What Should I Write About?

Here’s a question that sometimes plagues new freelance writers. “What should I write about?”

When article ideas don’t come easily to you, when you’re not tripping over ideas with every step you take, when your creative well seems to have run dry, where do you go for help? Sometimes the answer is as easy as deciding what to fix for dinner tonight.

Scores of magazines offer recipes and menus to help you get a meal to the table on time. The same thing is true for writing subjects. The answer to “What can I write about?” can be as simple as picking up a publication or spending time at a local newsstand checking a magazine’s table of contents.

Here’s one example:

An article by writer Marge Jesberger in the March/April issue of Writer’s Journal offers this gem:

Demand is Great–You Can Supply

Every time you pick up a magazine, you see something on diet or exercise. You also see articles on flea markets in the spring and snow sports in the winter. You feel the market is glutted, so why compete? That is the best reason to submit a well-researched and up-to-date article on these subjects. If something is popular, editors and publishers are on the lookout for more of the same.

That advice holds for most any type of magazine — general interest, specialty, trade journal, health care, business, you name it. Back in journalism school, our instructors used to call the perennial sellers “evergreens.” These are types of articles — much like asters, daylillies and other perennial flowers that emerge for us to enjoy year after year— that come back regularly and never seem to go out of favor with readers.

So if you want to know what to write about next, pick up any target magazine of your choice and look for “evergreens” within its pages. Check several issues, maybe even go to the library and read back issues to find out which evergreens the editors seem to favor.

Then get busy and query with an updated version of one subject that you like. Granted this approach won’t result in blockbuster articles that fetch big bucks, but it will keep you writing, get your name and writing skills in front of editors, and probably add a modest sum to your yearly income.

I think you’ll find that editors welcome queries about the tried-and-true subjects that please their readers. And that can be a quick way to get a byline and a check — and sometimes a regular writing gig with a publication.

Please leave a comment.

© 2009 by Laverne Daley

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GUEST POST: 7 Ways to be a More Productive Writer

It’s a pleasure to present here another Guest Post by prolific freelancer, Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen. You may remember her last post on this site, 19 Editorial Tips from a Senior Editor, which drew kudos from readers. This Guest Post is also sure to be a big help to every freelancer who reads it.
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7 WAYS TO BE A MORE PRODUCTIVE WRITER

Even the great writers – Margaret Atwood, Mark Twain, Joan Didion, J.K. Rowling – had to start somewhere! We’re all on equal footing when it comes to a blank page, a blank computer screen, a blank slate. We all struggle with motivation, inspiration, and productivity.

Here’s what Atwood says about the writing process:

“All writers must go from now to once a upon a time; all must go from here to there; all must descend to where the stories are kept; all must take care not to be captured and held immobile by the past,” said Atwood.

Whether you’ve been writing for 24 hours or 24 years, you have to find ways to get from a blank page to a great story – without being held immobile by the past! I hope these seven ways to be a more productive writer help smooth your journey…

1. Focus on accomplishments – not activity. It doesn’t matter how much time you spend burrowed away in your writing hole…it matters what you are accomplishing. As a full-time freelance writer, I could spend all day “writing” but not actually accomplish anything. To be a more productive writer, I need to set specific goals: find a new writing market or two every day, brainstorm a new magazine article idea or two a day, recycle old query letters and ideas, etc. What goals should you be focusing on?

2. Commit your plans to paper. I don’t always write my writing goals down on paper – but I need to! My motivation to write this “ways to be more productive” article is that I’m in a waiting place: waiting for magazine assignments, book contracts, and new websites to launch so I can apply to write. Instead of waiting, I need to step away from the laptop and revisit my writing goals…because this is my career.

3. Reject unrelated activities. “Refuse to become involved in anything that does not move you closer to the accomplishment of your goals,” writes Winget in People Are Idiots and I Can Prove It (if you can get past the title, it’s a good book!). If an activity does not move you closer to where you want to be as a writer, then don’t do it.

4. Protect your writing time. To be more productive, you need to jealously guard your writing time! It’s one of those “simple but difficult” writing tips: set your writing schedule, and do not answer the phone or knocks at the door unless someone is on fire.

5. Write when others aren’t around. If possible, schedule your writing time for when you’re alone: an empty office at lunch or after 4 pm (if you have a day job), early in the morning (before everyone gets up), or on weekends when the family is doing their thing. People are distracting!

6. Set limits on the time suckers. For instance, as much as I love – and learn from – Twitter, it can be a HUGE drain on my time and energy. Connecting and building relationships with other writers and “Tweeps” is great, but it’s not a way to get more writing done. Your writing schedule should not include Twitter, Facebook, or internet surfing activities. Your writing time is strictly for WRITING.

7. Remember how fast time flies. My biggest fear is turning 95 years old and regretting that I didn’t spend more time deliberately planning my writing career and life. I’ve got no problem with getting older…I just don’t want to waste my days doing things that get me nowhere! So, to get more writing done, remember that you only have a limited amount of time. If you don’t write now, you won’t likely be writing later.

If you have any thoughts or questions on these ways to be a more productive writer, I welcome your comments below!

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Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen is a full-time writer and blogger who created and maintains a series of Quips and Tips blogs: Quips and Tips for Successful Writers, Quips and Tips for Achieving Your Goals, and Quips and Tips for Couples Coping With Infertility. She’s also the Feature Writer for Psychology Suite101.

Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen’s websites:

TheAdventurousWriter.com

Quips & Tips for Successful Writers

Quips & Tips for Achieving Your Goals

Quips & Tips for Couples Coping With Infertility

See Jane Soar: Life Lessons From Successful Women

Come follow me! http://twitter.com/QuipsAndTips

© 2009 by Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

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A Bit of Writer’s Block Advice and An Announcement

Here’s a bit of perspective about writer’s block from an interview with novelist Alice Hoffman (author of Incantation, Here on Earth, The Story Sisters and many other novels, books of short fiction, books for children and young adults, plus many nonfiction pieces).

When the interviewer asked Hoffman if she ever had writer’s block and if so what she did to overcome it, this was her response:

I didn’t believe in writer’s block until I had it — twice in terrible periods of my life. Both times the only way out for me was to start writing, and through the process of writing, something appeared. i decided I would write five pages a day and not look at them for three weeks. Part of having writer’s block is feeling it’s worthless or you’re worthless and you can’t do it right. {You have to tell} yourself, “I’m just going to write, and I’m not going to look at it. I’m not going to judge it.” By the time you look at it, there may be something inside of it you can use.”

The interview, “Writing Her Way into the Story,” by Elfrieda Abbe, appeared in the July 2009 edition of The Writer. Read the entire piece for a look at what Hoffman has learned along the way since her first novel was published when she was 21 and still a student at Stanford University. It’s a very informative piece that we can all learn from.

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Now for the announcement. Come back to this site soon for a Guest Post by Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen, a full-time freelance writer on Bowen Island, BC, Canada. Laurie’s post won’t be about writer’s block but about how to become a more productive writer. Her post should be up early next week.

© 2009 by Laverne Daley

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Found: Another Helpful Website for Writers

Today I came across another great website for writers. I found it to be very helpful for freelancers; I think you will too.

WordCount–Freelancing in the Digital Age is the brainchild of Michelle Rafter, a reporter and blogger who regularly covers what’s happening at newspapers, magazines and Web-based news organizations. She launched the website last year to chart how digital media is changing what is news and how we write about it. She also writes about the art and science of writing and how to run a freelance writing business.

Here are just two examples of what I found valuable at her site: “10 things a freelance writer can do today to feel better about the economy and your place in it,” and “10 things J.K. Rowling taught me about writing.”  I’d like to cite one item from each post.

From No. 6 in the first article:

“Go through your contacts. Look at your Rolodex, Outlook, LinkedIn connections or Facebook friends. Reach out to any who’ve taken a new job or moved to a different company to say hi or reconnect. Not every communication has to be specifically about work, but you never know when a sample “How’s it going?” could open the door to an opportunity.”

Here’s the first lesson she learned from J.K. Rowling:

1. Persistence counts. Rowling got the idea for the Harry Potter in 1990 and spent 17 years working on it before finishing in 2007. Seventeen years — that’s as long as it takes to go from kindergarten through high school.

The takeaway: You may start out loving a project but the day may come – days, weeks or months into it – you’re so bored, frustrated or fed up you want to scream or put it away forever. But look what can happen if you gut it out.”

Whatever your writing interests or your level of experience, I suggest that you go take a look at Rafter’s website. I think that you, too, will find it a valuable help in your writing business.
© 2009 by Laverne Daley

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