Digging Deeper for Freelance Article Ideas

Saturday, May 19, 2012

If you are a freelance writer or interested in writing articles for magazines and e-zines, you have to have a way to come up with new article ideas. Generally, the first ideas we have are not the best because they are the first ideas EVERYBODY has with the same experiences that we do.

by boetter flickr.com
For example, if you want to write an article for a senior living magazine about gardening with grandchildren, what's the first couple topics that pop into your mind? You probably think of easy plants to plant with grandchildren or what you need to garden with grandchildren. These articles have been overdone, so you have to, excuse the pun, dig deeper. When I taught elementary school writing and the 6 + 1 traits, we called these--"potato ideas." So, what are some ways to find some potato ideas, so you can send out queries and get contracts for articles?

  1.  Old-fashioned Brainstorming: To me, this is the best way to come up with a marketable freelance writing idea. You can do several different methods. In the freelance writing online class I teach for WOW!, my students make a list of ten topics they could write about from their jobs to their hobbies, from current events to historical ones. Then they pick three they are really interested in, and they start to dig deeper. They ask themselves what articles they would like to read about these topics--if they were a beginner of if they were an expert. Then they narrow that first broad topic down to an article idea. By starting with the ten broad topics and writing something down that they could write about, it seems to help these writers come up with ideas for queries and articles. Obviously the writer from the photo above uses post-it notes when he brainstorms. You can also use the word web method, where you put a topic in the middle of a circle and then you branch out with another ring of circles that narrows the topic each time. Then each one of those circles, gets another layer of circles and so on. 
  2. Use Their Themes: Many magazines have themes. These themes can help you come up with article ideas. If you notice that one of your favorite magazines, like WOW! ;), has themed-issues, then go online and find the upcoming theme list. After you know the upcoming themes, you can brainstorm a list of article ideas based on one or all of them. Make sure when you write your query letter that you mention which themed issue you are hoping your article will fit. This makes life much easier for the editor!
  3. Use the Archives: When there's a certain magazine I REALLY want to get into, I do an archive study. I go back as far as I can--either online or with free copies from the library--and make a list of all the articles in the past. I actually write them down in a notebook, and I organize them by section, theme, topic--in some way. Once I have gone through about five or six issues, I look for patterns. I try to think of topics similar to ones that have already been done, but that are different enough that the editors will want my idea. This method also shows you if the magazine does a lot of articles such as, "Top 5 Ways To Clean Your House if You're a Busy Mom" or "How to Get Your Manuscript to an Agent." 
The most important thing I think you can realize as a freelance writer is that if you are always trying to sell the first idea that pops into your mind, you are probably going to run into a lot of rejections. Take some time to dig deeper with a method that works for you.

Margo's next online freelance writing class starts Monday, June 4! Join us here. 

Post by Margo L. Dill


Susie - Walking Butterfly said...

Wonderful tips! Thank you, I'm going to use them!

Unknown said...

Recently retired from teaching History, Margo, and I concur about these suggestions. Brainstorming and mapping work as starters then I move on to others!

Margo Dill said...

Thanks to you both, and I would love to hear any methods that work for anyone reading this.

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