Okay content writers, UX/UI designers, web developers, and other professional thinkers, raise your hand if you have ever felt personally victimized by your own ideas.
Don’t worry, we’ve all been there, myself included. Not knowing what to write for this blog post is exactly how I ended up with this topic, actually. Now, I’m going to delight you with a little story, or an anecdote, if you will:
Five years ago, I worked as a writing tutor at my university’s writing center. Many of the “clients” I worked with were English 101 students who struggled to get their ideas on paper.
Every time I sensed it in their writing, I’d stop them, give them a pen and a piece of paper, and leave them alone for 10 minutes to write all the ideas out of their brain. We’d then organize the ideas for common themes and flow. An hour later, the students would come back with a rewritten paper that was much better written and way better organized.
And that, my friends, is the power of brainstorming.
I’ll be honest, I’m an analog girl myself, but there are some pretty great digital options out there for those times your brain needs a little help in the idea department.
Whether you’re struggling to find an idea, or you have too many of them, here are three of the best (free!) brainstorming, prewriting, and mind mapping tools I’ve found online.
Do you remember in grade school when your teacher would have the class prewrite together by making an idea web, and you thought it was stupid and you’d never use it?
That’s Bubbl.us, except it’s awesome, and you should and will use it.
Bubble.us is the quintessential free prewriting tool. In my research, this tool made every list of this kind. And now it’s made this one, too. It’s completely free and doesn’t require registration to use (though it does require registration to save and share).
This tool allows you to create parent, child, and sibling bubbles and make connections between them to help you organize your idea flow.
And the best part? You can change the color of your bubbles to color-code your ideas. When you’re done, embed your map onto your blog or website, print it out, or email it.
2) MilanoteMilanote is my personal favorite because it’s pretty and reminds me of a bulletin board.
This tool is available for free and allows the user to attach 100 notes, images, or links to their board. Users can increase their storage space by 20 cards with each referral they convert into a user. The paid option costs $9.99/month if paying the year-in-full, or $12.50/month if paying monthly. The paid program gives unlimited storage space.
Milanote uses a drag-and-drop interface. Users can drop images, notes, and links on their board and then connect them using arrows to show their train of thought. This tool also allows you to create multiple boards and share them with others.
My favorite feature is that if you’re stumped for ideas, there’s an inspiration tab that brings up image results for whatever search term you provide. These images can also be dragged and dropped onto your board.
3) WiseMappingWiseMapping has a beautiful user interface and is tons of fun.
This is a mind mapping tool, which means it uses graphs to visually represent information and connections between ideas. You begin with a main topic and then create child and sibling ideas that spider out from the main idea.
This program allows you to include icons, color code ideas, add links, add connections between child ideas and sibling ideas, and add notes as subtext.
WiseMapping is open source and completely free to use. All maps can be embedded and published in blogs and on websites.
Hopefully these tools will help you out next time you have the daunting task of putting all your brilliant ideas into a coherent narrative. If you try them out, let us know which was your favorite.
Jenna is a content writer at Stratus Interactive and is currently a graduate student studying for her M.A. in professional writing at Chatham University. She started blogging as an angsty high schooler and wrote and developed a blog as her capstone project for her undergraduate degree in English. Now she gets to do it as a job! See all Jenna Enright's posts.