Create Your Own Opportunities: Thinking Outside the Box

Monday, June 20, 2011
Use What You Know to Land a Column and Generate Extra Income

While I was leading a workshop called “See My Byline: Writing for Newspapers and Websites” for a St. Louis writing group, a workshop attendee came up with the perfect example of thinking outside the box and creating her own opportunity in a specialized newspaper. It was almost as if I'd planted her in the audience.

This hockey mom, Linda, who is also an early childhood teacher and writer, sat through her son’s hockey practices a few times each week at the local ice skating rink. She often flipped through a free hockey newspaper at the rink, and then one day got a brilliant idea. She noticed that many of the other hockey parents were also bringing young children to the rink and might like tips on parenting or how to entertain these preschoolers. So, Linda contacted the editor of the hockey newspaper, pitched a monthly column on tips for parents with preschoolers, explained how many parents she had seen at her local rink pick up the newspaper. . .and guess what? She got the column and is paid for it!

I interviewed another writer, Sara, who is a stay-at-home mom of two and is also a coupon queen. She’s one of these people who buys $400 worth of groceries for $5 due to coupons and rebates. She decided to pitch a money-saving column to her local newspaper. She told the editor that she could write one column a week, pictured it in the Wednesday Food section, and would be able to include several money-saving tips and local deals each week. She explained to the editor that when people bought the Wednesday paper and followed her tips, they would make back the money they spent on the paper and more with their savings. Guess what? She has that weekly column now.

Neither one of these ladies waited for an opportunity to come to them. They didn’t see these openings on craigslist or on job boards. They had an idea, and they ran with it.  You can, too.

Be creative with what you know. Linda knew hockey, parenting, and early childhood. Sara knew coupons and newspaper readers. They both took ideas for their columns from their daily lives. Look around you. What are you doing that other people could benefit from? Who would want to read these tips or musings you could provide? What publications are you currently reading that you could contribute to? Ask yourself these questions, and write down the answers! It’s not enough just to think about them in the shower or while driving to work. This is the time for action. Make your ideas concrete by writing them down (or typing them—that will do, too). 

Take fifteen minutes every day for an entire week (or maybe even two weeks) while you’re waiting in the kitchen for dinner to finish cooking or after the kids have gone to bed, and write down some ideas for a regular column, blog posts, or series of articles. You might have to explore your ideas further once you make your list, or even investigate the places you frequent to see if there are any publications you’ve been missing. But that’s okay—you know, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Be observant of your surroundings, and what’s being offered in your community. Take notes, brainstorm, and give yourself time to think if nothing pops into your mind immediately.

Thinking outside the box can be scary—I agree. Someone might not like your idea and reject it. Someone might read your column and disagree with you. Do you think Linda or Sara were worried about these concerns? Nope, and that's why they're columnists. 


Margo L. Dill is an instructor for WOW! Women On Writing as well as a writing workshop leader  for both adults and children. You can find out more about her at her blog,


Unknown said...

Such a great list of practical tips!
I always try to take a paper & pen in my pocket to capture those moments or thoughts.
Camera is also excellent for taking pictures of future story or blog ideas.
Thanks Margo!

Margo Dill said...

Love that idea of the camera!

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