Icon and Scapple

Icon, the oldest science fiction convention in Iowa, is coming up at the end October. I am going to be one of many local writers in attendance and I am starting to get excited. They are still firming up the activity schedule but I am signed up to teach at least one class and to be on some panels.

The class I am teaching is about word processors, writing software and other programs for writers. Mostly it’s about how to use technology to help, rather than hinder, the creative process.

I don’t teach about the mechanics of writing. I consider myself a storyteller first and a writer second. That means that I dream up stories and write them down. Then I send them to an editor and they come back looking like this:

This is why I don't teach the mechanic of writing

This is why I don’t teach the mechanic of writing

What I do well, is playing around with technology. I can’t resist downloading and testing new software. I have used over a half dozen different pieces of writing software to plan novels and have played around with more than a dozen.

Lately, I have been branching out and learning about new programs that can help organize your writing, help you come up with ideas or help research them. I decided this upcoming class was a great time to really sit down and learn about mind mapping.


Scapple is a piece of software put out by Literature and Latte. They are the creators of Scrivener, my favorite piece of writing software and my current go to program for ninety percent of my writing tasks. So I was already a little biased in Scapple’s favor.

Mind mapping is a visual way of organizing information around a chart. On a mind map new ideas and concept spread out from a central core. Mind mapping is not only a great tool for learning (studies show mind mappers have better retention than other forms of note taking) it’s also great for brainstorming. Which is why mind mapping has such potential for the average writers.

Here is a mind map of my upcoming speech. Done in Scapple.

software for writers example

The biggest downside to most mind mapping software I have looked at so far is that new notes come attached to older notes. That’s great if you already understand the central concept of what you are trying to do. Your first note is the key concept and other notes radiate out from that.

However, as writers this is exactly where we most often struggle. Scapple allows you to create notes wherever you want on the page. You can later attach them to other notes, stack them together or move them free form around the board.

For example, November is just around the corner and for many writers that’s Nanowrimo, National Novel Writers Month. Every year writers around the world join a month long challenge to write a fifty thousand word novel in a month. You want to write a blog post about this for October but you have no idea what to write. Scapple can help.

Start by writing a bunch of random things about Nanowrimo on a new Scapple board.Here is an empty board.blank scapple board

Here are some random notes on Nanowrimo:

random nano scapple example

This is a just a bunch of randomness, but now I can click and drag stuff to make some sense of it all.

organized nano scapple example

By clicking and dragging I’ve organized all of these random statements around two main points, reasons for doing Nanowrimo and things I wish I knew before I started. Reasons for doing Nano include getting that first novel written, learning to write fast, learning to turn off the internal editor, and going to write ins. Write ins have several subpoints, there is camaraderie, and support. This is also a great place to mention the website where more support can be found. You also learn at write ins that Nano writers come from all walks of life, they write in all kinds of genres and many don’t even write novels, they use the month to write their memoirs or nonfiction.

Could I have done this in Word or another word processor as an outline? Sure. For some writers that would work fine. But many of us would have spent hours banging our heads in frustration because outlines don’t fit the way we think. This example took me a matter of minutes in Scapple, whereas I could have spent a half an hour or more trying to do the same brainstorming with other software.

If you struggle with outlines, if you spend too much time trying to figure out what to write or have trouble organizing your thoughts around a central concept, Scapple is a great piece of software to check out. It’s deceptively simple and easy to use, but a powerful way to improve your writing.

If you live in Iowa or anywhere nearby, check out Icon. Come down if you can and see what else I have to say about writing software.


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