Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Keeping Those Ideas Fresh

I write 2 columns--my weekly "Date and Relate" one for Online Dating Magazine, and a second one about business/workplace issues set to start running in the fall for my local newspaper--and one of the most challenging parts of the whole process is constantly coming up with a new batch of ideas.

I submit the dating columns all at once, so technically I only need to come up with 4-5 ideas per month. An added challenge is that I appear to have lost my edge a bit--my column is for those still on the dating scene, while I've been happily spoken for since March. But I'm soldiering on and doing my best to keep those ideas coming!

So what's my process, you might be wondering? Glad you asked--I'm happy to share with's no big secret!

I'm listing my ideas below in the context of writing a column, which demands fresh content each time, but as I was coming up with my list, I realized that they're the same tactics I use when trying to think of article ideas, too.

Brainstorming/Free Writing. When I was first assigned the column, I sat down with a piece of paper and jotted down every possible dating scenario I could think of. I call them my "go to" ideas.

Read newspapers or magazines. My local paper often prints lifestyle and human interest stories that I find myself gravitating toward. For my dating column, I save anything I can find that's dating or relationship-related. Sometimes a column will come in response to an article, or I'll put a different spin on it and turn it into something new.

Pay attention to trends. Cost-cutting measures...going "green" awareness...they're some of the hottest topics that I've been seeing in the media lately. Can you put one of these spins on an idea from your freewriting list? I find myself on the lookout for workplace and business news and trends in preparation for my new column this fall. I wrote a column on finding love at pink slip parties, which some bars in New York City have been starting to hold each week. In many cases, it's all about narrowing your focus and/or putting a new spin on an old (or, if you prefer, "timeless") topic.

Keep an "idea file" (or several). Every article I save that's related to dating goes into my "Dating column" file, along with my freewriting notes. I also have a file for my workplace column, and a thick file for future story ideas. These ideas can come from anywhere, but I look in my local paper, and believe it or not, I've been perusing the e-newsletters, blasts, and other bulletins that I get in my work email, just in case that might spark something.

Being a writer means being able to use absolutely every bit of your life and the human experience as inspiration for your work. One of the biggest mistakes I made was telling a close writer friend of mine that I had "no ideas". It took some time, but I realized that I was way, waay off.

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