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Freelance Writing Tips: Generating New Story Ideas

Updated on February 5, 2015

There are always going to be those times when you just can't seem to come up with a viable, good idea or topic to write about.

Maybe you want a new take, or slant on a common topic. You might want to break into a different market. Maybe you want to re-purpose an article, which if you're new to writing, you may not quite understand what this is. Not to worry, I'll discuss it a little more later on. What I'd like to help you with today is provide a few methods you can use to generate an endless array of topics so that you'll never run out of them. Ideas are the currency of freelance writers and the more experienced you become with the trade, the process of generating new ideas does get easier for you. That's actually the simple part; locating a place for your work to earn is another issue, however.

How Do I Know if an Idea is Worthy of My Time and Effort?

Now every idea is not worth doing extensive research, interviewing people and even spending time writing about. Some ideas, as many of us already know, are just better left alone. So how do you know whether an idea is a keeper or not? Jack El-Hai, whose work has appeared in American Health and Washington Post Magazine, has laid out a few simple rules for himself. He says that, "The best ideas will carry an emotional wallop, are timely, hold interest, and affect the lives of readers or initiate curiosity in them." The idea should also be marketable, meaning it has to make you money somehow. Story ideas must influence an editor to assign you the story, or if you write for residual sites like Hubpages, Squidoo, or maintain a niche site, the article should have the potential to draw interest, views, product sales and adsense clicks. It just depends on what your career goals are.

Tip #1: Draw From Personal Experience

Tapping into experience is probably one of the most obvious ways to come up with new ideas to write on, or it can be used as a way to develop a slightly different point of view on a topic. Your life experience speaks volumes to a reader because you've been there and done that. What's even more is, you've likely found a way to solve a common problem experienced by others which you can shed light upon, helping someone else move towards solutions. Many writers of self-help topics have developed entire careers around a major trial they've overcome in their lives, which typically makes them credible experts. If given a choice, people would rather obtain the advice of someone who has gone through what they have themselves experienced.

Lots of writers get their ideas from newspapers, both old and new.
Lots of writers get their ideas from newspapers, both old and new. | Source

Tip #2: Use Stories Already in Print or in the News

This is how many of us get our writing ideas. You'll need to be an avid reader and listener of everything, not just online but in print, on the radio and on television. Read your local newspaper as well as those from other places around the globe; you'll likely notice significant differences in perspective and understanding, which can offered an interesting point of view. If you're in the habit of getting your news from the same ole' places each day, you'll need to cultivate a desire to explore other media outlets and formats. Old, outdated books and magazines are also useful. Now while it may appear that because a topic has already been covered by other media professionals and writers, what they did with the topic will be different than your particular approach. Here are a few questions to consider:

  • What are your feelings about the topic or event? Do you care about it? If so, why? Should others care? If so, why?
  • Who is at the center of the event or subject? How are they benefiting? How are they at a disadvantage?
  • Is this part of a trend? Has it happened previously with others? If so, to whom and when?
  • What specifically is the problem or conflict in the event or subject? Are there any solutions that could be explored? If so, what are they and how can they be obtained?

This is just an example of how you can ask yourself a set of questions in exploration of a topic. While the general aspects of a given topic may have already been revealed by others, you can always take it a step further and go in a somewhat different direction with it. This is frequently one of the many overlooked and highly underrated skills of the writer, which is not something you are born knowing how to do. Utilizing your curiosity and perfecting the art of asking yourself questions is something that is developed over time.

Tip #3: Organizations, Friends & PR Reps are Good Idea Sources

Because I tend to write medically-related topics, I frequently subscribe to the newsletters of relevant organizations such as the American Cancer Society and American Nurses Association to stay abreast of all the latest information. I also keep up with new study findings on or Medscape which I've used a lot as a research resource. Such professional organizations are a credible source of knowledge, not to mention story ideas. So if you write in a trade or technical capacity, be sure to closely monitor what's going on and in development for your expertise area.

And don't forget about people, yes real live human beings! They are great sources for getting ideas: friends, neighbors and business associates. What's everybody talking about? What's creating a new buzz? Pay attention to those involved in the work of public relations, what they are focused on. Keep in mind though, PR people are going to spin a topic in the best interest of their clients, but you are certainly free to explore further and create your own take on a certain subject or event.

Tip #4: Current Assignments Often Contain Another Story

I've gotten many ideas from other articles that I had been working on previously. How this occurs is, I'll be exploring something and come across another aspect of the topic in my search for information. It is frequently an interesting fact, statistic or statement made by someone which causes me to pause and want to look further and dig a little deeper, but my time and scope of the current story limits this. So I will quickly jot down a few additional notes in my notepad for later exploration to be used in a subsequent story. In essence, the extra time spent doing research can pan out to be actually worth it because another article or two, sometimes more can be gleaned from it.

About Re-Purposing Your Work

Although a common misconception, re-purposing your work is not the same thing as article spinning, which simply replaces verbiage with new verbiage without a change in the point of view of the information being told. There are software programs that perform this task and it is not meant to increase the quality of the article, but is for SEO purposes only. When you re-purpose your articles, you are in fact completely changing that content: the point of view, sources, objectives are all different. Even the format is able to be transformed such that an article could become a podcast, e-course, workshop or a video, for instance. The only commonality is the general topic. It can also be turned into a totally new article made for a brand new audience and market. While you are required to pen a new article from scratch, the advantage here is twofold; you are already familiar with the subject at hand which leverages your time and efforts, allowing you to get more out of a single project.


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    • DonnaCSmith profile image

      Donna Campbell Smith 4 years ago from Central North Carolina

      Thanks, I needed a boost. Been feeling stale lately.

    • AuniceReed profile image

      Aunice Yvonne Reed 5 years ago from Southern California

      I'm glad it was some help PageC! Sometimes it really is hard to come up with something to write about and then to have to come up with something consistently can be grueling:)

    • PageC profile image

      PageC 5 years ago

      This is an area in which I struggle, so I found your hub very useful. Thanks!