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Build yourself an idea-generating machine

Freelancers who want to pitch need to develop a unique idea that’ll be valuable to the publication or client. Whether you pitch a blog post to a SaaS company or a culture piece to a publication, your idea should be a topic that hasn't been covered extensively before, is timely, and is relevant to the publication and its target audience.

Your checklist for what makes a good pitch idea:

  • It should be timely: A good story idea is related to current events. An example of a timely event can be a big sports event like the World Cup or a major news story like the conflict in Ukraine.

  • It should have a unique angle: Try to focus on a unique aspect of the big story. For example, when it comes to the conflict in Ukraine, you can write something related to technology and social media during the war.

  • Example: How Ukrainians are using Telegram to get updates on the war.

  • It should be relevant to the publication’s scope: Familiarize yourself with the publication and the stories they publish before you pitch to them. For example, don’t pitch a book review to a publication focused on climate change. Your pitch will be rejected on the spot.

  • It should be possible to execute: Your story idea should not be a mission impossible. For example, if you want to pitch a story related to a conflict or a refugee crisis, you must outline how you’ll interview your sources. Do you have access to the conflict area? Have you secured a visa? Do you have a safe location? Are the borders open?

  • It should include sources: You’ll increase the likelihood of your pitch being published by listing the people you want to interview for your story and their titles. For example, if you write a story about artists using AI to create digital art, list the names of the artists you want to talk to and where they’re based. 

There is a difference between good and bad ideas

Put yourself in the shoes of an editor and look at the examples below. Evaluate the pitch ideas that have thought put into them versus the ones that don’t.

❌ Bad example: Pitching a story about the World Cup.

✅ Good example: Pitch a topic about how Arab youth are rallying around the Moroccan team on social media and consider it a source of pride and a symbol of a successful Arab soccer team.

❌ Bad example: Pitching a story about the conflict in Ukraine.

✅ Good example: Pitching a story about how there is a rise in interest in Ukrainian literature following the recent conflict in the country.

Create an idea-generation machine

There are many sources of inspiration for new content ideas. For freelance writers to succeed and stay ahead of their competition, it's important to have a steady stream of content ideas. 

Your content generation machine is simply a central hub of places to get inspired for new ideas. It can also serve as a source of inspiration for new perspectives on a topic. It’s important to be organized so you won’t get lost and overwhelmed by all the available sources. Identify your best sources for the kind of stories you’ll be writing and save them in one central location that you can always go back to.

Below is a screenshot of my Notion template, where I list the creators that inspire me to come up with new ideas. I organized these templates by creating “blocks” for each category: blogs, YouTube channels, newsletters, and Twitter accounts. A quick review of this document every day or every other day can jolt your creative mind into action.

Some of the most common sources for finding ideas for stories include:

  • Current events and news: Keeping up with current events and news in their field can provide writers with a wealth of ideas for new content. Identify news sources or blogs that relate to your niches and return to them often.

  • Social media and online communities: These can provide insight into the interests and concerns of a specific audience and can help you identify trending topics and ideas. Identify a number of influencers in your niche and follow them daily to get inspired by the content they produce. 

  • Personal experiences: Draw on your own experiences and observations to generate ideas for new content.

  • Industry publications and websites: These can provide you with information on current trends and developments in the field. For example, if you cover real estate, make sure you’re subscribed to your local real estate publications or newsletters.

  • Colleagues and mentors: You can seek collaboration and feedback from colleagues and mentors to generate new ideas and perspectives. This can be a valuable way to keep the content-generating process dynamic and fresh.

  • Look for gaps in the existing literature: Identify gaps in the existing literature on a topic and propose to fill those gaps with their writing.

  • Change your perspective:  Look at one story from different angles. Try to develop a unique idea for a familiar topic by looking at it from a different perspective. For example, let’s say you want to write a story about how dog walking is a good side hustle. Instead of writing a generic one, how about writing a story about how the advents of dog walking apps such as Rover and Wag make getting an enjoyable and profitable side hustle such as dog walking a breeze

With these sources at your disposal, you'll never run out of ideas for new content! 

Write down three story ideas 

Now that you have your idea generation machine, let’s put it to use.

Pick one of the worksheets provided and write down three of the story ideas in the designated section. Remember that you eventually need to pick one idea that you’ll use in each different pitch letter.

Here is a reminder of the elements of a good story idea that were discussed in Step 2:

  • It should be timely.

  • It should have a unique angle.

  • It should be relevant to the publication’s scope.

  • It should be possible to execute. 

  • It should include sources.

For each idea, write down how you’ll start developing an idea-generating machine. What sources of inspiration are you going to use? How are you going to organize your sources in one content-creation machine?

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