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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" notebook.

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 ingredients.

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 manufactured.

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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