Do You Have Story Idea Constipation? How to Break the Logjam

Carol Tice

Waiting to use the bathroomEver had a great idea for an article?

The moment you think of it, everything comes to a halt. You are entranced. You love this idea!

You’re sure you know the ideal publication for it, too. A big, important, great-paying magazine.

This is the idea that’s going to transform your portfolio and make your career take off. You can hardly sleep at night, thinking about how great this is going to be.

And there, your troubles begin.


The one-idea trap

Weeks or maybe months later, you have yet to send this idea out. You haven’t sent any other ideas out, either. All you think about is this one, amazing idea. You daydream about what it’ll be like to see your byline in that well-known magazine.

What’s gone wrong here? You’ve forgotten that the key to freelance writing success is to send out many, many ideas, as fast as you can.

Instead, you’ve fallen in love with this one idea. It’s so special that your query letter is never going to be good enough for you to let it go.

This one is just too important. You’ve got to rewrite it one more time!

You’re stuck. Instead of moving you forward, this idea has brought your whole career to a halt.

I call this problem story idea constipation. You become obsessed with a single article idea, and it stops your whole marketing machine dead.

How to move forward

How can you kick your one-idea fixation, and start regularly sending your article ideas out? Here are my tips:

  • Create a deadline. Give yourself a week to work on this, after which you must either press ‘send’ or move on.
  • Pitch down. You may have developed a complex because of how high-powered your target magazine is. You don’t feel ready to pitch them! So don’t. If you’re never going to send it off to your dream magazine, try pitching down the chain. Maybe a regional city magazine instead of a national lifestyle mag. You can always reslant this idea and pitch it nationally again — nationals respin ideas from regional and city mags all the time.
  • Pitch simultaneously. I know, the big magazines tell you they don’t want simultaneous submissions. Know what? That’s too bad. You’ve got to eat, and you can’t wait two months to hear back, so you can pitch the next publication. Think of this like applying to college — you apply to your favorite, but also hit a couple of ‘safety’ schools. Have several editors looking at your idea ups your odds of getting a ‘yes.’
  • Break up with your idea. Maybe you’re not sending this idea out because really, as you think more about it, the concept falls apart. Perhaps it’s not the One Great Idea you thought it was. It’s time to end this doomed romance and come up with other ideas. Or…
  • Refine your idea. It’s possible what you have so far is the germ of an idea, and you need to keep working on it to create the best, most newsy angle for it. If you don’t know how to do that, it’s worth it to learn how to craft salable story ideas. Once you’ve got a focused pitch, it may be easier to write — and to feel more confident sending it out.
  • Set a query goal. Prevent yourself from spending too much time on any one single idea by creating a target for how many queries you will send each month. If you’re serious about finding new magazines to break into, I’d recommend at least four, one a week. Better would be 10 or more.

Commit to developing many story ideas, and you’ll avoid a creative blockade that stymies your marketing — and keeps you from earning well. Better yet, you’ll spend less time worrying about the fate of each query you send out, because you’ll have already moved on to writing the next one.

How do you come up with story ideas? Leave a comment and tell us your approach.




  1. Evan Jensen

    The title of this post made me smile. It’s partly because I know first-hand what it’s like to get stuck on an idea. But I’ve also got three little kids, and thankfully only one still needs potty training. Constipation and breaking the logjam still comes up frequently. One phrase we use to help the little ones take care of business actually applies to getting queries out the door too. “Just go in there and try.” All the stall tactics aren’t going to help get the job done. Keep pitching, and you’ll feel a lot better than just holding on to that great idea.

    • Carol Tice

      I love it! A motto so many more writers should adopt.

  2. Vicky Poutas

    Hi Carol,
    You hit the nail on the head with this post. I managed to get one great (I thought) idea, then just kept “tweaking” the query. As a result, that idea has only been sent out to a couple of magazines, all nationals, and all probably to the wrong editor. Meanwhile, my creative muscle isn’t being exercised, and my ideas are drying up. Time to get unstuck. I’m going to look into the regional/local mags you talked about. How do I go about finding them?

    • Carol Tice

      I think most of us find them on our local newsstand, Vicky. For instance, here in Seattle we have Seattle Business, Edible Seattle, Seattle Magazine, Seattle Metropolitan, Seattle’s Child, etc. The Writer’s Market also has many of them. And Google can also help.

      But the bigger issue…is to have more than one idea to pitch them! Right?

  3. Rachel

    Another “Just what I needed to hear today” topic. The goal setting is particularly helpful, because I find a lot more success when I can quantify my efforts. Thanks for motivating me to get going in the right direction.

    • Carol Tice

      Glad I could help, Rachel! I think it’s a totally different mindset, when you say, “I’m sending 10 queries this month” vs sending a query now and then, whenever you think it’s ‘ready’…which can often turn out to be never.

    • Sham

      Dear Carol,
      Thank you for putting it right again! Better to fix the numbers down than to have a vague idea about where you are heading.Which reminds me , I have to put my first step forward , yet !

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