Dr. Robert Goddard at Clark University
Dr. Robert Goddard at Clark University – via Flickr

I mentioned in my previous post that over the last month I have been exploring Scapple, software from Literature and Latte, creator of my favorite word processing software Scrivener. (I wrote a post about Scrivener as well, you should check it out. tl;dr – it’s awesome.)

I am foremost a visual thinker; I work with whiteboards all the time for my day job. Be it for wireframes, or just to start hashing out ideas, the temporary nature of a whiteboard allows me to be loose with my thoughts and explore avenues with little to no expense. Sadly, I don’t have room in my house for a whiteboard. So I have been looking for alternative means to organize my work without sacrificing space. Paper is too small to write this sort of stuff out and ultimately a waste. I have tried spreadsheets with Google Docs and Apple’s Numbers, but those are too cumbersome for this type of work. I have even tried lists within a document, but I found it too difficult to step back and get the big picture. I’ve even tried using Adobe Illustrator, which has a lot of similar features, but in the long run is too bulky and cumbersome for this type of work.

Using Scapple:
Scapple has been on my radar for a while, but it wasn’t until recently that I decided to step in and give it a shot. It really was the product I was looking for: it’s both part mind-mapping and part free-form text editor. Everything is drag and droppable allowing for me to work quickly. I can get my ideas onto the screen, make connections between those ideas, and then step back and see the big picture. Here’re the first five chapters of my new unnamed project:


(No, I won’t make it larger. Spoilers!) Only a portion of that is the actual story (highlighted in blue), but I wanted to make sure I paid attention to what else was going on. There’s a lot of plot points to juggle in this one so making sure I have everything organized was key for me, and Scapple helped me quickly get my thoughts down so I could progress.

The Downside:
Scapple is still a bit clunky. It’s not as forgiving as some programs, and often I find myself scrambling to lay things out properly. I feel that a lot of this could be solved with some snap-to-grid system. (Which I bet is coming.)

Also, while not a reflection on Scapple, I should mention that this very much one of those programs that can get in the way of actual work. You can spend a lot of time stylizing, tweaking, and laying things out. Time that could be better spent writing. That’s not Scapple’s fault, as I mentioned in my post “Shut Up and Write!“, if we’re looking for distraction, we’ll find it.

My final verdict:
Powerful. Quick. Effective at mapping and laying out snippets of text visually. Scapple is the best mind-mapping program to fill that niche in the market. It’s $14 bucks, which cheap in the grand scheme of productivity software and if you’re a visual thinker like I am it’s very handy at getting your plot laid out. It’s worth it, just don’t let yourself get too distracted. The only person who needs to see your Scapples is yourself. Save the perfectionism for the final product, not your notes.

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