M. SCOTT MORRIS: Mapping a childish mind

By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

The Mighty Daily Journal pulls in its share of visitors who want to see the big printing press out back.
They also tour the office to peer at my co-workers and me, as we huddle over our computers like the busy, on-task people we are.
When we have student groups, I’m often asked to talk for 15 minutes to share my accumulated wisdom. The problem is I run out of accumulated wisdom after five minutes, but I’ve learned to stretch by saying “ummm” and “you know.”
Two weeks ago, we had a visit by fourth-grade students from D.T. Cox Elementary School in Pontotoc.
It’s always fun to discuss writing with young people because they’re intimately involved with turning ideas in the brain into words on paper.
They have reports and essays to finish by deadline, and it can be hard for them to figure out what to write next.
That sentence effectively sums up my professional life, so I feel an immediate connection to the kids.
It helps that I’m practically a child. Just ask my imaginary friend, who, oddly enough, has his own imaginary friend.
I also have that five minutes of accumulated wisdom, which I’m going to share with you. Maybe these suggestions can help with one of your projects, or you can pass them along to a young person who’s struggling over what to say and how to say it.
First, let’s lower our expectations. These two ideas are so simple as to seem stupid.
But at times in my career, they’ve been as simple as the air, and only slightly less profound.
The first suggestion is the scratch sheet. I push this point with the kids because I resisted the humble scratch sheet when I was their age. I always wanted to get straight to the main event.
These days, everything I write starts in a document named “Scratch” or “Stream.” Nobody’s going to see them, so I’m free to make mistakes and explore the possibilities. It’s a mental trick to play on yourself, and it works.
My daughter was in first, second or third grade – time slip-slip-slips away – when she taught me about mind mapping.
You write a central idea in the center of a sheet of paper and circle it. Then you draw lines from it to other ideas.
If “birthday” is your idea, lines might include “presents,” “cake” and “friends.” Cake could have its own lines, such as “candle,” “icing” and “chocolate.”
It’s a brainstorming technique that usually serves me well, except for today.
The central idea on today’s map was “What am I thinking about?” The lines were “bombings,” “kidnapping,” “gridlock,” “attacks” and “blood.”
The last line was “good news?”
I looked to my right to see a pack of colorful thank you notes from the D.T. Cox students, so I guess the mind map worked after all.

M. SCOTT MORRIS Is a Daily Journal feature writer. Contact him at (662) 678-1589 or scott.morris@journalinc.com.