It’s National Novel Writing Month once again, time to challenge yourself to write 50000 words in 30 days, no easy feat! But with your Android device by your side, you can keep working on your novel or non-fiction book anywhere and anytime. Throughout this week, we’ll share our best apps, thoughts, and tips to help you achieve that writing goal.
One of the most important aspects of writing – especially long form writing like reports, stories, novels, etc. – is the organization and structuring of content. A lot of people use long lists and sub-lists but unfortunately, for a lot of visually inclined people like myself, this gets ugly and out of control very quickly. I can’t get myself to make any sense of content until I can spatially organize everything for an at-a-glance overview.
One of the best ways to do this is to create mind maps. To quote Wikipedia, “A mind map is a diagram used to visually outline information”. I’ve been creating mind maps for years now, for everything from organizing my financial details to preparing project plans and even content outlines for blog posts like this one. The excellent open source app Freemind was my weapon of choice and has stuck with me, not the least for lack of alternatives. Many online and offline mind mapping apps were available, but none seemed to do the job well enough. So when Mindjet, one of the better commercial desktop mind mapping apps out there, released their Android version for free, I was excited.
All In the Cloud
As is pretty much a staple with all high profile apps these days on any platform, Mindjet for Android seamlessly integrates with the cloud, synchronizing all your mind maps and letting you edit them either from the phone, tablet, desktop clients or the web app. My biggest grudge with Freemind has always been the lack of a way to edit mind maps when I’m away from my own computer – so even if I sync files with Dropbox, I still needed Freemind to view or edit them. Mindjet solves this problem brilliantly by coupling excellent editing capabilities in the cloud with offline access on desktop and mobile devices.
Unfortunately, the app didn’t start on the right foot with me the first time I launched it. I understand the need for an online account to be able to sync content with the cloud, but I would have really appreciated the ability to create and edit mind maps on the device without having to connect to my account. That said, it doesn’t take long to appreciate the advantages of connecting to the account once you’ve gone online for the first time and downloaded the “Getting Started” map to check out the app’s features in a – you guessed it – mind map!
Full Featured Editing
Going against all my apprehensions, the mobile version of the app does a stellar job of letting you view, browse and edit your mind maps. The thing is, mind maps by nature are expansive and in turn not built for very small screens. Even my 1080p desktop monitor sometimes falls short when dealing with big, unwieldy maps that keep running into branch after branch after branch. The Mindjet UI does a good job of letting you easily collapse all your branches and open them one by one to browse through the content. You can also zoom out and view the whole mess at once.
The minimalistic interface lets you quickly add or delete nodes and links from the bottom-left corner or open the full fledged settings UI from the icon in the bottom-left. Open up the settings and there’s a plethora of options to manipulate the selected node – edit text, change node and text label styling, edit links, search, expand/collapse or zoom in and out. The categories on the horizontal panel at the bottom and tools for each category on the vertical panel are extremely intuitive, smooth to work with and make a ton of sense. I can safely say this is the first time I’ve not pulled my hair out trying to edit a mind map on my phone.
Going beyond creating text nodes, the app lets you style your nodes any way you want with different shapes, colors and images markers. Those are icons from an included library that you can associate with a node as visual cues. They include clocks, users, smilies as well as flags and pie charts to denote importance and progress respectively. Alternatively, you can attach your own images with nodes and they will appear as thumbnails that you can click to preview from within the mind map. Everything you do within the app while you are offline gets synchronized with the web version when you launch it with an active data connection, letting you continue to work on the same document from the web or the desktop completely hasslefree.
Mindjet for Android is by far one of the most feature packed and usable mind mapping apps available for mobile devices. For the budding writer, it simplifies the process of outlining a novel, with parallel or related storylines and all the subplot details.
The fact that it integrates with the broader Mindjet universe of tablet, desktop and web apps so seamlessly, makes it a must have for anyone with a thing for visual organization. I would have really appreciated a way to get started with the app without the need to first connect to an online account, but that’s just a minor hiccup. In retrospect, it also makes a lot of sense since it forces you to have everything synchronized and backed up. That can never be a bad thing, can it?