Generate and Capture Magazine Article Ideas

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As a freelance writer, your article ideas are your bread and butter. Without them, you can't pitch editors. And, given that magazines can take anywhere from two to four months to mail you a check, it is in a freelancer's best interest to keep the story submissions rolling in on a steady basis. The question is, how do you do that?

5-Step Process for Generating Topics for Magazine Writing

Here are five easy things you can do to generate and capture story ideas.

  1. Brainstorm with yourself. If you don't have anyone to use as a sounding board, sit down and let go of all the ideas that have rattling around in your head for the past several months. Don't make any judgments. There are no good ideas or bad ideas, there are just ideas. What you need to do is get them on paper, onto your hard drive, or onto your memory stick. 
  2. Let ideas come to you. Now that you've done what writers call a 'brain dump," you can concentrate on generating fresh new ideas. This, however, doesn't need to be a static activity. You can simply go through your day asking yourself, "What if," and then follow every thought to its natural end. For instance, ever wonder why the bookstore only stocks a certain amount of bestsellers? Ever want to know what kind of education your child's teacher was required to have? Have you been yearning to find that perfect stuffed pepper recipe? Chances are you are not alone. The idea is to do the research by yourself, for yourself, and then cover the subject for others.
  1. Capture your ideas. Now that the wheels are turning and you find your ideas presenting themselves to you throughout your day, the trick is to capture each one. The key is having a method for recording your ideas into something that goes with you everywhere. Think about what you have with you (or at least near you) from the time you wake up in the morning to the moment you go to sleep at night. Perhaps it's your briefcase, smartphone, messenger bag, backpack, or purse. Smartphones usually have some kind of easy memo feature where you can jot down ideas. Or, record your thoughts into your phone's voice memo app. If you're looking for a low-tech solution, put a small memo pad in your wallet, or purchase a notebook to stash in your purse. Most creative people also leave some kind of pad next to their bed for those middle of the night brainstorm ideas.
  1. Use other articles to generate ideas. You don't need to conduct brainstorming sessions in order to create ideas. Try keeping your notepad handy whenever you are reading magazines and newspapers or watching TV. If you find a particularly intriguing article or subject being discussed and you have some expertise in the matter, brainstorm some ideas how other publications would be interested in the topic, and put your own spin on it.
  2. Look back to move forward. Freelancers who have spent years producing copy can use all that writing history to their advantage. Scrounge up all those old, average articles from years ago and see if you can reboot the story what a little polish and a lot of years experience.