Inspired by Austin Kleon’s newspaper blackout poems, I recently realized that this form of eliminating content until you arrive at the essential information is something your mind maps could benefit from – especially if you’re visually outlining a longer article, report, white paper or manifesto.
Kleon’s well-known newspaper blackout poetry begins with an article clipped from a newspaper. He then takes a black marker and begins coloring in words until only a handful of them remain – like small windows in a monolithic black wall. The effect is visually stunning.
Someone once asked the famous sculptor Michaelangelo how he carves an ornate statue out of a block of granite. “By carving away everything that is not the statue,” was his reply. That’s what Kleon does with his blackout art – removes all non-essential information, leaving only the essential bits of information needed to convey a specific message.
In the same way, when we’re writing, we need to ensure that our blog posts, articles and reports contain ONLY the necessary information needed to make our point or state our case. All unnecessary “fluff” – which easily creeps into our writing – should be eliminated to create a more streamlined, persuasive piece.
A mind map, of course, is an ideal way to outline what we intend to write. But like words and paragraphs and chapters, these visual representations are subject to the same bloat that our writing is. Once you’re satisfied you have mapped a fairly complete representation of your subject, you need to step back and ask yourself three questions:
- What’s missing?
- What needs to be more fully explained?
- What doesn’t belong and can be eliminated?
“Blackout” unnecessary article topics
Once you delete a topic, it’s gone from your mind map forever (notwithstanding your program’s “undo” feature). So I came up with an alternative way to represent these superfluous topics visually: Style them with a black topic color and connector line, with text rendered in a “strikethrough” style.
Advantage: This makes it easy to see which topics you’ve determined COULD be eliminated from your mind map – without actually deleting them. Even with the strikeout, the topic is still easy to read. Coloring these topics black lets you clearly see they’ve been “marked for death.” You can remove them later if you want.
What techniques do YOU use to simplify and streamline your mind maps?