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The Idea Factory
by Kathleen Ewing
Where do you get ideas? That question has to be the one a writer
hears most often. There's only one answer. You manufacture them.
The process starts with making a list of what you know. This is
the raw material for your factory. Let's say you know animals, art,
emergency planning, farming, manufacturing and writing. Each of
your knowledge topics should have its own section in your "production"
Begin the engineering process by listing what you know about each
topic. Under animals, you might list horses, dogs, hawks, etc. When
you are ready to start a production run on one of these sub-topics,
you will place the word at the top of a blank page. Then, in short
paragraphs or bulleted lists, you will note what you know about
that particular subject. This is the equivalent of cutting long
bars of metal stock into shorter blanks that will fit into the lathe.
Your Horse page might look something like this:
- Farriers-finding one
- Saddle fit-both horse and rider
- Evacuation-emergency preparedness
- Beginners-primer for kids
You pick a bullet that particularly appeals to you and you start
carving away at it by asking yourself questions. If you were looking
for a farrier to shoe your horse, how would you go about it? You
might talk to veterinarians, feed store owners, stable managers,
and ranchers. What would you want to know about the farrier? First,
wouldn't you want to know where your readers can check to find out
if he or she is certified? Then would you want to see the person
in action? And would you need to know what to look for as the farrier
works with the animal, as well as how the animal performs as a result
of that work? Then ask yourself how you might find those missing
Now that you have the first couple of roughing operations completed,
you will want to check out your customer's blueprint to make sure
you stay on track with the finished product. You write a query to
a farm or ranch publication, outlining what you are working on in
your factory. In this case, Hobby Farms Magazine liked
the project and gave you an idea of what the finished dimensions
the product should be.
Because Hobby Farms isn't familiar with you or your work,
they ask for a shorter piece than you planned. They want your product
designed to fit into one of their standard departments. This type
of introductory production run works well for both them and you.
They don't have to risk trying to replace your merchandise on short
notice if it fails to meet their specifications and you don't have
to rework or lop off material from a product that you have already
Now you must consult the people you want to help you engineer your
project. in this instance, the veterinarian, horse rancher, etc.
See what their recommendations are on what your consumer needs to
have added to your product. Watch the farrier work, making note
of the tools used and the behavior of the horse. Take loads of photographs.
(Don't forget to get a simple photo release signed and dated.) Then
you carry all this outside vendor material back to your factory
for inclusion in the processing
When the product is complete, let it sit overnight on your workbench.
Then you can begin the final stages of processing, removing the
rough edges, polishing and part-marking. When you ship the piece,
just as a manufacturer would include certifications for material
and processing, you include a copy of signed photo releases, photographs
(on CD) and a list of captions for those photos.
As soon as you hear from your customer that they are pleased with
your shipment, you go back to your raw material and see what else
in your idea inventory might interest them. For Hobby Farms,
that means a feature article on preparing a horse farm for an emergency
evacuation, a piece four times the size of the initial farrier article,
and four times the price tag. And the next production run will be
easier, because now you have a process map to guide you.
© Copyright 2007, Kathleen Ewing
Kathleen Ewing is an award-winning freelance writer headquartered in Central Arizonas high country. Among her credits are feature articles for Art Calendar, American Falconry, Bend of the River, TrailBlazer and Hobby Farms magazines. Visit her blog at www.rodeowriter.blogspot.com
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