DEVELOPING AN IDEA – Marilyn Armstrong

Develop – from Fandango’s One Word Challenge

Garry and I have had this particular conversation often. For him, writing is a developmental process. He has to “see” the entire post, or at the very least, he has to see the beginning and a hint of where it is going before he can start writing.

As far as I can tell, for blog writing anyway, I don’t develop anything. I get a little “bing” in my brain and I start writing. If, for some reason — like it’s the middle of the night or I’m cooking or something I really can’t stop — I try desperately to hang onto the tweak of an idea until I get my fingers on a keyboard.

When I was writing manuals for software and hardware, that was an entirely different story. I had to see in my mind the entire process, from the introduction to the final indices. While I didn’t use 3X5 cards (I never quite got “into” the whole card thing), I did write a preliminary table of contents — subject to massive changes when I got my hands on the product and realized the engineers had no idea how the product would be used.

I excused them for not knowing because while they understood what the software would do,  they had no interest in users.

I wanted to know how people would make it work and it was my job to help them do that. How they would interface with it. What graphics they would need. When they would want panels of information. When they need “instant” data — such as press “CTL D” for valid entries. And when they would need extensive background data.

It all depended on who was going to be using the product. Was it going to be a civilian who wasn’t entirely sure how the mouse worked? Or an engineer using this software to create new software for a new product. Two very different species of users.

Surely the engineer would not need an explanation of how to use a mouse or turn on the computer.

The hardest manual to develop was when the manual would be used by civilian and experienced people. Then you had to write for the least experienced user. Because someone who already knew the information could skip it and move on, but someone who was clueless would be grateful it was there.

A badly written manual — and these days they are all badly written because they are generated from developer’s notes and not actually “written” at all — can effectively confuse anyone. I remember one manual which used symbols — probably an early version of emojis — instead of text. Problem?

There were a lot of those tiny little symbols and if you didn’t have good closeup vision (anyone over 40 knows what I mean), it was amazingly hard to tell one from the other.

There were so many. You needed a glossary of symbols just to know what you were looking at. Mind you, this was a beautifully designed manual — written by (you guessed it) a designer. Her goal was to make it look great, so it was gorgeous. Useless, but pretty.

I didn’t get the job of writing it, but I got the call to come in and repair the disaster. I made a lot more money than I would have had I been given the job in the first place.

Probably, all of this explains why fiction is a big problem for me. Good fiction — even flash fiction — requires at least a minimal level of development. From beginning to conclusion, you need to see your way through the story to the end.

I write really good non-fiction. I write amazing instructions when I am trying. The rest of the time? I unwind ideas with a lot of diversions because that’s the way I talk. A story needs to roll out and much of its magic are the words themselves, the music they make. That kind of music doesn’t require structure or development. It is a feeling, a sense, a kind of magic, and beautiful words.

These days, in retirement, I don’t develop, plan, or structure. I write and what comes out is the whole of it.


Note: I do not have a single copy of any book I wrote in hard copy. I think I dumped them when I retired. I wish I’d saved one or two. But if I get desperate, I have a couple as documents, though I have a feeling they are in a format I can’t access anymore.

Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Writer, photography, blogger. Previously, technical writer. I am retired and delighted to be so. May I live long and write frequently.

19 thoughts on “DEVELOPING AN IDEA – Marilyn Armstrong”

      1. MARILYN, Your little “bing” is how I developed many pieces during my working years. Pieces that were creative and enterprised —. Not assignments from the desk which normally involve coverage of your bread and butter stories. No heavy lifting of the brain.

        Many of my “bings” came during cocktail time. So, many of my numerous stories were born on cocktail napkin scrawl that, fortunately, I could decipher the next morning.

        I don’t mean to be difficult when asked to contribute stuff. But, I think, my brain has also retired until I get one of those “bings”.

        I think the cochlear plant activation is a very loud “bing” for the top of my long delayed/procrastinated “The book” effort. We shall see and, yes, HEAR.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. For fiction I know the start and where it should end up before I begin. How we get from A to Z is often a mystery to me even as I am writing it. I have an eye on the word count so I stay a reasonable length. Believe it or not, word count sometimes determines how much descriptive detail I add to a story. If I am over a thousand words, I look back to see if there is any extraneous that can be removed.
    For nonfiction I usually know if something is more than one part right away. For the Bond reviews, for example, I could not comment on 7 films and do them justice in one setting. I would like to say there was a plan to everything, but alas, no.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If something is really long, I let it sit for a day or two and when I come back to it, I find pieces that are extraneous. But I usually can’t see them right away. I need to look at them with a clear head. Sometimes, when I look at it the next day, I delete the entire piece. Not every piece of writing is worth publishing, EVEN on a blog.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “From beginning to conclusion, you need to see your way through the story to the end.” Not me. I usually start writing, not sure where it’s going to take me. I just sort of let it flow. And then I go back and edit it into something that I hope is cohesive, with a beginning, a middle, and perhaps an unexpected ending. But I never had to write tech or end-user manuals.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Everyone has their own way of working. Garry can’t write the way I do and I don’t need to write the way he does. One of my favorite sci-fi authors is completely addicted to 3X5 cards. Others just need “a way in” to the story.

      For short fiction, I need an entry point. I can flow to the ending which is often more a surprise than a plan, but I need an entrance.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Fandango, I could see those news stories — the “usual suspect” stories — complete, in my mind’s eyes. i just had to fill in the blanks with facts. Names, locations, motives, etc. I had to avoid letting those stories become robotic. That’s a danger for reporters who are working multiple stories every day with myriad deadlines and “breaking news” always breathing into your face like strong garlic bread.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Fandango, it was always a challenge. I loved those challenges. Sometimes, it’s a mental “high” when you have a genuine “breaking news” story as you go on the air. An incredible high!

          Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m a lot like that, I get an idea and start typing–after all, no one’s reading over my shoulder, so if it gets started wrong, there is always “erase” and do it over. And sometimes I start with a line, and by the time I’ve done I’ve suddenly realized what I really wanted to say, and bingo, there it is. It’s the same process (and I just noticed that) I use for most poetry, get a first line and run down the page with it, and let it work itself out.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Judy, in TV news, you’re racing out the door, absorbing info at breakneck pace and under the gun to go live from the scene — within minutes of arriving at the story. Your mind is always in high gear. Facts sometimes are the victim in these scenarios. I was on mental Adrenalin for most of the day. At day’s end, the bar always beckoned……

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t write fiction. I find it easier to write factual things, descriptions of places and events. If I am writing about my memories or opinions and find it hard to get going I just write whatever comes to mind and then go back and take out all the bits I don’t like or that don’t seem to fit and may need a post of their own. As Rich also said I know when I’ve gone on too long and need to split a post into parts. I haven’t mastered short and sweet yet :-).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve gotten MUCH better about length. When I first started, everything was far too long. I try to keep it below 500 words, but if the subject seems to need it, 1000 tops. More than that, either break it into pieces of chop it down. Because people don’t have the patience to read that much. I know I don’t.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Marilyn, this reminds me a little of Nick George, my boss and mentor at ABC News. Nick preached short, crisp scripts — leading into the “acks” (actualities, sound bites). Nick, puffing furiously on his corn cob pipe, was the guy who famously told us “I don’t need no stinkin’ adjectives in the script. Gimme facts and sound bites”). The superstar news anchors didn’t appreciate it when I repeated Nick’s mandate and I slashed the hell out of their scripts as an editor and producer. It produced many “star squabbles” including Howard “Coach” Cosell yelling at me, “Do you know who I am?”. I looked at “Coach” Cosell and said, “Yeah, I know who ‘you’ are. Now go back and give me a re-write on this garbage, Coach”. The newsroom exploded with laughter and applause. Victory for the kid over the super star legend in his own mind sports anchor who was also a lawyer.

        Liked by 1 person

Talk to me!

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.