How Freelance Writers Generate Article Ideas That Sell

Pitching queries that contain article ideas that actually sell is a huge part of successful freelance writing – and luckily, it gets easier and easier all the time! Here are several tips for freelance writing and generating article ideas.

First, a quip from the best-selling author Lawrence Block:

“I suspect television is a great source for story ideas. I’d use it more often if I could bear to watch it, but I generally can’t,” writes Block.  I’ve never actually tried it, but I bet TV is an extremely effective way for freelance writers to generate article ideas.  

Lawrence Block’s Telling Lies for Fun & Profit: A Manual for Fiction Writers is an excellent book for freelance and other nonfiction writers. It’s basically a compendium of the articles Block wrote when he was the Writer’s Digest columnist, so he’s writing from years of experience as both a magazine writer and best-selling novelist. Okay, on to tips for freelance writers to generate article ideas that sell…

How Freelance Writers Generate Article Ideas That Sell

1. Consult your crystal ball. My newest best practice is consulting the National Health Observances website from the National Health Information Center. For instance, July is Juvenile Arthritis Awareness Month – what can I write about juvenile arthritis, and who would publish it? Remember to stay six months ahead of the game, unless you’re writing for an online publication. Then, a couple months in advance should do it.

2. Focus on “the same yet different.” Lawrence Block said editors and readers want “the same yet different.” To generate article ideas that sell, look at published magazine or e-zine articles. How can you take those popular ideas and give them a twist? My “Happy Eco-Friendly Valentine’s Day” article for Reader’s Digest a couple years ago is a perfect example of “the same yet different.” (Back then, it worked. Now, that idea is just the same old-same old!)

3. Read letters from ALL readers. “Letters from readers often furnish me with ideas for future columns,” writes Block in Telling Lies. Fellow scribes, you don’t need to be a columnist to get ideas from letters to the editor! Those letters – whether they’re addressed to you or not – are an article idea breeding ground because they point out inconsistencies, ask questions, and trigger future possibilities.

4. Answer questions on blogs and forums. A fellow writer on Suite101 – bless her heart – is becoming the QUEEN of turning writers’ questions into articles! She’s amazing. She’ll answer the writer’s question on the forum, end with “Hey! This could be an article!” and voila! It’s posted the next day. This is a brilliant way to write relevant articles and blog posts.

5. Hunt for great feature article ideas. “You can’t wait for inspiration to strike,” said Jack London. “You have to go after it with a club.” I delegate one day a week as “Pitch Day” – and I recycle old queries and generate new article ideas. If I don’t have article ideas ready and waiting, I pick up my club and go hunting. I stay away from national news sites – they’re crawling with hungry freelance writers and established columnists generating the same article ideas. Instead, I go to my favorite websites, poke around their most popular articles, and find ways to develop certain points by asking who, what, why, when, where, and how. Read

6. Look at the magazine’s ads. I recently saw an ad for “Yoga Toes” in Health Magazine. To generate article ideas that this magazine’s editors might buy, I’d put my curiosity cap on: Why do we need Yoga Toes – what does it do for our feet? Who wears them? What else would Yoga Toes wearers be interested in? Who created Yoga Toes? And when you’re pitching an article idea to an editor, remember to ask if his/her magazine’s readers would want to read that particular article. (Ask yourself – not the editor).

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7. Share with other writers. I have several article ideas that I probably won’t write – some that publicists and readers send me, some that I have no desire to write but are good ideas anyway – that I’d happily share with other freelance writers! In fact, I’ve Tweeted two ideas that other writers are welcome to use – and I think I’ll make that my newest best practice (I’m @quipsandtips on Twitter, by the way). Just because I’m not interested in writing about, say, internet addiction, doesn’t mean another writer wouldn’t run with the idea. To share article ideas with other writers, start by offering ideas you can’t or won’t use. They may do likewise – and you’ll soon be generating interesting new article ideas that sell! For more info, read Twitter Benefits for Freelance Writers.

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If you have any tips for how freelance writers can generate article ideas, please comment below…

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3 thoughts on “How Freelance Writers Generate Article Ideas That Sell

  • Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen Post author

    Thanks for your tips — it’s always great to hear from feelow freelancers. And yes, a specific Pitch Day is a great way to stay organized and focused.

  • Tumblemoose

    Every once in a while I’ll take out my Writer’s Market and just thumb through the pubs listed there and see if anything strikes my fancy or inspires me. I tag the page and then work on queries when I have the chance.


  • Monica Shaw

    I like 3. and 5. I often skip the reader letters but that’s silly. After all, figuring out what a publication wants is all about understanding the pub itself AS WELL A its readers. I like your idea of having a “pitch day”… I come up with ideas all the time but many of them get lost in long forgotten to-do lists and scraps of paper.