Sunday, November 8, 2009

Generating Article Ideas- 20 Strategies that Work!

Ever faced a block while looking for new things to write about? Ever wondered whether this is the oft-heard of writer’s block or something even more malicious? Ever felt as if this was the end of your brilliant present or future career as an article writer? Have no fear and certainly don’t fret! Although not exactly classified as a writer’s block, this particular situation can get even more frustrating than the former since the words are just aching to spurt out onto paper. At some point of time or the other, ALL article writers face a wall trying to locate and generate new ideas for their articles. Submission deadlines make the situation all the more worse. However there are ways and means to keep producing beautifully worded pieces of art, even when the creativity streak is running thin. Here are some of the strategies that work well for most people:-

1) Research- This is the first course of action any article write turns to, whenever in need for new ideas. In fact thorough and intense research is the pillar of any writer’s career. And I think it’s safe to say that it’s the most productive way to get a new title for your story. Years ago, research would probably entail scouring through truckloads of books and interviewing people. In today’s day and age, apart from books, magazines and interviews, research can involve a whole gamut of avenues-a major chunk of which is contributed by the internet- a wonder of modern times. The amount of information available in cyber world is immense to say the least. Simply scouring through Wikipedia and the various cross links that it provides, can be enough to help you come up with new ideas for your articles. Apart from this, ezines, article directories and content sites can provide enough food for thought to last you till your next dry spell. If you’re still dissatisfied and hungry for more, search for random topics on any functional search engine such as Google, Ask Jeeves and Dogpile. To check out what the rest of the world is searching for, websites like Yahoo Buzz!, Google Zeitgeist, Google Trends, MSN Search Insider and Dogpile Search Spy are wonderfully addictive. To find out what other people have to say, sign up on Yahoo Groups or Google Groups or alternately search blogs on Technorati, Craigslist and the like. Other websites such as Digg, Reddit, Fark, Slashdot and Metafilter, are information packed services that allow users to share, post and comment on links on various news items and random information sources- a definite ‘must try’ for someone looking for ideas.

2) Google alerts- As a journalist myself, I could not be stronger in my recommendation of this tool as a brilliant source of new article ideas. I can safely say that leads for around 70% of the business articles I have written so far, have originated from Google alerts. If you’re looking for information on a particular topic, sign up for Google alerts for that topic at a frequency of your choice (daily, weekly etc). Also, News Now is a great website for a collection of up to date news information, so add the webpage in your favourites list and go through it whenever you have a spare moment.

3) Maintain a journal- Journaling can be a fascinating way to scoop out new ideas from events that have already happened in your past. Make note of incidences, observations and feelings on a daily or weekly basis in your journal, and when you feel your head going blank as far as ideas are concerned, go through what you’ve noted in your journal. You’ll be surprised at what you find. You’ll probably be even more surprised with the voluminous stories that emerge simply from your own personal life experiences.

4) Observe- If you have decided to write-either as a hobby or as a full time source of living, you will have to learn to hone your observation powers to the point where they are absolutely razor sharp. Nothing should escape your field of vision. Even the slightest details-even ones which may be in the background-are worthy of you attention. These could be about a situation, a person’s physical description, what you may think he/she is like, some sign you saw on a store board-it could be just about anything that strikes you as noteworthy. Keep a notebook with you to document your observations wherever you go(wherever it’s possible to carry a pocket sized notebook with you) and turn to these observations when you’re at your desk hunting for article ideas. The number of stories which will emerge in your mind as a result of the observations will never cease to amaze you and you will be thankful for that little notebook which has proved more than handy to many writers in the past.

5) Absorb and regurgitate- Similar to point number 4, with a change in only the slightest aspect. Often you will not have the note book handy with you. For these moments, make sure you are able to absorb your surrounding environment or the situation of interest like a sponge. Pay close attention to details when someone is speaking to you. Listen to every word he/she is telling you especially if he/she is knowledgeable about the topic of interest. If you are at a zoo and wish to write something about a pangolin, make sure you read and absorb everything written/described in the pangolin enclosure. When you get back to the handy notebook, regurgitate what you have absorbed. Always make sure that at the end of the day, your handy notebook has everything written down in black and white. No matter how strong your observation and absorption prowess, it is dangerous for a writer to only trust his/her memory and instinct.

6) Go for a walk- One of the most common cures for the writer’s block-taking a break. Writers-especially freelancers are often racing against time-working round the clock to meet submission deadlines. Frequently a writer’s mind is crowded with the assignments on hand and the situation only worsens when he runs out of writing ideas. The best temporary way to deal with this is to drop your writing for an hour or two, go take a walk out in the sun (or in the rain-whichever suits you better) and let your mind wander. Once you get back, more often than not, the short rest and recreation period will have jolted your mind back into churning out the good ideas.

7) Eat healthy and exercise- More of a generic panacea for most troubles, this is a suggestion I would make for all your writing issues. Having a healthy body and mind, not only eases your writing, helps you create new ideas and increases your energy levels to cope with the chaos, but also contributes significantly to improve your writing over time. Try it. It works.

8) Don’t hesitate to talk- As a writer; you must never hesitate to talk to family, friends or even strangers as the situation demands. If you do have a fear of asking questions, get over it! Writing entails frequent question-answer and quizzing sessions-but more often than not, turning to one’s own family and friends for their opinions, can help generate ideas like you wouldn’t believe. Never undermine the importance of any small question or opinion. You never know which viewpoint would give you your next prize-worthy article idea.

9) Re-visit your archives- Your archive of previously written articles (published and unpublished) can prove to be a goldmine of information for new ones. Always keep a copy of everything you’ve written in the past and scan through your file of past articles every now and then to brainstorm for new ideas.

10) Re-read unproductive queries- Apart from maintaining a history of all your previous articles also ensure that you maintain a separate record of all the query letters you’ve sent to various publications, which were returned unaccepted. There is always a thing or two to be learnt from failures and definitely new storylines to be unearthed from returned queries.

11) Keep track of historical milestones- History has a great lot to teach and definitely a lot more to contribute for the future. Maintaining a diary or record of all historical milestones-local, national, personal or otherwise, will inevitably prove useful someday when you’re at your desk, scratching your head in frustration trying to search for things to write about.

12) Maintain a ‘cuttings’ file- Once you have finished reading your newspapers, magazines and old books, cut out articles, teasers and anything else which strikes you as interesting. File them away in a folder under different sub-sections according to genre. When you go through the file in the future, you are bound to see something that catches your eye and gets your brain whirring again.

13) Post regular surveys- Use your blog, web page or web site to post surveys, polls and questionnaires for your guest visitors-to get an inkling about their opinions. Having diverse viewpoints helps one maintain an openness of mind which is essential to good writing. Additionally, inputs from different people provide a definite pool of ideas for new articles and stories.

14) Localize a national trend and vice versa- It could be fashion, it could be political or it could be a plain and simple employment scenario. Whatever it is, if its happening on a national level, you could draw some parallels with the local situation (could be a town, district, or your backyard gully). Alternately a localised incident or trend could be magnified and explored on a nationalistic level, thereby giving it wider exposure. You can take it further and rope in the international scenario too if you are really into it. All in all, keep your eyes open to happenings local, national and international, your mind open to ideas and your creativity on full steam.

15) Social networking sites- Social networking is the buzzword these days and what better method of churning out new ideas than flowing with the huge cyber population and interacting with it? If you don’t have an account on social networking sites such as Orkut, Facebook or Hi5, then my strong advice to you would be to go ahead and get one. Possibly on as many such sites as possible. If you wish to interact on a more professional level, with people from various fields and occupations, LinkedIn is the way to go. In a nutshell, social networking allows you to come face to face with a large populace and numerous thoughts and minds-thereby giving you access to more new ideas for your article or other writing activities.

16) Online bookstores- The internet is bursting at the seams with details and websites of publishers, writers and book sellers. The next time you’re online attempting to search for article ideas, hunt for online bookstores (eg. Amazon) and look at their bestselling lists. You can also look for websites of actual bookstores and check the bestselling lists there. Alternately visit these bookstores and scour through their top published works. Also look for publisher’s online and go through what they have to provide and watch the ideas surface as you reach for your pen (or keyboard).

17) Classic Classifieds- Advertisements and classifieds in newspapers, magazines or even specific journals, can be a treasure trove for new article ideas. Imagine looking through the JOBS section in a newspaper and coming across an advertisement looking for a marine mammal research specialist. You could think of ten topics on the spot including different types of marine mammals, the kind of research marine mammal experts conduct, marine mammal locations worldwide and in your vicinity, endangered species, conservation activities-the list could go on and on.

18) Miscellaneous sources– A wide range of other miscellaneous sources for new article ideas include bumper stickers, church catalogues, press releases and greeting cards to name a few. To cite an example, I once passed a car, that had a bumper sticker which read, “This car is magic-Just watch the petrol disappear” I immediately got to thinking about petrol as a sparse natural resource and managed to pen down an article on the subject once I got back to my desk. Greeting cards-which attend to nearly every emotion, celebration and event these days, can also prove to be exemplary sources for new ideas. Keeping track of regular church catalogues and subscribing to some sort of PR wire for regular press release news alerts also increase your chances substantially of coming up with new things to write about.

19) Wordtracker- Keyword Wordtracker is an SEO (Search Engine Optimization) genre free tool which allows you to locate and access the top 100 searches related to the keyword you use in the tool. The best part about this tool is that you not only get access to an array of search results related to your topic of interest, but also see if anyone else (and how many people) is searching for the same thing and structure/direct your article according to the traffic your keyword receives. Wordtracker is a rather user friendly tool. You simply have to visit , enter your desired keyword and click on the ‘Hit Me’ tab.

20) Mind mapping- Wikipedia defines a ‘mind map’ as “a diagram used to represent words, ideas, tasks, or other items linked to and arranged around a central key word or idea.” According to Wiki, mind maps are most useful when it comes to generating, visualizing, structuring and classifying ideas, among other things. As such, it would be prudent to say that mind mapping and brainstorming over a central key subject, can provide many branches of thought and ideas, which could very well culminate in a well rounded article.

All the above-mentioned points are strategies that work either individually or in permutations for different writers. Ultimately it all boils down to what suits YOU and what gets YOUR creative juices flowing unhindered. I would suggest that struggling article writers begin by trying out all the above-mentioned methods and then figure out patterns and combinations unique to their own system of working. Who knows? You may also develop a new strategy along the way. No matter what the situation, do not give up on yourself and your writing. Remember-There is ALWAYS something waiting to be discovered; there is ALWAYS something to write about. What matters is how well you search, how much you find and how strongly you believe. Happy writing!
---------Shreyasi Majumdar

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