By Carol Tice
(Carol is on vacation this week. This blog post is a reprint of a post that original ran in October 2009 on her writer site, caroltice.com, back when her blog was still called Start Freelance Writing. Enjoy!)
Other writers often ask me how it is that I always have so many story ideas. Back when I was a staffer and needed four story ideas a week, I often had a couple extra left over to give to other reporters.
Personally, I wish there was a brain operation I could get where I’d think of fewer of them, because it’s a bit frustrating as I can never get to them all! But on the plus side, it means I always have a lot of ideas to pitch editors. ‘
In the current down economy with layoffs abounding, having a lot of story ideas is more important than ever. Magazines and newspapers that used to have suites full of editors have often dismantled those brain trusts, and they’re looking to you – the freelance writer – to supply them with ideas.
It’s a terrific strength if you can present yourself as someone who has a lot of ideas. Being an idea factory positions you well for getting regular assignments from your editor contacts instead of just sporadic work.
Do you have trouble finding story ideas? In general, you probably need to read more widely and talk to more people.
Try these tips:
1. Plug into local events. Be aware of what’s going on in your town, and go to events when you can. Walk around, open your eyes, talk to people and see what’s there. I went to a harvest fair on my island a few weeks ago and discovered a local resident has created a reproduction 1910 gypsy wagon she uses as a guesthouse – it’s stunning, and I hope to sell the idea to a local shelter magazine. You never know when you’ll see a new product or creative idea that could be turned into a story pitch. When you’re socializing or at the gym, find out what people do – their hobbies and unusual vocations are prime story-idea fodder.
If you’re going to a local event, be sure to ask local media if they need someone to cover it – you may make a few dollars while you’re there looking for more ideas!
2. Track issues and controversies. Is your neighborhood up in arms about shoreline access, a sex offender who’s moved in, or a planned new development? You may be able to cover these for local publications or use them as examples to illustrate a national trend for bigger pubs.
3. Where are they now. If you happen to know where someone is who was once in the limelight but has been out for a while, and they’re doing something new and interesting now, that’s a great story. Folks love to catch up with figures like these, so if you have access to one, pitch away.
4. How-to pieces. The Internet is bristling with these, and if you have some expertise you can get paid decently for them. Be sure to target high-circulation or high-readership markets.
5. What’s missing. When you read the newspaper, do you find stories that raise more questions than they answer? Those missing facts are new story angles you could pick up and follow.
6. New products. If you discover a hot new product or fad that you can demonstrate has found a market, that’s a great story to tell in business magazines, or maybe a women’s or consumer magazine, or perhaps an industry trade publication. If a startup has gotten their product into a big national chain such as Wal-Mart or Nordstrom, that’s a great story.
7. Recycle. Read lower-level publications for ideas that can be repurposed for bigger, better-paying markets, perhaps by adding more sources or a national expert for perspective. Association and charity newsletters, small-town newspapers and university magazines are all great places to find news that could play on a bigger stage. It also works in reverse – scan national publications for national trends you could “localize” for statewide, regional or local publications. Be a compulsive story scanner — flip through every publication you can get your hands on.
8. Take the one-hour news challenge. If you have trouble finding ideas, you may need to sharpen your curiosity and your skills in getting people to talk to you and tell you their news. Try this exercise: Go to the center of your town, get out and walk around for one hour, with the goal of coming back with at least one story idea. Go in every shop and talk to the owners about what’s going on, talk to customers, people outside eating lunch, and people you’re waiting for the bus for. I had to do this once during a writer’s retreat at my paper, and it was amazing how many stories we came back with after just one hour.
Let me know if this gave you any ideas for stories that you sold – I love success stories!
This post originally appeared on the WM Freelance Writer’s Connection.
Photo via Flickr user alonbennett