My Writing, Writing advice

Writing articles: coming up with ideas

I’ve had a few friends ask me how I get articles published, so I thought I’d write a series of posts about the process. This first one is about where to get ideas for articles. It is mostly geared towards print magazines, as that’s where the majority of my work gets published, but a lot of this will apply to online publications and newspapers too.

Go into a supermarket, newsagent or WH Smith and you’ll find hundreds of magazines. And most of these magazines will rely on freelance writers to produce at least some of their content.

I have a few different approaches to generating article ideas. There are lots of ways to go about it, and this is based on my own experience – there’s no wrong or right way to create ideas!

Browsing magazines

One way is to browse magazines and think about whether you could write something for them. Often I’ll be reading a magazine and find this sparks my imagination, finding myself thinking about articles I could write that would fit.

The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook lists hundreds of magazines and newspapers – I like reading through and highlighting any that sound promising, and then go and research them in more detail by reading through.

Write what you know

I regularly brainstorm ideas in my notebook, thinking about what I’m interested in or have experience of that could be used in an article. For example, one of the main areas I’m interested in is disability: I’m disabled, and have worked in the sector, giving me a good grounding in various topics.

I think about what themes or topics I could cover based on this. So, I might list “being a disabled student”, “disability travel”, “disability and employment”, etc. I would then think about these in more detail. Let’s take “disability travel”, for example. I could think about places I’ve travelled to and could write about, or advice for disabled travellers, or hotels that cater well to disabled people, etc. I would then research potential markets and think about what matches up.

We all have things we can write about. Think about your job, your hobbies, your travels, any challenging experiences you’ve had… Are there interesting angles you could take on these? I find creating mind maps or doing some free writing on a topic helps me think through potential approaches.

Combing the two approaches

Often, I find that my article ideas come from a mix of these two approaches – I may know I’d like to write for a certain magazine, especially one I am already familiar with, so I’ll brainstorm ideas that could fit that publication.

Or, I may know I want to write an article on, say, the Lake District, so I’ll read relevant magazines and think about what angle I could write.

It’s important to remember that it’s hard to sell generic articles. So, with my Lake District idea, a simple “Guide to the Lake District” is likely too general to get taken up by an editor. One of the first articles I had published was for Cumbria magazine where I wrote about my experience of going to the Calvert Trust outdoor pursuits centre for disabled people in the Lake District. I was writing about something quite unique that it’s likely hadn’t been pitched to the editor before, giving it a much stronger chance of publication. While I did interview someone from the centre to add depth to the feature, I mostly drew from my own experience to write it.

Next steps

Keep a list of all of your article ideas, even when they’re really rough. I have a spreadsheet with two tabs: one of what I’ve pitched and where, and one with a (sometimes pretty vague) list of article ideas and potential markets. I also have jottings down in various notebooks where I’ve brainstormed ideas. I often find article ideas can take a while to form. I’ll make rough notes and then come back to these a few days later, finding taking a fresh look can help me see the idea from a new perspective.

Once you have an idea as to which publication you’d like to write for, it’s important to really understand that magazine. The next blog post in this series will look in more detail at how to analyse potential markets in order to develop your initial idea further and to get the best chance of being commissioned. Go grab a notebook and start creating some ideas!

My Writing, Travel

Adventure Travel magazine Helm Crag feature

I’m very happy to have a feature in the Sept/Oct issue of Adventure Travel magazine – which is also now available to read on their website. The article is based on a walk Gary and I did last August up the fell Helm Crag in the Lake District. We both adore the Lakes and I always find my trips there leave me full of ideas.Adventure travel mag - Copy

The feature includes a photo of mine from the walk. For a lot of articles, especially travel, being able to provide accompanying photos can be the difference between selling the feature or not. A few years ago I invested in a DSLR camera, partly because I enjoy photography anyway and liked the idea of capturing high quality shots of my trips, but also because I knew it would help with my writing.

Helm crag

I have sold features with photos taken with a phone camera, like my “A Weekend Getaway to Stoke-on-Trent” feature in Simply Vegan earlier this year I didn’t fancy photographing my food in restaurants with a bulky camera! But I’m glad I took my DSLR with me to the Lakes as the photo that accompanies my Helm Crag feature takes up nearly a double A4 spread, and a photo taken with my phone wouldn’t have had the same level of quality to it.

Reading through this current issue of Adventure Travel has me wanting to get out exploring our beautiful countryside more. I live near the Peak District and haven’t been there nearly enough. Maybe this should spur me and Gary on to go out there, with the camera, and do some more walks.

My Writing

PosAbility magazine article

I have spent this evening curled up listening to the summer rain while drinking (decaf) coffee and reading through the 50th issue of PosAbility magazine.

This wonderful disability lifestyle magazine has been around for five years now. I’ve been a subscriber for part of that time and always enjoy reading each issue, from travel features to advice on disability related topics. This 50th edition sees the magazine have a total redesign, making it look much more modern and engaging.

PosAbility article

And I’m very happy to have a feature in this special issue of PosAbility! I talk about disabled student support (which seems to becoming my area of expertise!), reflecting on my journey from nervous fresher to completing my MA.

I write about disability a lot as it’s an area where I have a lot of lived experience to draw on, and I love sharing my experiences in the hope that they will help others who are going through similar things.

My Writing

Able magazine article

I’m happy to have an article in the July / August issue of the wonderful magazine Able. In the piece, I share my experience of being a disabled student and accessing support at university.

Disability is one of the key areas I write about. I am also passionate about higher education – I work in HE, and really believe in its transformative potential. I’ve written before about being a disabled student, and it’s good to be adding Able magazine to my portfolio.

You can read my article in the print magazine or their digital edition which is available here.

My Writing

Article in Simply Vegan

Simply Vegan MagazineI’m happy to have an article in the current issue of Simply Vegan magazine about vegan friendly places to eat in Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire.

There’s nothing nicer than catching up with people you care about over food and a few drinks. I love going out for something to eat, whether returning to a favourite café for coffee and cake or trying out a new restaurant with my fiancé and our friends. I’m also passionate about good vegan food, so writing about vegan places to eat locally was an obvious choice.

The article gives my recommendations of several cafes and restaurants in the local area that are worth visiting for those interested in or following an animal free diet. It was hard coming up with a shortlist of places as there’s an abundance and ever growing list of great eateries that cater for vegans, so I tried to get a mix that showcases different types of food, from a Chinese restaurant that does amazing tofu dishes to a community café that serves cheap but delicious homemade vegan cakes. My aim was to write an article that features something for everyone and highlights some of the great vegan options out there in a part of the country I’ve been happy to call home for nearly nine years.

My Writing

Setting writing goals for 2019

I regularly review my short term writing goals, such as planning to pitch an article by a certain date or to hit a certain word count on a longer piece of work. As 2018 ends, I find myself thinking about what I want to achieve in 2019.

Book SimonOver the holidays I’ve been reading The Positively Productive Writer by author Simon Whaley. It has been helpful in setting myself some pretty ambitious writing targets for the coming year. Unlike many of the writing books on my shelves, Simon’s isn’t about the art of writing itself but, rather, how to be a positive, productive and therefore hopefully more successful writer.

He covers areas such as how to set yourself a mix of short, medium and long term SMART goals, dealing positively with rejection, and organising your writing life. I really want to make a big push with my writing career in 2019, and this book has been useful in planning ahead.

My fiancé, Gary, and I had a wander around Hanley earlier today, weaving through the crowds of post-Christmas sales shoppers to go for a coffee and mince pie at Caffe Nero (it is honestly one of my favourite places) where we chatted about our respective resolutions for 2019 (his music, mine writing), followed by a browse around Waterstones. I picked up a copy of Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook 2019, which is an invaluable guide with lists of magazines, publishers and agents, as well as containing useful articles about various aspects of writing. I’m going to be making the most of the remainder of the Christmas break by reading through this book with a highlighter, finding inspiration for possible places to send my work in the coming months.

What are your writing aims for 2019? What helps you set them?

Travel, Uncategorized

Coffee, books and zines

Last Saturday I took the train down to London to spend the day with my good friend, Anahita. We met at uni but even though we now live far away from each other, we still make the effort to meet up as often as we can.

I love London. Every time I visit I find it such an invigorating place, with so much going on. After meeting at Euston (and stopping off at Boots to buy an emergency bottle of sunscreen), we headed to VX shop and café near Kings Cross for a chat over vegan junk food, before a quick wander by the canal and then heading to the British Library.

The British Library is an impressive modern building, which is free to enter. You need to apply for a pass to access the reading rooms, which we weren’t there for, but we had a look around one of the exhibition rooms. It featured old manuscripts – I was particularly interested in the display of Marx’s old letters and documents, including one of his tickets for the reading room at the British Museum.

We managed to nab the last available table in one of the library’s cafes so we could sit and have a good catch up over a soy latte. It’s useful for me know now where the British Library is and what it’s like in case I ever need to access the reading room for research.

somerset houseOur next stop was Somerset House, located right by the Thames. When we arrived late afternoon there were dozens of children in swimwear jumping around in the fountains in the cobbled courtyard while their parents sunbathed nearby. Who says you need the coast for summer fun?

We were there specifically to see the free entry Print! Tearing it up exhibition. Exploring the history of independent magazines, with a focus on their modern relevance in a digital age, the exhibition featured hundreds of indie mags from the past century, with accompanying information about some of the publications. It was interesting to see old copies of magazines – like Time Out and Private Eye – that have gone on to become mainstream, as well as lower-circulation ones. I have been interested in zines for a while (I wrote in a previous post about making a zine for my MA), particularly as a medium for marginalised voices, so I really enjoyed Somerset House’s exhibition, especially the political zines.

I know that London is a great place for independent restaurants, but with not long before my train home, we headed for Pizza Express. Which was good. Even if they did put non-vegan salad dressing on their vegan pizza.

I’d love to return to London again soon to explore more cultural sites. We only visited the one exhibition at the vast Somerset House – I’d like to have a look round the rest sometime. But, of course, sunny Stoke has its own cultural gems, some of which I still need to visit. Lots more day trips are on the cards!