What Should I Write? Finding Ideas for Freelancers

Monday, July 18, 2016
Most writers have an abundance of ideas—all of them are not publishable. If you don’t have a ton of ideas or you don’t think yours are going to get you published, what can you do? Ideas that sell need to be original or a new spin on an old favorite. Articles need to be specific, targeted to an audience, and fit the tone of the publication.

Here are some tips to find article ideas:

Study the Markets: If you're writing for magazines, make a list of all articles published in the magazine for the past six months. Group them into categories, and then study this list. How can you add to it? How can you shine? Don't forget to notice any upcoming themes. Finally, do a Google search for interviews with editors/writers to see if they suggest any upcoming articles they would like to see. You can also study newspapers if they use freelancers and of course, ezines and blogs should be a very similar process to print magazines mentioned above.

Brainstorming techniques:  Take a subject you are familiar with and find the unique angle. Here is an example for an article I did for a family magazine.
  • Theme: Gardens and Spring
  • So, what do I know would be a good article for this audience (for Families magazine)?
  • POSSIBLE IDEAS FOR ARTICLES (writing down any that come to mind--good or not)
    • Parks are popular in spring.
    • People like to plant with children
    • Are there unusual plants I could write about?
    • Planting veggies w/kids for healthy eating.
    • Recent book I read SHADOW GARDEN & how to make one* (Here is my best idea.)   
So I turned in a query about creating a shadow garden this summer, and they took it. I mentioned the book too as another reference for families with small children.

Ask Yourself What If: This is a technique often used by fiction writers to come up with ideas for stories. Basically, you keep asking what if? until you get a good idea—one that will sell.

  • EXAMPLE: Traveling with a dog
    • What if you have to travel with a dog?
    • What if you have to travel with a large breed dog?
    • What if you have to travel with a large breed dog that has separation anxiety? 
The last question is a great story idea, and it is one that I sold to a newsletter about traveling with dogs. 

Everyone gets stuck in a rut--but with a few simple tips and tricks, you'll have plenty of story ideas to query in no time. 

Margo L. Dill is a published author, teacher, and editor in St. Louis, MO. Find out more at http://www.editor-911.com


Sioux Roslawski said...

Margo--As always, you have great suggestions. I was at a writing conference on Saturday and got some tips for getting nonfiction published--from Sue Bradford Edwards--which I will be sharing tomorrow.

Thanks for sharing your expertise (as usual).

Margo Dill said...

Thanks, Sioux. SUE also has great ideas! I hope the AWN conference was great. :)

Angela Mackintosh said...

These are GREAT examples, Margo! I love the idea of asking What If for nonfiction.

SueBE told me she was headed to a speaking gig, now I know what it was! I'll be checking out your post, Sioux. :)

Marcia Peterson said...

Love this post, such helpful info and details!
Kind of along the "what if" line, I've written articles to answer my own questions/solve my own problems. Other people probably want to know the same thing.

Margo Dill said...

Marcia: That is a really good idea. Writing down questions that come to your mind and seeing if the answers would make good article ideas.

Thanks, Ang. :)

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