For many writers, consistently coming up with ideas for stories and pitches can be tough. Turning great ideas into stories is even harder. And, selling that story in a pitch can be daunting, to say the least.
How to Find Ideas
As freelance writers, there’s a pressure to continuously discover brilliant article topics, convert them into exciting pitches, and then—if the pitches get accepted—write those stories.
Here are things I’ve done to help me save, generate, and find better ideas:
– Keep a notebook handy. Whether it’s your phone, or a real pen-and-paper notebook, always have something on hand to jot down random ideas in. Note things that interest you, or snippets of stories, news, and topics that you’d like to learn more about, or share with others. Consider also keeping an “Ideas” file on your computer where you can add the information you’ve put in your phone and in your notebook, as well as add ideas that come to you when you’re working. Keep that file open whenever you are on your computer.
– Read broadly and regularly. Read newspapers, magazines, books, and websites to see what other people are talking about in different fields, and let yourself be inspired and intrigued by the things you read. Perhaps you may also discover new markets for your own work!
– Don’t get mired down in ideas. Some authors get addicted to creating lists of ideas, but never get around to pitching and writing. Don’t do that.
Ideas vs. Stories
An idea is something you want to write about. It’s a topic, and nothing else. For example: “I want to write about pet healthcare.”
A story, on the other hand, is a far more detailed idea placed in context with an engaging narrative and a meaningful angle. There is direction and purpose to the idea. For example: “Do pets need therapy? Believe it or not, they do. Here’s why.”
Stories show the reader why the idea matters, and how readers can benefit from a piece on the topic. It makes an abstract idea more practical, concrete, and engaging.
When you come across an idea you’ll like to write about, find the story behind it. Find out why people would be interested in this topic. Ask yourself why you’re interested—what about it triggers a response? Do some research on that topic to see what other people have been saying about it. Go at it from a different angle (be unique!), or develop the story with more in-depth research than what’s already out there.
Whether you’re pitching a personal essay or an informative article, editors want to know:
– What is your piece about? Keep the editors interested, but keep the pitch short. Craft a catchy headline, and include it in your email subject line: “Pitch: [Proposed Headline]”.
– What research would you conduct? Describing your methodology demonstrates how serious you are about your idea.
– How soon after the article assignment can you get it finished? This is crucial for timely pieces.
– Why are you the best person to write this piece? Cite experience, knowledge, and previous work—anything that convinces the editor you know what you’re talking about.
– Why is this piece a good fit? Check to make sure that the publication has not recently published a piece on a similar topic. Take a good look at the magazine or website, not only on what they’ve published before, but also the tone and approach of the pieces to see if your work would be a good fit for them. And, if it is, explain how this piece would benefit that publication’s readers in your pitch.
– How many words do you expect your piece to be? On top of mentioning the dry details of your piece, include a short bio and relevant examples of previous work, or a link to your portfolio.
It’s as easy as that. Experiment with different ways to collect ideas. Find the stories in them. Craft selling pitches. Get Assignments. Complete them. And, get paid.
Odelia Chan writes fiction, teaches English, and freelances on the side. Her debut novel Obstacles was released in 2021. She runs a blog dedicated to story, writing, and the war of art on her website: www.odeliachan.com.
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