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Finding work
Brainstorming ideas you can sell

On Your Own: A Guide to Freelance Journalism

> Home

> Introduction: The freelance side of life

Freelance journalism 101

> Vocabulary lesson

> Dollars and sense

> Contracts are essential

> Copyright 101

> Dressing for success as a freelancer

> Staying productive even when you’re not working

Business matters

> Five reasons to pay attention to business

> Contracts and copyright — beyond the basics

> Getting your business organized

> Separating yourself from your business

> Keeping track of business

> Taxing matters

> Insurance considerations for freelance journalists

Making a living

> Time and money

> Budgeting without a salary

> A simple way to boost your pay: Ask

> Retirement planning: Where to stash your cash?

Finding work

> Finding your way to work

> Trolling the web for work

> Inspiration for finding the story

> Brainstorming ideas you can sell

> Pitching your way to a full story calendar

> Tips on freelancing for newspapers

Marketing yourself

> Paying attention to business

> Making a home for your business on the web

> Networking: the key to staying happy and fed

> Business cards help make the best first impression

Tools of the trade

> Why journalism ethics matter

> Four tips for better self-editing

> Selected websites for finding freelance journalism assignments

> Journalism organizations

> Journalism reading list

Writers often are asked, “Where do you get ideas?” One way to start generating ideas that can turn into salable freelance articles is by believing it’s as simple as getting the brain accustomed to success. It can be that easy. Creativity is the result of proper preparation.

Writers can train themselves to develop fun, interesting ideas that will appeal to readers. It helps to understand first that brainstorming can be fun. All that’s involved is the creation of a topic list from which a writer can flesh out salable pieces.

To get ready, make yourself the equivalent of a three-legged stool: a place, a routine and a system.

Finding a comfortable location, or “muse” place, is the first step. If that place is in a beanbag chair and you go there at 2 a.m., fine. If it’s in the greenhouse or garage, great. It could be on the couch, with the TV off or muted. The key is that the spot is both mentally and physically comfortable.

Once you have a muse place, establish a routine. Include actions guaranteed to help get the most from your musings. Using a laptop and word processing program works for some writers. You might have to fight against drifting over into social media, but the upside is that the Internet is at your fingertips if you need to do research.

Open a new document and start banging on the keys to record any random thoughts that come to mind. Put down the simplest statement you can for each idea — free of specifics, but detailed enough to spur your brain back to task if you decide to write that piece. A simple list of questions can come out of such a musing and brainstorming session, any of which could become a full-fledged article:

Just let what’s around stimulate the imagination. If that seems difficult, practice at it. If difficulty persists, try online repositories of blog-post ideas. The Internet is excellent at leading writers in different directions based on what people are talking about. Google and Twitter highlight trends of what people are discussing online. These can spur the imagination and serve as sources of ideas that resonate with editors.

Another option: Look at the calendar. Many publications tend to feature seasonal articles. Look at online archives — or check out your local library, which will have magazine archives going back a few years. See what favorite topics come up, figure out a fresh spin and visit the archives monthly for more inspiration.

Finally, consider your inner voice. The questions and conversations you have with yourself are probably similar to those many others have. Flesh out those ideas to solve a problem, and the result likely will be something an editor would want to feature.

Brainstorming isn’t difficult and definitely is easier than writing a complete article, so find a happy place, do some brain training and look carefully at everything around. Focus on subjects that have sold in the past and the ideas editors yearn for annually. The result will be a repository of ideas that can be sifted whenever the muse is resting.

Contributor: Jeff Cutler


Last updated: June 2018

Copyright © 2012-2018 by Society of Professional Journalists. All Rights Reserved.

Questions or comments? Please post them in the Freelance Guide Comments forum of the Freelance Community Board or email fcguide@spj.org. We’ll answer as soon as we can!


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