As a freelance writer, 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 idea is to do the research by yourself, and then cover the subject for others. Keeping your mind open will allow you to see things you normally could not. Starting to build article ideas conceptually is a good strategy if you have the freedom, and allows for the raw formation of ideas you can flesh out into work you can sell.
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. The "webbing" technique is popular, where the topic is positioned at the center of a brainstorming web. This involves creating a map to show how various pieces of information relate to each other.
Let Ideas Come to You
Now that you've done what writers call a "brain dump," you can concentrate on generating fresh new ideas. However, it does not 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.
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. Revisit what you have jotted down once the romance of the idea has lessened and you can judge the idea on objective merit.
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.
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. Some websites like when you update articles, as search engines crawl updated content more readily than old pages that have not been recently updated.