Part of any writer’s process includes prewriting. That may include just a nugget of an idea or the detailed planning of the project’s plot or structure. For nonfiction writers, especially, it may include intentional time spent with a topic. During one of the very first writing courses I took, the instructor reminded me of the bubble method (also known as mind-mapping). I was familiar with this from my days as a teacher, but I didn’t understand its value until Eva Shaw showed me how to make it effective as a writer.
Brainstorm with the Bubble Method
The bubble brainstorming method uses paper and pen to generate ideas about one topic. The bubble method can be used in the prewriting process for magazine articles, 300-page books, blog posts, picture books, and anything in-between including a chapter within a full-length book.
If you have a basic working knowledge of a topic, you might begin brainstorming right away. Other times you might complete some preliminary research about your topic. Many people might want to brainstorm after a substantial amount of research.
How to Use the Bubble Method
1. Think big. Tape two pieces of blank paper together. Then flip the paper over so the tape is on the back side. Or use a large piece of newsprint.
2. Write your topic in the center of the paper and circle it. You might use a favorite pen or a thin-line marker. (I prefer marker.)
3. Draw ten lines radiating out from your topic.
4. Now think about all the things that might be related to your topic. Include words, phrases, and even facts that you don’t know but are curious about. Include things that you’re not even sure if they’re true, but you have heard. (You’ll research appropriately later.) Write them at the end of the lines. Circle these different ideas.
5. When one idea relates to another idea, add new lines to connect these ideas.
6. Don’t worry about repeating ideas. Early on, your brainstorming works quickly. Use that momentum and don’t worry about repeating information.
7. Fill in all ten lines. Add more, as needed.
8. (Optional) Set aside your brainstorming for a couple of days. Return to your brainstorming and see if you can include additional ideas. (Consider using another color to do so.)
Use Your Brainstorming Bubble
Now, it’s time to examine your brainstorming bubble and use it!
For the spider topic I brainstormed above, I used the bubble method to consider topics to address in my book SCURRY! THE TRUTH ABOUT SPIDERS (Reycraft Books, 2021). It’s also how I set up my research notebook as seen on my table of contents page. (Research notebooks can be as limited as a one-subject spiral or multiple 3-ring binders…or completely digital. Learn how I set up a research notebook here.)
THE TRUTH ABOUT series are question-and-answer books, so I’ve brainstormed a lot of animals in this way. Here is the brainstorming and table of contents for my research notebook for Ribbit! The Truth About Frogs (Reycraft Books, 2022).
For a recent (uncontracted) project idea, I used the bubble method to brainstorm after some research. Then I used that to create possible chapters for a book. I typed out the possible chapters in chart form and hung up the papers on my office wall. I transferred the detail ideas to sticky notes so I could move ideas around.
Maybe you look at your brainstorming bubble and notice one part has a lot more ideas than other areas, this big-idea-area might become your focus of the article or book. Or maybe it will become a picture book—even if that wasn’t in your original plan.
If you find you cannot fill in the brainstorming bubble’s ten lines, you may not have enough knowledge to write about this topic. So, return to the research. Or maybe your focus/topic was already too tight, and you need to broaden it. It’s also possible you may need to set this idea aside and return to it at another time.
Give It a Try
Think of a topic you have considered writing about—perhaps an article or book idea. Use the steps above to brainstorm this topic.
If you need writing inspiration, ask yourself some questions to lead you to a fresh writing idea. Check out my writing inspiration printable. It’s definitely appropriate for student and professional writers.
Thanks, Annette! I heard about mind-mapping, but have never used it successfully. It's time to try again - I think it's the momentum thing that's been holding me back!ReplyDelete
Yep...I didn't find it useful as a teacher, but now I love it! Best wishes!Delete
The bubble method! I've seen this before but had forgotten about it. Thanks for the reminder :) I especially like how you broke it down to map out a chapter book idea. Thanks!ReplyDelete
You're welcome, Brenna!Delete
Thanks for sharing your process!ReplyDelete
You're welcome! So glad you're here at NF Fest!Delete
Thanks, Annette! I quickly Googled Eva Shaw while reading this and found her YouTube video about the Bubble method a perfect pairing for this post. It's dated, yes, but watching her go through the process was really helpful. I am looking forward to trying this with some of my current ideas. - Beth V.ReplyDelete
Ha! The workshop I took with her may have been 10 years ago, so I'm not surprised you found a dated video. At least it doesn't rely on technology (though I'm sure there's an app for that.)Delete
I love mindmapping but hadn't used it for the research notebook. Love this . ThanksReplyDelete
Hi Jean! So glad it gave you a new use for mindmapping!Delete
Great reminder - thank you!ReplyDelete
You're welcome! Have fun with it!Delete
Thanks for a great post with so many fantastic tips! I love this Bubble Method!ReplyDelete
So glad it was helpful for you, Melissa!Delete
It's so funny that these are the techniques I teach students, yet I forget to use them myself! Thanks for the reminder.ReplyDelete
I remember working with the Bubble method many years ago. If I remember correctly it I learned it in a class about right brain/left brain theory. I certainly will use it again. Thanks.ReplyDelete
Great reminder! Thanks!ReplyDelete
Such a useful tool for many different kinds of projects. Saw a company leader use it for real estate development ideas. Thank you for showing us your methods!ReplyDelete
Thank you, Annette. I hadn’t thought about using the bubble method for things I wanted to learn more about before.ReplyDelete
Thanks Annette, inspired by your post I discovered FreeForm for Mac/iPad maybe iPhone (free). Looks like an easy, visual way to do Bubble maps digitally (my preferred method). I'm looking forward to mapping ideas!ReplyDelete
Fascinating, Annette. I tend to research a topic and let it simmer in my brain. Then it takes a lot of writing and revision to nail the theme/focus. Trying a new way could be helpful.ReplyDelete
Mind mapping tools are powerful visual tools for writing, planning, organizing, problem solving, vocabulary development and so much more.ReplyDelete
Thank you, Annette.
Great post, Annette. Helpful and inspiring. Thanks!ReplyDelete
Thanks Annette, can't wait to try it!ReplyDelete
Thank you, Annette! I love learning where others go after mind mapping.ReplyDelete
Perfect reminder to just get started!ReplyDelete
Thank you for sharing your process of developing ideas. It looks way more organized than my random thoughts on paper.ReplyDelete
The bubble method... so valuable, thank you! I love how the spider bubble looks like a spider - so perfect! Thanks Annette!ReplyDelete
Echo Roben ;)Delete
Thanks for sharing. I love creating and using mind maps!ReplyDelete
Bubble, bubble, toil and...IDEAS! Thanks for sharing!ReplyDelete
Thanks Annette. I'm going to have to try this method again. It didn't take the first time. But I have a NF topic that I've had a hard time getting a handle on, so I'll try the bubble method again.ReplyDelete
Thanks for the inspiration, Annette! I might just have to give this a try. I also used it with students back in the day, but not a lot with my own projects.ReplyDelete
I echo what’s already been said about appreciating being reintroduced to this method as one to use writing NF. It does lend itself nicely not only for facts & Qs, but as you point out, it’s great for creating chapters or PB pages.ReplyDelete
Time to try a new technique. Thanks for the review and directions!! Thank you, Annette.ReplyDelete
I have a love hate relationship with mind-mapping...I'll give it another shot.ReplyDelete
Love this bubble method and how to apply! Thank you for sharing Annette!ReplyDelete
i also used this technique with students! Time to practice what i preach. Thank you, Annette!ReplyDelete
I use a bubble map to brainstorm my picture books. Thanks for such a great blog post.ReplyDelete
Great post, Annette. I've always called these web-maps (because: spiders) but I love the name "bubbles" because of all the circles. And I like the reminder that we can come back after doing more research and make another bubble map. I find visual tools helpful in organizing my thoughts.ReplyDelete
Thanks for sharing your process, Annette!ReplyDelete
Love this bubble method and it reminds me of a high school teacher's tips from my teenage years long ago! It's a tried and true method for sure, and I really loved how you explained it in detail, as my memory of high school has faded just a tad!!! Thanks for sharing!ReplyDelete
ANNETTE: I am a visual person, so seeing how you use the Bubble Method for your own writing was TRULY HELPFUL! And I CAN'T WAIT to check-out the EXTRA GOODIES you've SO GRACIOUSLY given us (the Writing Inspiration printable and Research Notebook guide). THANK YOU for the INSPIRATION to map out our ideas so we can make the connections that will help us create our BEST stories!ReplyDelete
Have started bubbles before but never got far beyond the first set of thoughts. However...you have inspired me and given me a brainstorm. I've decided to start a notebook with a particular subject and open it with bubbles, let rest, then add bubble by by bubble as each new thought, piece of research, article, comes along. Thank you!ReplyDelete
As a teacher I know this well in the classroom but never thought to use it myself. It will be fun to try!ReplyDelete
This is great! It really is a fantastic way to brainstorm and go in directions you never would have expected.ReplyDelete
Yes. love the bubble method. I had not thought of the 10 lines radiating out from it, though. Great for using with students, too. to let them know the topic is too narrow. Great info. TY.ReplyDelete
I have used this many times in a classroom, but never for my writing NF. It gives me a great new way to get an idea started!ReplyDelete
This really helps - I get lost in research but the bubbles are great for sorting.ReplyDelete
I tend to make lists for brainstorming. But it's really similar to bubble method. And I agree with needing to do some initial research first. Thanks!ReplyDelete
i use the bubble method but I've never gone as far as doing a table of contents. I like that next stepReplyDelete
I'm going to try this idea with my idea for a nonfiction graphic novel. thanks, Annette! Carol BaldwinReplyDelete
Thank you for the post Annette. The bubble method can be applied to so many formats. Thanks for the tip.ReplyDelete
My goodness, this method of brainstorming and organization of thoughts is really appealing to me. Can't wait to bubble!ReplyDelete
Thank you, Annette, for your insights, the bubble method, and research notebook. I feel like I have a plan!ReplyDelete
Annette, thank you so much for sharing your bubble method for brainstorming and for showing us how to set up a research notebook, I especially appreciated your comments about having digital files as well as paper files and when you have used notebooks, binders and files.I am looking forward to your newsletter!ReplyDelete
Bubble mapping is fantastic and thank you for explaining your process, complete with photos.ReplyDelete
Always did some kind of story map but organizing the outcome in Table of Contents is a game changer. Thank you for this great post!ReplyDelete
Thanks for this brainstorming bubble idea, and ways to transforms the thoughts into books, articles, or chapters! You have the best office, too!ReplyDelete
Thanks for this. I haven't done this in a long time and need to try it again.ReplyDelete
These are great ideas I can take away and use today. I'm a kindred spirit, I love visuals! Charts, lists, and the bubbles will be helpful in organizing my research, visualizing my story format and developing the story in a logical sequence. Thanks for sharing your process.ReplyDelete
As a retired teacher I now write NF PB for ages 5-8. I love MEOW and WOOF most recently. When our students are developing their critical thinking, comparisons/contrasts, and reaching into a world outside of their own, your mind-mapping keeps us on track for best practices. Appreciate all you do!ReplyDelete
I remember using this story form in school (a long time ago by the way), but never thought to use it for Nonfiction facts. Thank you for the idea.ReplyDelete
Thanks for the brainstorms!ReplyDelete
Thanks Annette for your great reminder of how using tangible visual steps , paper/🖊️ , to sort and view as we process is still important to visual thinkers!ReplyDelete
I am totally a visual writer, but I've never tried the bubble method. Thanks to you and this article, I'm already ahead on my next book idea. Many thanks.ReplyDelete