. It can become precious. But what if it’s not actually something that needs to help tell the story? Doing this mind map helps me figure that out before I start editing.

What I learned from improv comedy is that everything is important. It all means something: the way you move, the words you say (or don’t), etc. And if everything is important, cutting what’s unimportant matters a lot. What makes something really satisfying for me, specifically in a film, is when nothing is wasted. Everything that can be thought through was thought through. Like the Barbie movie, which I could absolutely do a deep dive on if you wanted me to ramble on about it.

Mind maps became an obsession of mine eons ago. I make mind maps for each new video project I’m editing, but I do it with other things. It doesn’t have to be pretty and it helps a lot to get ideas on paper.

Recently, I sat in on a webinar about pitching. They recommended the book The 3-Minute Rule by Brant Pinvidic. The book is pretty good. He outlines a very similar process using sticky notes to get down to the most essential ideas for your pitch, and limiting your pitch to three minutes. (I stopped reading at the chapter about the guy proudly designs bars that make it easier to touch women without their consent to make more money. Gross.) If you want to read more about how to use this type of mind map to pitch your ideas, check it out.

What about you? Do you use mind maps? Share any suggestions for organizing stories in the comments. I’d love to hear about your process.