How to Come Up with Fresh Ideas for Articles

They’re closer than you think.

Photo by Johnny Cohen on Unsplash

Why have I gone so far out of my way in my writing career to avoid pitching and querying?

It’s not the inevitable rejections. Those aren’t fun, but they make the acceptances all that much sweeter.

It’s not the amount of time and effort that goes into researching and crafting a good pitch, time and effort I may potentially never get paid for — that’s not great either, but often enough the payoff makes it worthwhile.

It’s not even the part where I have to ask strangers to consider me and my work, which as an introvert can be extremely uncomfortable.

For me, the hardest part has always been this: coming up with good ideas.

Maybe it’s because, as a fiction author, my idea engine tends to run toward made-up events and characters and elaborate plot lines, but trying to think up non-fictiony things that other people might want to pay me to write about actually hurts my thinker.

This is why I’ve been so happy writing for content marketing agencies. Most of my work is assigned. I get handed not only ideas, but detailed briefs on what they want the article to cover. Even when I do have to pitch my own angle on a topic, I’m at least provided with a starting point.

It’s coming up with ideas to pitch from scratch that often leaves me scratching my head.

But as I’ve been delving deeper into the world of article querying, I’ve learned a very important fact that has made me feel a lot better about the whole thing: thinking up ideas from scratch is not how it’s actually done.

Where Ideas Come From

It turns out that writers and journalists don’t just sit around waiting for the muse to bless them with ideas to write about. Most articles are usually a response to something, the result of our personal experience, exposure to news and events and culture, all soaked into our consciousnesses and filtered through our unique perspectives. Ideas come from the world around us.

Article ideas are everywhere, if we just know how to look for them.

Where to Look for Article Ideas

Look at Your Life

The old adage “write what you know” applies here. So what do you know? What do you do for a living? What are some challenges people in that field face that you’ve conquered? Are you a home school parent who’s figured out how to streamline your school days down to two hours? Have you managed to hack your days to be more productive than most? Do you have a health condition that is under-reported on? Does one of your kids have one? Or one of your pets? What are your hobbies? Do you have an unpopular opinion about a popular movie or show? I think you get the idea. Your very own life can be a great source to mine for potential topics to write about.

Look Around at Who You Know

Is there someone in your family, network or community that’s doing something newsworthy, or unusual enough that it might make a good human interest piece? Do you have access to an expert who would grant you an interview? Does your centenarian neighbor down the street have folksy wisdom to offer about achieving longevity? Is your church launching an initiative or ministry that you could report on for the local paper?

Look at the Headlines

I generally try to avoid headlines, because these days they can ruin my mood and my day more often than not. But with a few filters in place focused on news coverage of things related to what I’m interested in writing about, scanning headlines, and occasionally pausing to read the attached articles, has been a great source of ideas. Once I started reading news and articles with a view toward making associations that could turn into articles, writing down potential ideas as I went, I came up with a few dozen that I might be able to develop into pitches.

Look at What’s Already Being Written (and What’s Not)

Let’s say you want to write about politics, and you’ve got The Atlantic in your sights. So read The Atlantic. Is there something they’ve covered about which you can offer a rebuttal or response, or a slightly different take? Pitch them your take. Or maybe there’s something they’re not covering that you believe they should. Hit them up with your take on that topic.

This doesn’t only apply to political writing. Health, parenting, education, pets… pretty much any reported topic, really, can benefit from a fresh perspective. The trick is to be very clear in your pitch that you’re not retreading the same old ground but offering a new angle or adding new information.

Look at What Science is Doing

You can’t get through a page of headlines without seeing something about some new health study dictating how much coffee we’re supposed to drink, whether eggs are good or bad this week, which diets we should all be following (or not following), or what new thing we all enjoy has been linked to cancer. The point is, online publications love to cover scientific studies, particularly in the areas of health and psychology. Pay attention to what studies are coming out, learn to be quick on the draw with crafting a query letter, and you can be the first to report on a new study. Here’s a fun site that might make a good resource for this very thing.

So there you have five places to start looking for article ideas. I don’t know about you, but realizing that I’m not the source of ideas, but merely an excavator searching for and uncovering them, has taken a lot of the pressure off. Fair warning, though — once I primed my brain to start searching for and noticing idea potential, I couldn’t turn it off. I’ve actually been waking up in the middle of the night with new article ideas, and have started keeping a notebook by my bed to jot them down.

If ideas have always been hard for you, too, take heart. They don’t have to stay hard. It’s all about training your brain to notice the ideas floating all around you, and that’s actually easier and takes less time to accomplish than you might think.

A modified version of this article originally appeared in The Working Writer on Substack.

Jean Marie Bauhaus is a freelance content marketing writer and indie author as well as an avid pet blogger. In addition to a number of both traditionally published and self-published novels and short stories, she’s also the author of Self-Publishing for the Broke Author. Learn more about her books and writing at JeanMarieBauhaus.com, where she’s on a Quixotic quest to bring back the personal blog.

Multi-passionate freelance writer, blogger and occasional novelist. Homesteader, daydreamer and ADD survivor. http://jeanmariebauhaus.com

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