Have you ever read an article and wondered where the writer came up with the idea? You may think that the pros are assigned most of their stories, but that’s rarely the case. Neophytes and seasoned writers alike have to come up with article topics on their own for the most part. So where do you turn when your idea arsenal is running low? The short answer is EVERYWHERE.
1. Hobbies and Groups- What interests you? Are you passionate about gardening? Do you belong to a cooking club? Are you an expert sailor? Whatever your fancy, turn your pursuits into profit. Say you lost 25 pounds attending a belly-dancing class. That class becomes the pitch “Dance Your Way to a Slimmer Size”. Look for other women who have lost weight through dance. Ballet, jazz, I’ve even heard that pole dancing is the latest fitness craze. Put your hobbies to work, and not only will your passion for the subject shine through to the editor, you’ll love what you’re writing about.
2. Friends, Family and Neighbors- Often we are so used to the people around us that we forget there may be experts living next door. Is your sister a financial planner? How about a story on “25 Ways to Save More Money”. Is your cousin a massage therapist? Why not “Massage 101-What to Expect Your First Time”. Even anecdotes around the dinner table can lead to article ideas. Perhaps your grandmother was a ‘Rosie the Riveter’ or your grandfather makes his own wine. Stories like these work for nostalgia mags like Good Old Days, which pays $20-$200. Turn your connections into article ideas.
3. Life Experience- I wrote a monthly humor column for three years and I can tell you that every single piece was taken from experience. I wrote about everything from a Gynecological visit to a bad home perm. When it comes to essays, humor, satire and anecdotes, your personal life is a playground swarming with ideas. Bring a notebook everywhere you go and keep your eyes and ears open for material.
4. Old Research- Dust off your old articles, notes, interviews and photos for a fresh look. Is there anything in your archives that you could update with a new slant? How about pitching an old idea to a new market? Many topics are timeless. Perhaps you wrote a piece on starting a vegetable patch from seeds for a gardening publication. Could that work for Budget Living? Cooking Light? Veggie Life?
5. Magazines- Perhaps you’ve heard that the best way to land an assignment is to learn about the magazine and what has been covered in the last six issues. But try going back 6 years. Some of those topics may not have been covered since. Some magazines offer extensive archives online. Maybe it’s time for another look. Also- read the “Letters to the Editor”. I recently pitched a topic to a magazine I enjoy based on a specific reader request. The editor loved it.
6. Newspapers- Scan local news stories for ideas you can pitch to national magazines. I once read about an Iraqi war dog that was saved by a US soldier who went to great lengths to bring him home. I landed an assignment with Animal Watch based on that story. Often you might read about a family or an individual who has overcome great odds. Reader’s Digest, Woman’s Day and Parade accept these kinds of stories.
7. Newsletters- Keep abreast of the latest trends and glean article ideas by signing up for newsletters. Scan the Internet for sources that send weekly emails in your area of interest or expertise and you may be surprised at how inspired you’ll become. Sometimes just reading about your favorite subjects sets the wheels in motion for brainstorming. But you’ll also learn about cutting edge breakthroughs and the hottest topics.
8. The Calendar- Just looking at the calendar should spark a plethora of ideas. Skip ahead a few months and note the season, the bank holidays and the “just because” holidays. In March you should consider pitching pieces for July-August. What about “Fireworks Safety”, “Backyard BBQ recipes” or “10 Hot Pool Products”. Because food is a specialty of mine, I have a monthly list of American food holidays. So when I want to pitch an idea on salsa recipes, I know I should aim it for a May issue.
9. Travel- Remember that vacation you took last summer? Could you pitch regional or travel magazines about your trip? What about other arenas? I took a two-week road trip down Rt. 66 with my husband and my Great Dane that translated into articles for a Canadian travel magazine, a regional magazine and a pet publication. Photos are key here so pack lots of film for every trip.
10. TV- You may feel a little guilty watching television when you know you should be writing, but sometimes your favorite shows can spark ideas. Channels like HGTV, the History Channel, Discovery and the Food Network are filled with programs designed to teach as well as entertain. Maybe you’ll get an idea on “Preparing Your Home for Sale” or “10 Places You Should See Before You Die”. You may even get a list of sources to interview.
So keep pen and paper handy, your eyes and ears open, and your mind on point. And the next time you’re having dinner with friends, traveling on business or just visiting the doctor, you’ll be ready for the light bulb to go off.