Monday, March 22, 2010

Navigate the 7C's for new article ideas: plus, net a larger audience(and more pay) by reworking concepts.(freelancing).

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WHETHER YOUR freelancing forte is how-to, biography, business, history, humor or some other subject, inspiration is all around you. Nonfiction writers are sometimes advised to write about what they know best. Bah, humbug! That's what good research is for. If I played by that rule, I might spend the rest of my writing career limited to writing articles on human resources (what I know best professionally) and organizing yard sales (what I know best personally). Expand your nonfiction writing beyond your self-imposed horizon. You won't have to sail the seven seas to come up with fresh ideas, though, if you simply navigate through the seven C's that follow.

1 Carnivals. Oh, the sights, the sounds, the smells! Whether you're at a local charity event, a county fair or a big-ticket amusement park, the bustle of activities is sure to present plenty of story ideas. Watching the kids ride a roller coaster? How about "The Big Drop: Why We Love to Have Our Breath Taken Away"? Families strolling the midway together? "Navigating a Theme Park With Three Generations."

2 Chambers of commerce. Head downtown and mine the wealth of resources available at your local chamber. It's not just for newcomers, you know. Information on businesses, recreation, schools, the arts, utilities and so much more can serve to spark new ideas or provide important data to support your articles. Need a local angle? Think along the lines of "The Best Landscaping for a Tropical Climate" or "Where Have All Our Hardware Stores Gone?" Want a broader reach? Try "Helping Teens Avoid the Relocation Blues" or "Re-establishing Your Consulting Firm in a New State."

3 Children. Not only do "kids say the darndest things," but they can inspire the darndest ideas. Interview elementary school students about how they would improve, say, a bathtub or an automobile, then pen "What We Can Learn About Creativity and Innovation From Children." Just observing behavior at the park, the beach or the library can generate more fodder: " 'Can We Keep Him?' Kids and Strays"; "Sunscreen Myths"; an interview with a children's author. In addition, children can provide plenty of topics for the parental audience: "Five Critical Questions to Ask Potential Day Care Providers" or "Is Your Child Overscheduled?"

4 Churches. Whether you're planning to pursue the Christian market, a specific religious magazine or a mainstream publication, a house of worship can inspire nonfiction ideas, both observational and personal. Ex-plore a topic such as gays in the clergy, or interview parishioners for "How the Labyrinth Helped Me Find My Way." Of course, church-inspired articles don't necessarily have to be linked to religion. Consider secular topics for articles such as "Stained-Glass Projects Even a First-Timer Can Do" or "Fresher Than a Bake Sale: New Ideas for Fundraising."

5 Classified listings in the phone book. This one can be a nobrainer. Just close your eyes, fan through the pages and randomly point to any page. Ideas await you ... from A to Z. Appliances section? Perhaps a humor essay: "The Day My Dryer Walked Off the Job." Driver improvement section? "When It's Time to Take Away Dad's Keys." Lighting section? "Fluorescent Lighting: Friend or Foe?" Zoo section? "Animal Trackers: A Day in the Life of a Zookeeper." Let your fingers do the typing, and you'll find those yellow pages can bring greenbacks.

6 College catalogs. Here, too, there's a wealth of ideas hidden among the curricula. In information technology, "The Evolution of E-learning." In business, "Three Things You Must Know Before Re-entering the Job Market." In addition to degree-leading courses, check out the listing of personal-enrichment classes, especially for ideas on how-to articles. If there's a student audience for the course, there's a reading audience for the article. Try to take a broad topic and drill it down to a niche audience. For example, a class on personal financial planning may inspire the article "Never Too Late: A Boomer's Guide to Saving for Retirement."

7 Crowd-watching at the mall. Sometimes it's comical, sometimes it's sad, but people-watching is a sport that most of us never tire of. Think of the possibilities: "The Daddy's Guide to Public Toddler Tantrums." "Pierce This: Parents and Teens Face Off." "The Mallflowers: Organized Indoor Power Walking." The stores themselves may provide inspiration for an article. "J.C. Penney: Would His Principles Work Today?" "Natural Foods: Hype or Hip?"

Net profit

Once you've generated a winning angle, try looking at the same story through a different lens for a different publication. For example, a biographical sketch of a female CEO for a business journal might be rewritten for the teen market. A how-to article aimed at a women's magazine can be rewritten for a male audience.

This technique can be especially useful for freelance writers who have made it a point to stick to what they know. Your own experiences, your kids, your hobbies and your job may have already inspired some great article ideas for you. Use these as a foundation, but recognize when those same ideas may be ripe for retrofitting for another publication.

When I finally made the decision to leave the corporate world, I penned a personal essay about the turmoil that led me down that road. The piece was published in the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times and immediately drew one reader's response defending the legions of working mothers who couldn't make such a decision. That kind of post-publication feedback could inspire a freelancer to further explore the "Mommy Wars" phenomenon for a parenting or women's magazine.

My yard-sale experience that I mentioned earlier resulted in more than simply selling household treasures ... I sold a how-to article, "The Art of the Yard Sale," to the St. Petersburg Times as well. But a New Year's resolution to lose weight led me to rethink that article and market a rewrite as "Getting Your House in Shape for the Summer" for a home magazine. A second rewrite, "Girls Just Wanna Have Funds," inspired by two daughters hitting their parents up for cash, was aimed at the teen market.

Another time, a birthday gift from my sister--a gift certificate for a relaxing spa experience--inspired an article that detailed a humorous look at my "slenderizing seaweed wrap" treatment. "I'm Too Sexy for My Seaweed" was published in Paradise News but is also appropriate for a woman's magazine, a health magazine or the humor market.

Around my neighborhood, our annual Cinco de Mayo celebrations became legendary. After years of hosting these parties, I decided to share my know-how with others through an article that explored the history of the holiday, suggestions for invitations, decor, food and beverage recipes, activities, music and more. "Fiesta Time" was published in the Tampa (Fla.) Tribune. I'm reworking that same formula for the Chinese New Year, Oktoberfest, Bastille Day and other less traditional holidays.

When I translated my annual November holiday rituals into "How to Stuff a Two-Hour Nap Between an 18-Pound Turkey and 20 Dinner Guests," the St. Petersburg Times bought that article, too. But my hubby's backyard culinary exploits inspired me to explore a similar angle for a men's magazine with "The Xtreme Thanksgiving Game Plan for Real Men." One Thanksgiving, my then 12-year-old daughter prepared the entire feast--start to finish--by herself. I pitched the article idea to my local newspaper and, although they didn't open their checkbook for the actual article, they did offer payment for the idea and sent a staff writer to interview Kira.

Whether you are studying your own corner of the world or sailing the seven C's, inspiration awaits ... for both original story ideas and ways to remarket them. We are surrounded by resources--people, organizations, media. Cast your net. Gather knowledge. Interview. Read. Watch. Listen. Take notes. Narrow down your topic. And write away.

Donna J. Bear

Donna J. Bear is a freelance writer based in St. Pete Beach, Fla. Her published writing includes business-trend analyses, how-to articles and humorous essays.

Source Citation
Bear, Donna J. "Navigate the 7C's for new article ideas: plus, net a larger audience (and more pay) by reworking concepts." The Writer June 2007: 32. Academic OneFile. Web. 22 Mar. 2010.
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