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The Lucrative Business of Dumpster Diving for Discarded Freelance Ideas


Cash in on Discarded Freelance IdeasHave you ever come up with a bunch of good freelance ideas and then tossed them in the virtual trash?

You brainstorm some freelance ideas for a query or letter of introduction to land an assignment. You even write up a partial pitch.

And then for whatever reason (fear, procrastination, shiny-object syndrome, or too many open windows on your computer), those freelance ideas never make it to the Great Beyond.

Been there, done that?

If your hard drive looks like the inside of a hoarder’s house stacked with unfinished freelance ideas in every corner, it’s time to put on some rubber gloves, and start digging through the trash.

Why? Some of your discarded freelance ideas are worth money, an assignment, your next best client.

Having a little hoarder freakout about now? Here’s what you need to do:

Don’t be afraid of digging through the trash

Do you have any unfinished query letters or article ideas?

I started digging through my drafts folder recently and found more than one query letter I started working on months earlier, but never sent.

Go ahead. Start digging through your unfinished pitches. Anything good?

When I went dumpster diving for old freelance ideas, it made me think of where I’ve come from. 

I owned a tattoo shop for 10 years. I learned how to tattoo in prison, even though I never actually did it with prison-made tools. I’ve had many careers. There are better writers, tattoo artists, contractors, and drug counselors than me, but I never lacked the confidence doing my job.

Being a freelance writer is the first time I started a career and felt like a fraud.

Can you relate to this feeling?

In the Jeff Goins book, You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One), he writes: 

Many writers fall into a trend with or without realizing it. The trend is that we all have many pieces of work that have been left unfinished and half-written…fear of finishing.”

Negative self-talk, self-limiting beliefs or doubt are usually the reason you give up on finishing a query or letter of introduction

That’s what usually stops you from polishing those pitches and sending them out. Here’s what you can do about it:

Be helpful

Here’s one way to determine if one of your freelance ideas is worth saving. Will it help someone else?

If the answer is yes, take a few minutes to clean up that query or letter of introduction and send it off.

Here’s one discarded idea I found in my drafts folder:

My husband and I had just finished his green card application. It was a stressful process. But he got through it with a little help and support. I started writing a pitch about how couples can navigate the green card application process, and avoid the stress we experienced.

Would this information help someone else? I think it would.

  • Dig through your unfinished collection of queries or LOIs. Will your story idea or pitch help someone else? Finish it and send it off.

Get ‘just enough’ research

Ever heard that voice inside your head that says, “You’re not an expert. You don’t know enough about this topic. You shouldn’t even be writing about this.”

These are lies that can stop you from completing a pitch, and land you back in the market for a J-O-B, quick.

It’s easily fixed with a little research or an interview with an expert.

If you find yourself mulling over an unfinished query, thinking, “It’s not good enough,” do this:

  • Take a few minutes and educate yourself. Researching a topic, the audience, the publication, is quite easy.
  • Spend 5 or 10 minutes on a few websites to get the background info you need to improve your pitch.
  • Pick up the phone and call a source if you need to. Or send an email to set up an interview.
  • Limit your research time. If you endlessly study a topic, you’ll never write that query or LOI.

Here’s an article idea I salvaged with a little research:

I found another unfinished query I started about the trend of people getting tattoos of Chinese characters. Any idea what those characters actually mean? If you don’t speak or read Chinese, it could mean anything.

A friend thought she had the Chinese character for “butterfly” tattooed on her. But after finding a reliable way to verify the meaning of a Chinese character, she discovered her tattoo actually meant “easy.”

I didn’t finish this query the first time around, because I felt like I needed to be an expert in Chinese characters.

When I came back to this idea, a little research helped me realized my pitch was really about choosing a tattoo. Good enough to send it to an editor for consideration.

Focus on process goals

Have you ever had an article idea that you can’t stop thinking about?

You know, the first editor to lay eyes on your pitch will salivate over every word and commission you to write the piece.

Day and night you think of the success this article will bring. Until it consumes you. But you just can’t get it perfect.

So you work, and work, and work, on tweaking it for days. Carol calls this The one-idea trap.

It’s one of the most common reasons great freelance ideas end up in the virtual trash bin.

But if you want to move up and earn more, you need to let go of perfectionism. You need to put more queries and LOIs out there for that to happen, and it just won’t if you’re fixated on perfection.

  • Set process goals to help you avoid the one-idea trap. Instead of spending days, weeks, or even months on writing a single query, set a goal to send out X number per day, per month. Your pitch might not be perfect, but it’s the only way to start landing more assignments.

Cash in on discarded freelance ideas

Dig through your trash. Take a peek at what’s in your drafts folder. Sift through your unfinished queries and LOIs. There’s a good chance you can cash in on some of your discarded freelance ideas if you’ll just clean it up and send it off.