When it comes to writing, I’m not a planner.

I’m much more of a seat of the pants kind of guy. I always hated the old model of outline, rough draft, revisions – and, at long last – the finished product.

In high school, I would do it in reverse so that I could get credit – I’d write the final draft of a paper, then go back and write progressively messier, rougher versions so I could fulfill the requirement to turn in outlines and rough drafts.

My problem was I always thought in terms of the finished product, and being something of a perfectionist, I couldn’t stand turning in anything that wasn’t finished – even if the whole point was to practice the writing process.

The advent of computers and word processing programs only exacerbated my bad habit – now I could write and edit at the same time, which made outlines and rough drafts even more obsolete. I managed to successfully maintain my system all the way through high school and about halfway through my bachelor’s degree – but then the sheer weight and volume of the papers I was required to complete threatened to effectively bury me.

I couldn’t maintain a clear train of thought much longer than 10 or 15 pages – unless I gave in to some type of structure. The first working outline I ever wrote was longer than the paper itself – but it did allow me to organize my thoughts beyond what my short term-memory would normally allow.

I’ve since refined my outlining down to a much more condensed and manageable style, which is good, since I’m working on a full-length novel and I don’t think I could stand writing a 100,000 word outline to support it.

For projects much longer than a few pages or a couple thousand words, most writers will need some type of structure. Much like a building, any written work requires a foundation to build on, and this is where an outline comes in. But as I mentioned above, I don’t really like outlining.

I did write an outline for the novel I’m working on now, but I didn’t enjoy it. It was a necessary tool and a means to an end. Outlines typically run in bullet format, one point after another, and they are utilitarian in the extreme. If an outline goes much longer than a couple of typed pages, it becomes difficult to follow – much like a finished work written without an outline.

See where I’m going with this? For me, larger, more intricate plots and stories are going to require something different than a standard, bulleted outline. For my next major writing project, I want to try something different.

I’ve never tried mind mapping, but I’m going to spend the next few weeks exploring it and seeing where it can take my fiction writing. Over the next several weeks, I’ll test and review a couple of different mind mapping programs: XMind 2012 from XMind; and MindMap 7 from ConceptDraw. I’ll apply them to some of my undeveloped ideas to compare and contrast mind mapping with standard outlining, and see which works best for me.

Tomorrow: A look at XMind.

Stay tuned…