5 Creative Ways to Find Ideas for Articles for Magazines

These creative ways to find ideas for articles for magazine writers to pitch to magazine editors will help you get published. If you can master the craft of finding the best article ideas, you’ll earn a good living from writing!

“I learned that you should feel when writing, not like Lord Byron on a mountain top, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten: happy, absorbed and quietly putting one bead on after another.” ~ Brenda Ueland.

Isn’t that a calm, peaceful – yet practical – way to look at writing? Writers need to find the best words to string together to create sentences. But before the sentences and paragraphs and pages come, freelance writers need to find ideas to write about! Read on for Johnston’s tips on how to get good story ideas for magazines.

Here, freelance writer Susan Johnston of The Urban Muse shares five tips for finding article ideas. For more magazine writing tips, read From Spark to Flame: Fanning Your Passion & Ideas into Moneymaking Magazine Articles that Make a Difference – it’s a new book for writers.

Creative Ways to Find Article Ideas for Magazine Writers

Finding ideas for magazine articles to query can be challenging, but I promise there are tons of fascinating subjects just waiting for you to uncover them. Here are five of the methods that I use when I’m stuck for inspiration.

1. Read alumni publications. Class notes and alumni magazines are great place to search for under-the-radar ideas that haven’t the mainstream media yet. Which of your classmates are doing interesting research? Which ones have started companies or published books? It’s easy to break the ice with someone from your own alma mater, but remember that many alumni publications are available online to anyone, so you can also look further afield.

2. Combine two seemingly unrelated topics. What does food have to do with personal finance? Or what does the TV show “Lost” teach us about dating? By mixing together subjects in unexpected ways, you might stumble on an interesting new angle. Ditto on sources with a fresh perspective on evergreen topics. Perhaps a drama teacher could offer new insights on office communication or a telemarketer could teach us how to bounce back from dating rejection.

3. Mine your past blog posts. What subjects might lend themselves to a full blown magazine feature article? Which posts got you thinking about topics you’d like to explore in more depth? I know that Laurie has used this method of brainstorming, and I have as well. Look especially closely at what posts are getting the most comments or drawing the most traffic, as those topics might be worth exploring in more depth for a magazine or other website.

4. Follow forums. If you’re writing for an online publication, and they offer a forum for readers to ask questions and share ideas, then you’re in luck! Even reading forums on other sites can be a gold mine for ideas. Look at the types of questions readers ask each other, and see if your editor might be interested in a more authoritative take on the topic.

5. Repurpose past articles. Rewriting old articles is one of the best ways to find article ideas, because you’ve already done some of the legwork! And in many cases you can get more mileage out of the same idea by tweaking it for a different audience. For instance, the students in my writing class brainstormed a story idea about how to introduce your pet to a new baby. That article could appear in a parenting magazine with a focus on keeping babies safe around pets, while a similar article could also work for a pet-owner’s magazine (but focus more prominently on the pet angle).

For more tips, read How to Find Article Ideas That Editors Will Pay to Publish.

Your turn! What methods do you use to find ideas for articles? Have you tried any of the suggestions listed above?

Susan Johnston is a Boston-based freelance writer and blogger who has covered business and lifestyle topics for The Boston Globe, DailyCandy.Com, and many other publications. She also contributed a letter to the newly released anthology PS What I Didn’t Say.


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25 thoughts on “5 Creative Ways to Find Ideas for Articles for Magazines”

  1. Great article on creative ways to find article ideas, but I have two more tips to add:
    Controversial writing is an old journalism trick that still serves us well online. Controversial editorials, for example, are considered a good thing because they get a huge response. Even if receives a storm of negative feedback, it’s considered a success because it gained a passionate response.

    Another idea tip: If there’s one thing that’s easy to find, it’s topics that aren’t covered properly. You don’t have to the first or only person covering a topic, you just have to be the best. 🙂 If you find a post that grabbed your attention on social media but then it disappointed you with a lack of detail, take the idea, research it properly, and do it better.

  2. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Thanks for your comments — I think that finding solid, creative, valuable article ideas can be the most difficult part of being a freelance writer!
    .-= Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen´s last blog post ..Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Causes, Symptoms, and Tips for Writers and Bloggers =-.

  3. I am reading your post again and again…Really some nice tips and ways to get ideas…I must add that if you want to be a serious writer then you must seek for new and good ideas. I do really admire your works.

  4. Oh, after a trans-Pacific move that has absorbed me for a couple of months, this is JUST what I needed to read. Time to stop aimlessly gazing around and get cracking! Thanks

  5. Okay, this time StumbleUpon DOES work…I tried it successfully…

    Thanks for your comments, I love hearing from readers who are writers! 🙂
    .-= Laurie PK´s last blog post ..Types of Evergreen Articles in Freelance Writing and Blogging =-.

  6. All great suggestions–esp. reading alumni magazines (I need to do more of that). I would add that with pitching you often need to keep in mind timing. Right now I’m pitching Mar/Apr stories, which is often hard to think of when it’s snowing outside!

  7. Stephanie - Wasabimon

    A great list! Especially #2 – hadn’t really thought of this. I’ve been so bad at coming up with new ideas since the economy faltered. Freelance malaise is a bummer. :/
    .-= Stephanie – Wasabimon´s last blog post ..What Am I Thankful For? =-.

  8. Just pay attention–article ideas are all around us. I watch people. Eavesdrop on their conversations. Pay attention to what they are buying. Twitter is also a good source of inspiration. As is Facebook.
    .-= Alisa Bowman´s last blog post ..25 Things That I’m Thankful For =-.

  9. Meredith Resnick - The Writer's [Inner] Journey

    I, too, tried to Stumble this post but the link didn’t appear to work!
    .-= Meredith Resnick – The Writer’s [Inner] Journey´s last blog post ..The 5-Question [Literary] Agent Interview: Nathan Bransford =-.

  10. Meredith Resnick - The Writer's [Inner] Journey

    All great ideas. I especially think the one about Alum mags is terrific.
    .-= Meredith Resnick – The Writer’s [Inner] Journey´s last blog post ..The 5-Question [Literary] Agent Interview: Nathan Bransford =-.

  11. Thank you everyone who weighed in! I agree that drawing from your own life can be really helpful. I should have mentioned in the intro that sometimes we need to dig a little deeper or look outside ourselves to find new ideas (especially if you’ve plateaued in your personal life). Hopefully these will give you some helpful ideas!
    .-= Susan Johnston´s last blog post ..Happy Thanksgiving! =-.

  12. The talking about alumni publications is really a new idea of course and I do try to follow the rest…Anyway good work and keep it up

  13. Susan, I tried to Stumble this excellent post but it doesn’t seem to be working?
    .-= Jennifer Margulis´s last blog post ..Women Giving Birth Without Midwives =-.

  14. These are all really excellent suggestions. Thanks for this motivational post! I think I’ll send out a few queries…
    .-= Jennifer Margulis´s last blog post ..Women Giving Birth Without Midwives =-.

  15. These are helpful tips, Susan. I am forever trying to come up with new ideas. The harder I try, the less my brain is able to be creative. Sometimes they happen at the most unexpected times, usually when I am at the gym, exercising. (That’s why I keep a pad and pen with me at all times!)

  16. Jennifer,

    Thanks for pointing out that the StumbleUpon didn’t work…….I’ve fixed it.

    .-= Laurie PK´s last blog post ..Romance Tips – Easy Ways to Show Your Love =-.

  17. Very helpful post, Susan. When I can’t think of new ideas, I often take a shower. Opens the pores, opens the mind.
    .-= ruth pennebaker´s last blog post ..Sixty Things I’ve Learned in 60 Years, Part 2 =-.

  18. Your local newspaper can also highlight unusual people/events that would be interesting to a wider audiences as well.

    I also like to think about problems in my own life – stress at work, relationship issues, etc – and then write a how-to article offering advice to overcome those issus.

  19. Thanks for the tips–I’m always looking for ways to overcome the dreaded idea block!
    .-= Nancy Monson´s last blog post ..Pushing Past Limiting Fears =-.

  20. Thanks for the tips. I never thought about checking out alumni publications. I receive a quarterly magazine from my university. Next time I will really read it before “filing” it.
    .-= Rebecca´s last blog post ..National Freelancers Day in the UK =-.

  21. another thing that’s worked for me is to think about what I’ve learend from people I’ve interviewed. what else did they, or could they, talk about? is the musician a runner? is the artist a volunteer at a shelter? and so forth.
    .-= Kerry´s last blog post ..music for Thanksgiving =-.

  22. I’m still learning how to mine my life for ideas to write about. I’ve never liked writing about myself, so it’s a challenge for me to look at my life for article ideas!

    But, as George pointed out, writing about something in my backyard doesn’t mean I’m writing about ME. It’s something that I encounter in my life…..cool.

    Thanks for this post, Susan!
    .-= Laurie PK´s last blog post ..Romance Tips – Easy Ways to Show Your Love =-.

  23. These are great tips. In the past, I’ve sold articles based on questions or problems I encountered in my own life. I figured if I was wondering, others must be too.

  24. Hi Laurie,

    I would say to try and see articles in every day life. My neighbor started Alaska’s only vodka distillery. I saw an article, queried Alaska Magazine, and had the article published.

    Great articles abound. You don’t have to look any further than your own back yard, Auntie Em. Hehe.

    .-= George Angus´s last blog post ..A Roarin’ New Blog of the Week =-.