How do you come up with your article ideas? For some writers, this is the most difficult aspect of the job. But this will be a problem no more if you follow this good advice. You might recall the song “My Favourite Things” from the Academy Award winning film, “The Sound of Music” written and composed by Rodgers and Hammerstein. In the scene accompanying the song, the character of Maria encourages the children to overcome their fear of thunderous booms and lightning crashes by thinking of their favourite things. This trick of redirecting attention can also be used when it comes to finding story topics for articles and feature stories. Writer’s block will be a thing of the past when you use this technique. Recalling an extended list of our favourite things can be the bricks that build the road to action and hopefully a profitable sale.
“Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens, brown paper packages tied up with string! Cream coloured ponies, crisp apple strudel, door bells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles, wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings, these are a few of my favourite things…..”
Brainstorm. Just look at the juicy abundant list of possible article topics you can puzzle together from Maria’s favourite things. You might choose to summon a feature on rose growing, jot a comparison of ten types of herbal teas and their health benefits, scribe a how-to article on knitting funky winter gloves, research the disappearing art of letter writing and those who refuse to let it die, offer your take on five upmarket ways to serve schnitzel, share a travel feature on Germany eateries complete with beer accompaniments, an expose on the practices of zoo keeping, or showcase a range of beautiful hand-made gift wrapping ideas for the season. It’s easy to write what we love and it’s as simple as spinning a key word or phrase and seeing it from all kinds of viewpoints.
There are seven steps that will help you find a wellspring of ideas and grow each one into a spectacular article or story.
1. Research. What do you want to do in this wonderful life? Travel or holiday in exotic locales? Meet eccentric or entertaining people? Take interesting detours? Immerse yourself in decadent food and wine? Turn every moment into an opportunity. Take note of unusual events within 200 kilometres of your town and jump in. Write lists of intriguing questions to ask your friends and colleagues and dig deeper into what you are learning. Activate your right brain and embrace daydreaming as a tool. Doodle as you ponder. Keep notes of every encounter and stash it in a folder marked ‘bright ideas’ on your computer or note pad. Write your own mantra to ‘bring the energy of your adventures into your writing’ and people will clamber over mountains to read.
2. Call on your angels. Asking your higher power (by whatever name-your angels, your God) for help is a very useful, if somewhat esoteric tool for finding the right word or source for your feature article. Do not underestimate the power of those things that cannot be seen or measured. Some of my best and most popular work has grown from a seed I was given in a dream or a random conversation. Seek guidance and support from your own personal cheerleading squad. Pose a question just before bed and let it simmer in the pot of dreams. Keep a notebook by your bedside to take down any insights you find upon waking.
3. Turn off the television. A writer’s key characteristic is to develop sharp eyes that have the ability to transform what they see and experience in the real world of exuberant action and activity into their own form of word magic on the page. The biggest challenge with television is that it overloads our sensory systems with static and images not of our own making and lulls us into complacency, requiring us to sift and sort the good from the bad. The candy-like pull of television stops us finding our own voice and also eats up our valuable time. We find ourselves spending another night on the couch and avoiding the work of writing our own stories. We become an observer rather than an active writer. Turn it off and make a nightly goal of writing 1000 words before bed.
4. Write it. Pick up the pen or keypad. Write down your ideas, logically group them together and sleep on it. Allow sleep to bring you fresh ideas and a new perspective. Avoid all distractions including social outings or events that call you away from the keyboard on designated writing days. You might be surprised by the ease of the work once you commit to finishing the task in a specific timeframe. You are doing what you love.
5. Rewrite it. Know when to stop! Rewrite, reword and juggle it to make the words tell an unforgettable story. Paint a word picture to match any photograph.
6. Polish it. Remove all ineffective words, sharpen the language, edit, edit and edit some. Run your work through a spell check program and then find a friend to read it through once more for an extra measure of spelling security. When all is done, read it out loud to yourself. This is by far the best tip I’ve ever learned to make sure my work makes absolute sense and that my ideas flow smoothly from one point to another.
7. Put it in an envelope and post it or attach it to an email.This is the final but most important step. A writing piece is effective when it changes lives and perspectives. The goal of all working writers is to push their polished work into the marketplace where it will hopefully be read by an abundance of intelligent people, and earn money from the blood and sweat that lives on in the story. If you’ve been sitting on your work for months, or stashing it in a drawer, it’s time to let it go out into the big wide world. Letting go is the hardest part of writing yet frees the writer for new, pleasurable work.
Your favourite things. May they now include the pleasure of writing for joy (and potential profit) and the exuberant feeling of a job well-done.