Stumbling Upon a Book Idea

Over the last month or so, I’ve been obsessed with the subject of building and organizing a digital music collection. So much so that I have decided to write an ebook about the subject.

I’m writing as a dedicated amateur (not an expert), and the treatment will be somewhat technical, somewhat journalistic, somewhat superficial.

I write a lot of “serious” stuff and often it takes forever to  get them into finished products. Also, I write my serious stuff  under pseudonyms, so it would be nice (finally) to write something under my own name for a change.  Although I plan to make this ebook useful and interesting and personal, I also will make it short – something I can finish in 6 months, and then update over time.

I may or may not blog about some of the subjects for this ebook.  But I want to mention an outlining/note-taking tool which I’ll be using for this book project. Over time I have used Personal Brain mind-mapping tool to store my research and organize my thoughts.

The web dump is here:;jsessionid=342C824536322A57D5F17127FCA1B14E#-1

(I am not linking to it because I don’t want search engines to know about it, plus I may eventually mark it as private).

The desktop interface is a little better.  You can open your brain up in an expanded view (See this screenshot).

Personal Brain is a costly tool ($200-250, although there’s a free version), and I would not use it for certain kinds of projects, but it does two things extraordinarily well:

  1. It lets you store disparate kinds of information in the note section.
  2. It lets you display and organize your ideas in a very visual manner.

There is another important and easily overlooked advantage.  I often work with projects over a long period. Sometimes I start with a lot of enthusiasm and start writing and researching. Then – for various reasons –  I have to put the project on the back burner. Later when I try to pick up the same project, I discover that I cannot get into it again.  Either I  misplace my notes or cannot read them. Also I cannot remember the logical connections I once made. When I keep my thoughts and notes in Personal Brain, I am also retaining the logical relationships I am making as well.  Now it becomes much easier to resurrect my notes when I return to the project later.

Interestingly, although I have used Personal Brain for mind-mapping big projects, often the finished product bears no resemblance to the brain I made for it. That is not the point. The primary purpose of personal brain is not to provide a skeleton for the actual book or essay you will write. Rather it is  to organize and store  thoughts for easy reference before the writing actually begins. The organization in Personal Brain may roughly correspond to your writing outline (especially at high level), but that would merely be a coincidence;  the writing process is much too fluid to be tied down to a preset organization structure.

Thebrain  lets you sync your local brain with a webhosting site.  I paid for the web brain component  as part of my license. The cost is not small, and my subscription lasts only for a year (after which I will have to renew). I don’t really need public or web access – that is just a nice extra feature. A local brain is good enough.

Personal Brain has a lot of advanced features which I have not investigated.  I would love to reorganize thoughts and add lateral relationships and jumps (which I know is possible, but I keep forgetting how to do it). 

Personal Brain seems to be the ideal tool for a book project of this nature. (The superficial and middlebrow Malcolm-Gladwell  kinds of books).  Actually I think historians and literary critics  might find it useful as well.  I haven’t actually started, but I have 3 other projects which I’d like to transfer onto a Personal brain.  This tool not only stores information; it provides   a glimpse of where your ideas are bringing you. When you write things, you may not even know that until after finishing the first draft.







2 responses to “Stumbling Upon a Book Idea”

  1. Arjen ter Hoeve Avatar

    Dear Robert,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. For me Personal Brain is an idea library that stores lots and lots of information. More a database than a mind mapping tool. I think the way these maps are called is more visual maps than mind maps.

    When I write articles, books or other pieces, I always use a mind mapping tool. Personal Brain is a little bit too much I think.

    Here’s how I write in my tool, perhaps your readers benefit from this as well:

    1. I brainstorm to create a general idea of the book content.

    2. The map is organized and I add ‘bullet points’ behind each of the nodes in the map.

    3. Then I start to write in the notes section of the tool. I write the complete text based on the bullet point or bullet points.

    4. When this is done, I have a look at the content flow again. If this is good, I export the entire map to a tool like MS Word and I have my book, complete with table of contents and headlines.

    I am sure this can also be done in Personal Brain.

    Enjoy the other 3 projects you want to transfer in Personal Brains!

    Best regards,


  2. Robert Nagle Avatar

    Arjen, I just wanted to say that Personal Brain lets you export the topics and notes to a text file….A very helpful feature!

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