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Writing from idea to thought: Editor's Notes #186
May 15, 2015

The difference between an idea and a thought might be described as the difference between a kiss and a marriage.
--D. Murray

In this issue:

1. Writing from idea to thought
2. Tickled my funnybone
3. Interesting Web site

1. Writing from idea to thought
Any writing for publication is an attempt to take ideas from one mind and introduce them to another mind. An idea comes relatively quickly "like a bolt from the blue." A developed idea becomes developed through thought. Having some awareness of how an idea grows through thinking helps writers to write with more efficiency and purpose.

Getting from idea to fully developed thought involves three basic steps.

  • Open up
    Explore the initial idea from as many angles are possible. What have others thought about this idea? Read, read, read. And reflect on what you read. The more broadly you research at this point the better because you don't know yet where your idea will take you and what will be important in your journey.

    Record new ideas and thoughts that impress you. Use 3x5 cards, charts, voice recordings, whatever works for you.

  • Sort out
    Block out significant time to sort through all the collected material. I often clear the largest floor space I have and spread my notes all over. As I reread each item I've noted, I look for links between ideas. Do they all point in one direction? Is there a clear path? Do I need more research into any of the ideas I've collected? Does a form emerge from the mass of material?

    At this point, I physically create an outline. I put all cards that seem related to each other in series of piles. At the end, I record those things I need to keep thinking about and researching.

  • Close in
    Consideration of all the research usually clarifies where this piece of writing needs to go. Any holes have been exposed in the sorting stage. Next comes the pruning process. Take away every note that does not directly serve the purpose of the final product. If you've researched well, you may have more discards than keepers. That is fine. I label and save those notes because sometimes I find I need them in a way I can't imagine at this stage.

All that remains is to mold the expression of your well-developed idea. Are you going to write a poem, a travel guide, a novel, a magazine article? The thinking you have done before putting pen to paper or fingers to keys makes the composing process simpler.


2.Tickled my funnybone
To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is research.


3. Interesting Web site
Donald Murray, whose quote opens this issue, has much to say on writing. Wikipedia has collected some of his most important ideas.

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