Imagination can at times be like a firehose. Once the spigot is turned, all of the ideas just come gushing out in a single, messy torrent. It’s literally a flood of disparate thought fragments that resembles The Great Wave off Kanagawa.
There are thousands of different ways that people ideate and organize their mind maps. And I’ve tried many over the years. But the approach that I use now (which I think is working?) is every time an idea strikes me, I immediately write it up in its own individual document. Then I also index the idea in a single Master Document. Over time, I can then see the Master Document begin to populate as the beast slowly crystalizes and comes into focus.
One trick I learned from watching the Michael Bay director’s commentary on the Criterion Collection edition of Armageddon is that it’s critical for the creator of a work to have some sort of mental model in his head of the story at all times. It obviously doesn’t need to be an exact blueprint, but the scaffolding needs to at least exist. My Master Document of Ideas serves as that scaffolding.
Another metaphor I use internally is likening the process to that of building a town in Sim City or Skylines. In the beginning, you’ve got nothing– just a big plot of land. But then you build your first residential house, or library, or park. And slowly, over time, you build City Hall, the museum, some restaurants, a Monument to Heroes, etc. Sometimes you might begin work on the town civics center but then lose interest halfway through, scroll to the other side of town, and begin construction on the town sports arena instead. That’s totally okay! In Phase I of writing (the “Production Phase”), I’m simply trying to properly get all of my ideas down on paper so there’s a physical record of it somewhere. During Phase I, I may not yet know how all of the ideas, characters, and settings connect, but eventually, I simply trust that there will be a road that goes from the town square to the town library which is way, way off on the west end, across the train tracks. I’ve said this elsewhere but I genuinely believe that writing long-form fiction is akin to keeping a faith. It’s simply doing the work every day and then believing/praying that everything will eventually come together in the end.