Equipping Writers for Success
The Writing Life
The Writing Life
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by Patricia Fry
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One of the questions most frequently asked at my workshops and writing presentations is, "Where do you get your article ideas?" Once you've written several articles on your pet topic, then what?
I suggest looking everywhere. I maintain that if you don't see article ideas all around you, you aren't paying attention.
Seek and you shall find article ideas at work, at the grocery store, while vacationing, at your family Thanksgiving celebration, even at your preschooler's dad-and-daughter picnic. I discovered a $2,000+ idea once while watching my grandson's Little League game. I sat next to a gentleman who happened to be a professional storyteller. I later interviewed him and wrote a beautiful piece called "The Healing Power of Storytelling" for The World and I Magazine. And then I sold reprints and rewrites.
While in line at the post office one day, I met a retired woman who had recently started her own home repair and decorating business. I sold her story to a retirement magazine and a couple of business magazines. My daughter introduced me to friends who were operating a side business making and marketing plastic crawdads for fishing. This connection resulted in an article featuring garage and basement manufacturing businesses for Business Start-ups Magazine.
Write About What You Know
What skills do you have? What are your interests and hobbies? What insights have you gained in your line of work or in your life that may be of value to others? When I first started writing, our family was involved in horses. Our daughters competed in local horse shows and we enjoyed trail riding and horse packing into wilderness areas as a family. I turned some of my firsthand knowledge, experiences and observations into articles for horse magazines. My first article and my first sale was a piece featuring ideas for things you can make using horse show ribbons. I sold articles on how to create hairdos for horse shows, how to make chaps and featuring tips for horse show mothers. I also found homes for a humorous piece about raising a foal and a story of a near tragedy in the mountains involving horses.
Write About Things You Want to Know
A good way to learn about something is to write about it. Someone I met once, upon learning that I wrote articles on many subjects for a variety of magazines said, "Wow, you must be the most intelligent woman I've ever met." Not even! I'm simply curious by nature and I enjoy the research process.
As an example, I suffered a slight spell of heat fatigue once. Out of curiosity I researched heat-related illnesses and then wrote a couple of articles about how to prevent and treat them. So far, these have appeared in travel and parenting magazines.
We found three feral kittens last spring. The research necessary to properly care for these fragile animals resulted in success with the kittens and a feature article for Cat Fancy Magazine.
Years ago, I visited the Denver Zoo where I was introduced to a pair of Pallas cats. I was intrigued and wanted to know more about these exotic animals from Russia. The editor for Cat's Magazine shared my interest and immediately assigned the piece. The research for this article included a close-up and personal VIP tour inside the Pallas Cat exhibit.
Share Your Experiences
Your experiences and how you perceive them are completely different from anyone else's. Don't disregard them. In article form, they may serve to entertain and help others while making you a little spending money.
We once found ourselves taking care of an older horse. We discovered that old horses need special consideration and care. I wrote an article for Western Horse Magazine about our trials with this aged equine in hopes of helping others make the right decisions for their own elderly horses.
My book, The Mainland Luau, How to Capture the Flavor of Hawaii in Your Own Backyard, stemmed from our experiences presenting annual luaus for 75 to 125 people at our home.
I've generated around $2000 over the years writing about something I do every day: meditation walking.
Relate the Experiences of Others
Create a limitless supply of fascinating material by tapping into the life adventures of family, friends, coworkers, neighbors and acquaintances. My brother is a former horseshoer who also does metal sculpture using horseshoes. I've sold a couple of articles about him and his work.
My niece's mother-in-law was growing African violets and selling them through mail order from Montana. I contacted this woman and subsequent interviews lead to several articles for a variety of magazines on aspects of starting and operating a mail order plant business as well as care tips for African violets.
Look Everywhere for Article Ideas
While most people complain about standing in line or waiting for the doctor or dentist, I consider waiting an opportunity. The next time you find yourself waiting for something, instead of pacing and griping, tune into your own thoughts. It's amazing what can occur to you if you'll just quiet your mind. Pay attention to what's going on around you. In other words, eaves drop.
My book, Creative Grandparenting Across the Miles, Ideas for Sharing Love, Faith and Family Tradition (Liguori Publications), resulted from a conversation I overheard while standing in line at the grocery store a couple of years ago. Two women were talking about how difficult it is to bond with grandchildren who live in a different state. I began thinking about what I do to maintain a close relationship with my long-distance granddaughter. I collected ideas from other grandparents, several of whom admitted that they don't feel as close to the grandchildren they see less often as they do those who live nearby. Convinced that this would make an interesting useful article, I sent out some query letters. The resulting article appeared in Columbia and Signs of the Times before Liguori Publications offered me a book contract.
Stop, Look and Listen
Pay attention to the world around you. Notice what other people are doing and listen to what they are saying. Other people are excellent resources for a writer whether you write nonfiction or fiction. I have a friend who develops characters for her novels by spending time in a variety of settings. She might do down to the waterfront, to a local beach or an amusement park to people-watch.
There are some pearls that escape form the lips of others and it's worthwhile listening to them. I once overhead someone talking about their horrible vacation and that inspired me to write a piece I call "The Inner Vacation." This concept has earned me hundreds of dollars in articles and reprints for a whole variety of magazines, including women's physicians, travel, religious, senior and regional.
Your local newspaper is brimming with article ideas. Don't let a day go by without reading every section.
Use the Internet
You'll be surprised at the ideas that will flow when you spend time visiting the wide array of websites. I've come up with ideas for articles on preventing and managing altitude sickness, web shopping tips, conquering boredom in your pets, a piece featuring the reminiscences of the elderly as we approached the millennium and what American officials are doing to prevent school violence.
Pay Attention to Trends
Watch for trends and occurrences from which you can create useful meaningful articles. I once pitched a piece to Catholic Forester Magazine on how to help children through the grieving process. They held onto my query for several months. When the Oklahoma bombing occurred, they immediately contacted me and asked for a piece on healthy grieving that would also relate to this tragedy.
Write From the Heart
What are you passionate about? How would you like to make a difference? What segment of the population do you most want to reach? I want to make a difference for children and have been fortunate enough to be invited to contribute some meaningful articles pertinent to this cause. I've written articles on teaching kids responsibility through pet ownership, how parents can help their children be more successful in school, how to help kids get the most from their organized sports experience, how to get along in a stepfamily and several articles on being a more effective grandparent.
Where are all the good article ideas? I maintain that they are everywhere. All you have to do is pay attention.
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.
Patricia L. Fry has been writing for publication for over 30 years, having contributed hundreds of articles to about 250 different magazines and e-zines. She is the author of 25 books including A Writer's Guide to Magazine Articles for Book Promotion and Profit and The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book (Matilija Press). For more inspiration, information and resources from Patricia Fry, follow her blog at http://www.matilijapress.com/publishingblog/.