As you may know, I am studying for a degree in English Literature with the Open University and last night I had a tutorial. It’s only the second one of this module and we are feeling our way somewhat as we try to work out what makes our fellow students tick without asking them any direct questions. Or maybe that’s just me.

Anyway. last night’s activity, as a precursor to the next assignment, was to compare and contrast two pieces of prose. This struck me as a tricky exercise. Apart from both being written in English, I was struggling to see anything that the two pieces might have in common.

My tutor suggested that we might like to use some kind of visual system to assist us in identifying the similarities. Colour coding perhaps? Or a mind map? At this point I nearly left. A mind map? On an English Literature course? What was the world coming to?

We broke into two groups, coincidentally split by gender and the girls set to on our out-sized piece of paper with our felt tips whilst the men shuffled awkwardly in their chairs and then scribbled some notes on the back of an envelope. Afterwards, my female tutor commented to my group that the results of the exercise were entirely predictable on gender grounds alone. Actually, I believe that the results had less to do with gender and more to do with age.

My group consisted of me and two much younger students whilst the men’s group all had a good ten years on me and therein lies the root of their and my discomfort. What exactly is a mind map? What is its function and how can it possibly assist me in ordering my thoughts when it resembles something out of Star Trek and has no discernible order? I was brought up to write only in grammatically correct sentences. Numbered points were permissible at a push and possibly bullet points in an emergency. At no point in my education was it acceptable to allow my imagination to run amok all over the page. That was called a doodle and might result in a detention.

The colour coding I can just about get my head around. I am a girl after all and happy to play with coloured pens at a drop of a hat. Plus, I could see how that might work. Highlight all the narrative points in red, imagery in yellow, argument in green etc.. There is an ordered kind of logic to it. But the mind map concept seems a step too far for my stifled mind to deal with. I left the idea in a dark corner of the room where it could do no harm.

But if truth be told, I would love to have the kind of mind that can map itself with complicated twists and turns and connections marked in ever narrowing veins across the page. I like the idea of shaking my mind and watching what comes out in random order rather than the neat, down the page control that it usually displays. So I’m going to have a go – not with a compare and contrast task: I know my limitations- but maybe I could mind map Christmas or the plot for a story? After all, I like to think that I’m still capable of a new trick or two.