The Beginner’s Guide

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The Beginner’s Guide to Freelance Writing

The Big Idea
Okay. So youve figured out that you would like to write for magazines, newspapers, and e-zines. Unfortunately, so have about eight gazillion other people on this planet. Therefore, you have to stand out from the crowd. You have to sparkle. How do you do this? Simple. It all starts with The Big Idea. The first secret you must learn in this funny business is that you dont actually have to write the whole article to get a job. In fact, only bright green novices attempt to write the whole thing before selling it. What you do need, however, is the IDEA for the great story. You will use this great idea to convince editors to pay you exorbitant amounts of money via a proposal letter (called a query letter. But youll learn about that in a minute).
So, where will you find this Big Idea? Well, youve heard that wise adage write what you know. Thats a wonderful mantra for finding your jumping-off point. You dont need to stick to what you know for the specific focus of your story, but tap into your already huge vat of knowledge to find the storys basis. This is how you will become an expert. Experts are in demand. People with stories arent. What you have to do is sneak your stories into your areas of expertise. Example: lets say your hobbies and interests include fishing, watching talk shows, and traveling. Good! You are a potential expert in those areas. Jot these things down. Now comes the fun part: brainstorming.
The biggest mistake you can make in pitching your story is being too general. Never, ever send a letter to the editor suggesting an article about fishing. Not even an article about fishing in Florida. This vagueness is not appropriate for short writing. In general, you will be expected to write somewhere between 800 and 2000 words on your topic. You couldnt possibly tell us all about fishing in 2000 words. What you could do, however, is give us a comparison of twelve different lures used to catch sailfish. Or the pros and cons of joining a fishing club. Or even how the moon can tell you if itll be a good fishing day.
So heres your first assignment. Get out your trusty notebook. (If you dont have one, stop reading and get one. Right now.) On the first page, write down a list of any and all topics that interest you. Its okay to be general here. Need some ideas to get you started?
Think through your whole day. Dont neglect anything. What do you do from the moment you wake up until the moment you fall asleep? You turn off your alarm clock. (An article about alarm clocks disrupting valuable sleep stages! Or waking up to music versus waking up to that annoying beeping sound. Or the optimal number of times to press the snooze button.) You brush your teeth. (Article: What all those touted ingredientsfluoride, peroxide, baking sodareally do for your teeth.) You take a shower. Maybe with your significant other. Lucky you. (Romantic showers for two.)
Moving on. You go to work. This is the most obvious area of expertise. Lets say youre a secretary. How ergonomic office equipment can save you from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, an achy back, and a stiff neck. How to avoid screaming at your boss when hes a total idiot. Five couples (or ex-couples) share their wisdom about dating in the office. Think about what cover story would entice you to pay three dollars for a magazine. You dont have to have the knowledge to actually write the article yet. You just have to know you can get this information later.
Next, you come home. What happens? Do you have kids? Great! A wealth of article ideas. You could write about childcare agencies, potty training, decoding teenage slang, teaching table manners youre getting the idea now, right? Run with it!
Write at least one page of general topics that interest you, then weed out the most interesting ones. Narrow it down to three or four. Then write those three or four topics on top of brand new pages. Now fill up those pages with specific article angles. Just write. Dont edit yourself. Dont judge. Just write whatever pops into your head. If you need motivation, play it like a game of Scattergories. Set a timer for ten minutes. See how many ideas you can jot down before the timer sounds.
Keep in mind that there are markets for almost any conceivable topic. Dont limit yourself to the headlines youd read in Vogue and Good Housekeeping. Between newspapers, consumer magazines, trade magazines, e-zines, tabloids, literary journals, and more, youre bound to find an appropriate publication for your Big Idea.
You want to know more about these markets? Read on!
Researching the Markets

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