5 Unusual Places to Find Great Story Ideas

Carol Tice

Child flies an idea kiteBy Sally Ashworth

You’ve got to keep the ideas rolling to make it as a freelance writer — it’s a skill as crucial as great writing.

But we all hit times when inspiration feels elusive and our idea bank could use a top-up.

If you recognize that frustrating feeling, turn super-sleuth and try hunting for query gems in these unusual places. You might just strike gold!


The book section of Amazon is a rich seam just waiting to be tapped.

Punch in a few key words such as parenting or child development, choose the department you want to search in and then opt to have the results arranged in date order. Presto! A ready-made list of story ideas and expert authors to interview.

I had a pitch commissioned recently by an education magazine after finding an interesting book on a new, fun method of teaching science to children.


Listening in on people’s conversations is a brilliant way of finding inspiration for your writing, and with Facebook you get to eavesdrop from the comfort of your sofa.

The other day one of my Facebook friends posted a status about how she’d just picked up 14 towels and six coffee cups off her teenage daughter’s bedroom floor.

Her amusing whine obviously struck a chord, because more than 30 people left comments. So how about querying a light-hearted piece on living with your teens’ bad habits?

Or check out what hot topics your friends are “liking.” If people are chatting about it online, chances are they’ll want to read your fantastic article about it, too!

Online forums

Pick a subject, however obscure, and you’ll find people chatting about it online.

And like Facebook, online forums are fabulous places to stop by and listen in.

Whether it’s a forum for hobbyists or a particular professional field, most are free to browse without having to sign up or pay.

What’s going on in the world of trout fishing? A quick Google search will turn up dozens of forums teeming with enthusiasts chatting about their hobby — giving you loads of free inspiration for new queries.

Desperate to break into your favorite parenting magazine? Every parenting topic you could ever think of is being debated online right now.  So find a forum and get listening!


With hundreds of thousands of listings, sometimes it’s hard to see the wood for the trees on eBay.

But a little targeted detective work can dig up some strong leads. Be creative.

How about checking out the “seller refurbished” furniture items for a piece on “upcycling” or looking at which games or electronic gadgets are attracting the most bids for a story on latest crazes?

I found out a doll I’d had since I was a kid was worth hundreds of dollars after a quick search on eBay — which led to a query on collecting antique toys.

Classified ads

Classified ad sections (either online or in print) are happy hunting grounds for story ideas.

An online ad site I looked at recently popped up with an index of things for sale, which included hedgehogs.

Hedgehogs! Really? Who’s buying them? Why? Are rescue centers seeing more of them as people realize they aren’t as cuddly as kittens? You get the idea.

Magazines’ classified ads are also useful because they paint a really clear picture of the publication’s readership. For example, if there are lots of ads for luxury products, your pitch on surviving the credit crisis might find a better home elsewhere.

So next time you find your idea supply drying up, give one of these places a go. They’re dripping with ideas just waiting to be turned into golden queries.

What is the strangest place you ever found a story idea? Tell us in the comments below.

Sally Ashworth is a freelance writer from the small but very cool English town of Hebden Bridge. Find her online portfolio at sallyashworth.co.uk.




  1. Jennifer Gregory

    This are great ideas! I especially love the idea of looking at new releases on amazon. While it might not be unusual, my best stories come from listening to my friends and family to see what they are talking about, what they are concerned about and any trends that they are interested about. I have been known to call someone that I know up that is in my target demographic for a certain market and ask them what topics they have recently looked for more information on.

    The main way I find story ideas is honestly to go to google and do a search on my topic followed by the word news. For example I write for QSR, a trade pub for fast food operators, and I find most of my ideas that way. I then read through all the press releases, recent articles from local newspapers and online articles. While I don’t steal idea, I almost always get an idea from reading the stories about what the current trends are and the problems my audience is facing. I almost always come up with a unique story idea simply by spending 10 minutes doing that.

    • Carol Tice

      Hey Jennifer — you know what… I READ QSR for ideas for my Forbes blog on franchising! Reading trade publications about a niche is another great way to pick up on trends that are being discussed within that industry but maybe the general public doesn’t know about yet.

      I tend to use Google Alerts to push me news releases rather than doing individual searches…but same basic drift. I find most press releases aren’t very fascinating, but read enough of them on a regular basis and you start to divine trends and see emerging ideas.

      • Sally Ashworth

        Thanks for that tip Carol. I haven’t used Google alerts but will look into it. I’ve signed up for various other press release services though, and do find them useful. I find charities send out press releases that give me good feature ideas – even if the idea I end up with isn’t directly related to the press release.

        • Jennifer

          Great idea on google alerts! I agree on press releases taken as verbatium, but sometimes they will inspire me on a topic. I have rarely (if ever) written a story straight as a press release suggested .

    • Sally Ashworth

      What I find hardest is knowing when to stop. I could spend all day hunting for ideas on the internet and end up with 100 ideas but no time to query or write them. It’s very addictive though – once you start finding great ideas, you don’t want to stop hunting!

  2. Daryl

    I’m with Jennifer – I love the Amazon idea!

    Actually lots of my ideas are beginning to come from looking through comments and forums and looking at what questions are raised – it’s an easy way to address the common fears and issues for my target audience!

    • Sally Ashworth

      The Amazon idea is a real winner. It’s so easy! Whenever I need to find inspiration I just type in a few keywords and see what turns up.

  3. Lori Ferguson

    Lots of meaty ideas here, Sally, thanks!

    I’ve recently found a number of interesting ideas in the blog posts of companies I’ve worked for or am interested in working for–they can offer great insights into hot topics and new trends in a given industry, tell you what’s new in a given company, etc.

    • Sally Ashworth

      Love the idea of looking at the blog posts of companies I’d like to work for. I’m going to try it. Thanks for the tip!

  4. Emily McIntyre

    Great ideas, Sally! Thanks! I agree with you that there are countless ways to find ideas. I’ve also had good luck with spin-offs of interviews or articles: for instance, I just wrote a piece on Kansas City’s cocktail culture, and am now going to write a piece on Missouri’s Pre-Prohibition cocktail culture.

    Also my mom feeds me article ideas! She’s a writer but we have very different specialties



    • Sally Ashworth

      Mums are great aren’t they? Mine clips articles out of our local newspaper that she thinks would make good features – and she’s usually spot on.

    • Carol Tice

      Now that’s a helpful mom!

  5. John Soares

    I got the hook idea for an article on hiking in Zion National Park from seeing my girlfriend sit on the edge of a sheer, thousand-foot cliff with her lower legs danging in space. I wound up taking it out of the lede, but I did use it in the main body.

    • Sally Ashworth

      Yikes! That sounds terrifying. Ideas really are everywhere – once you learn how to look.

  6. Shauna L Bowling

    These are great ideas and I probably wouldn’t have thought to tap these resources for story ideas. Definitely worth keeping in mind!

    Recently, I found an idea for a blog post while running errands. A lizard had made himself at home on my wiper blade while I was in a store. He hung on while I made a couple more stops and looked as if he was actually enjoying the ride. He now lives in my bougainvillea a mile or so from where I picked him up. Really, he picked me up. My blog that day featured my reptilian friend and discussed opportunity.

    • Sally Ashworth

      Great story! No lizards in rainy Yorkshire but I did find a giant caterpillar in our garden a few weeks ago so maybe there’s a story in that?!

  7. Jordan Clary

    Great ideas! I recently discovered using ebay myself. I needed some photos of antique knives for an article and came away with a couple other collectible ideas — a topic I probably wouldn’t have considered otherwise.

    • Sally Ashworth

      It’s a great place to look. I have a few eBay feature ideas brewing at the moment. Thanks for your comment!

  8. Tom Bentley

    Sally (and Carol), I heard about a distillery that was selling bourbon popsicles, and that prompted a “Five Places to Get to the Soul of Whiskey” article. (And sometimes you get to directly enjoy the spoils of the research.)

    • Sally Ashworth

      The research for the story must have been great!

  9. Joseph Rathjen

    All great tips. The other night a few of us parents were sitting around talking about how hard it is to get your kids to move out of the house. That gave me an article idea to pitch called “10-Ways To Trick Your Kids Into Moving Out Of Your House!” It’s on the comical side but a topic I think many parents can relate to. I already sent queries into 3-pubs. I’ll let you know how it goes.

    • Sally Ashworth

      Great, I love it! Hope you get that idea commissioned. My kids are still quite young but my husband is already planning our retirement!

  10. Marcie

    I get ideas from old newspapers, billboards and watching children play. For the latter, I try to think from a child’s perspective to lighten the topic or situation. It’s a challenge but I do it.

    • Sally Ashworth

      I like the old newspaper idea. It’s all about recycling ideas isn’t it?

      • Carol Tice

        Ha! First recycle the ideas, then the newspaper. 😉

        Old newspapers can be great for jogging your memory about anniversaries of big events — the earthquake, 9/11 — that maybe you want to peg a followup story to.

  11. Mridu Khullar Relph

    Newspapers in languages other than English often end up having stories that the English-language media hasn’t picked up and can be a fantastic source of human-interest pieces. (This works in all countries.)

    • Sally Ashworth

      Good idea. I like to use ideas from local newspapers too. There are often some great stories just begging to be turned into longer magazine features!

  12. Tanya

    Great ideas!! Facebook is a great way to see what topics are popular or not. I’ll have to use these suggestions soon.

    • Sally Ashworth

      Glad the ideas are helpful!

  13. Francesca Nicasio

    I love forums, Facebook comments, and even Amazon reviews. I get insights on things people are raving about, topics that are pissing them off, etc. And it helps that I get to read these things in their own words, because it allows me to sort of get into people’s heads and craft more spot-on content.

    Oh and I also subscribe to relevant SmartBrief publications (This isn’t really uncommon, but I’ve gotten a lot of ideas from doing this.)

    • Sally Ashworth

      Thanks – more great ideas!

  14. Sally Ashworth

    I read Carol’s blog avidly so it’s really exciting to see my own guest post published! I hope the ideas in it are useful and thanks for all your comments. You’ve give me some great ideas of your own.

    • Sally Ashworth

      Apologies for the spelling mistake – I mean “given” not “give”!

      • Carol Tice

        Remember, Sally, you are covered under my Universal Blog Commenters Typo Insurance Policy. 😉 No need to apologize for typos around here!

  15. Rebecca Klempner

    These are all great ideas — both the ones Sally shared and the ones in the comments.

    One of my favorite pieces that I’ve written centers on a misadventure I had that was so funny (and embarrassing) that I told most of my girlfriends about it. At a certain point, I realized that if the story made so many of them laugh, and if something about the story touched me so deeply that I felt the need to share it over and over again, I might as well try to sell it to a magazine, too.

  16. Cinthia

    Love these ideas, especially the Amazon tip. Myself, I also get a lot of ideas from Facebook and Twitter, though one of my friends wears a small tablet around his neck and jots down things people say throughout the day.
    Thanks for great prompts, Sally.

  17. Heather

    I love this post! Great ideas in here, Sandy. Personally, I enjoy eavesdropping on the train while pretending to read. I almost always overhear something that drives me crazy, but then I can write about it. 🙂 I need to go downtown more often…


  18. Jackson Anderson

    Hey Sally!

    AWESOME post!

    I wish I had something great to contribute in regards to how I find ideas, I think the comments from your readers one has already been used many times over!

    Either way, these are unique and great tips!

    I know for myself one of my fears in regards to becoming a freelancer has been the worry about running out of ideas for my blog or not being able to come up with ideas for guest posts, paid articles etc and having to flunk out on a client!

    Thanks for the confidence from knowing other ways to come up with unique and great ideas!

    All the best!

  19. Willi Morris

    I just got back from vacation and am completely exhausted but I’m seriously going to try one of these right now. Wow! As much as I fiddle around on the internet, I’ve never thought about this.

  20. Lorraine Reguly

    By listening to others comment on my blog, I have gotten many ideas for new blog posts!

    I’ve also learned to pay attention to the search terms used by people who Google decides to refer to my blog. When I keep seeing the same terms used, it’s time for a post on that topic!

    Checking Twitter trends is another source of inspiration…for some people.

    • Carol Tice

      I’ve been trying to get better about checking my analytics phrases, and I recently did get it together to do a post on one of my commonly used search terms. Think it was “lucrative freelance writing jobs.” And as you might predict, the post did very well! That’s always a good technique.

  21. Alex Sheehan

    Wow these are some really creative ideas! I know this might no be “unusual” per se, but another great place to find inspiration is by looking at other blogs in your niche and perusing comments there. And yet another is by looking at podcasts. Check out the episode library of relevant podcasts and see where inspiration may strike.

  22. DeAnna Troupe

    This is a great post! I’ve used several of these tactics. However, most of my ideas tend to come when I’m in the shower and don’t have anything to write them down with. ARRGH. I may start keeping a notebook in the laundry room.

    • Carol Tice

      I know there are write-on boards for the shower…you should get one! My kids used to use those bath crayons, you could keep a set handy.

  23. Ty

    FB drama = content for my singles blog, singleandhappyonline. But, I’m glad you’ve shared ideas I can use for my freelancing blog. 🙂

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