A writer and editor walk into a bar.
“What’s the thing writers most often get wrong?” the writer asks the editor.
“Repeatedly coming up with good ideas,” the editor answers.
“Really?” the writer says. “Idea generation has always been the easiest part of the process for me.”
A writer and editor walk into a bar.
“What’s the biggest problem writers come to you with?” the editor asks the writer.
“Idea generation, of course,” the writer answers.
“So why don’t you teach it?” says the editor.
“Because you can’t teach idea generation in a vacuum,” the writer says. “There has to be immediate feedback.”
“So give it,” says the editor.
“We should give it together,” says the writer. “We can run a live online workshop. Call it Story Clinic: The Idea Generation Workshop.”
If you haven’t guessed already, the writer in those scenarios is me. The editor is my husband, Sam, who is a former British journalist, bureau chief, editor, documentary maker, and now an equal partner and the marketing head of The International Freelancer (and the rest of my business).
Story ideas are the currency of a freelance writer’s business.
I not only recommend but insist that writers come up with their own story ideas. Not only that, I believe that coming up with good, saleable ideas on a consistent basis is the key to freelancing success and it’s a skill that can override all others.
To understand why, you need to place yourself in an editor’s shoes.
Let’s say an editor has got the July issue to plan and assign. We can take for granted that she’s got more items on her to-do list than she has hours in the day. She sits down with her team and asks that everyone start coming up with story ideas for this issue, especially the four main features they’re planning to run. In the meantime, she gets a query letter from a freelancer in rural Ohio who has a unique story that she’s never heard about but would fit perfectly in the July line-up. She assigns it right away.
Now she has only three major features left to assign. The team comes up with three ideas, two of which will be handled by editors at the magazine and they farm out the remaining one to a freelancer who writes for them regularly.
What about all the other freelancers who write for this publication? They’re not getting features this month, that’s for sure.
There are more freelancers (and staff writers and editors) vying for space in a publication’s page than there are pages, which means that only freelancers who are indispensable get those few slots.
One of the quickest and best ways to become indispensable is to come up with story ideas that only you have access to or that the editor can’t assign to anyone else.
The thing to remember is that most editors hate generating story ideas just as much as freelancers do. Month after month of trying to come up with interesting things on the same general topics can get boring and unexciting so when someone offers a fresh perspective, it’s almost always welcome. Not to mention that an editor can’t keep track of everything happening in every corner of the world all the time. She may know what’s happening in all the big cities around the world, but there’s no way for her to know about small local projects that are having a big and potentially global impact. She may know about the Nobel Prize winners but not about the quirky writer who lives next door to you or the mad scientist whose new water pump technology has changed the way rural Indian farmers irrigate their fields.
When you’re new to freelancing, a unique story idea that only you can access, such as a hard-to-reach source or a story that’s easy for you to report because of your location, can help you break into major publications even without any clips or credits because if the editor wants the story, he or she has to hire you for it. If you’re established and send editors ideas regularly, they love you for it because you’ve made their job easy from beginning to end. You’re providing the whole package, a full service, and they don’t need to do anything but sign off on the ideas and the stories. The less work an editor has to do on your story—from beginning to end—the more she’s going to want to work with you. Good story ideas are key to that.
In your query letter, too, the story matters more than your experience, your clips, your credits, or even the way you’ve written it. An editor can fix a bad turn of phrase but she can’t assign a story that isn’t well thought-out or that the writer hasn’t demonstrated any understanding of. Sometimes editors will ask more questions of your query before they can assign the story and that’s a good thing. Your query letter’s job is to intrigue. And good story ideas do that automatically.
How do you come up with good ideas?
Well, that’s the difficult bit. And that’s why we’re running a workshop to show you exactly how to do it in a way that is easy, effortless, and consistent.
Story ideas can’t be generated in a vacuum. You need to know the principles, but feedback can be crucial in getting that distance to see when something doesn’t work— and how to tweak it so that it does.
You can get that feedback from editors in the form of rejections. Or you can get it from us.
Because we’re going to gather a bunch of writers into a virtual room and give them specific, focused, and personalized feedback on how to make their story ideas shine.
Between us, an award-winning, NYT published writer who has made a living from selling ideas and a former agency bureau chief turned national news editor who bought ideas from freelancers on a daily basis, we’ll give you a view from both sides of the desk and show you how to turn your ideas into published stories.
There’s seven days of follow-on support included if you’d like to ask us questions or send us ideas for review even after the workshop is over so that you can take your time to work through everything we talk about. And there will be a Facebook group where you can communicate with us and other fellow workshop participants.
By the end of our time together, you will have five to ten solid, saleable ideas that you can take to editors.
As always, we have an earlybird discount. Get in for $99 if you sign up by Monday, January 22, 2018. After that the price doubles to $199.
Sign up here:
I’m really excited about this workshop and of being able to offer you personalized support.
See you on the inside!