How to keep track of all your freelance article ideas

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If this is a problem for you, congratulations! We’re talking about having so many ideas for articles that you struggle to keep track of them all. While some people have a hard time coming up with ideas, we know that others seem to have an unending supply of them.

Ideas can come from anywhere: a news story, a blog post, something you overhear in a cafe, an incident you observe while you’re on the bus. Often, this will spark the thought: “There’s a story there somewhere”. However, you probably need to do some research or think about the topic before you can turn that spark into a viable story idea you can pitch to editors.

Here are two vital steps you need to take to turn your mishmash of ideas into real articles:

1. Write them down!

The first step in keeping track of ideas is, quite simply, to write them down. It sounds so basic but many aspiring writers overlook this simple activity. As a result, that spark can slip away just as easily as it came into your head.

While that spark is trying to emerge into fully fledged idea, you start reading a new blog, you pay for your coffee at the cafe, and then realise that you’re parking meter is up. Or you get off the bus and decide to go grocery shopping.

So, whatever you do, when the spark ignites, write your idea down. And try to avoid writing something cryptic like “Conversation at the cafe” because if you’ve had a particular busy or stressful week, we guarantee you will not remember what that scintillating piece of conversation was about! Try to flesh out the idea as much as you can at that point in time.

Where do you write the ideas down? It depends on what’s going to work for you. Some ideas:
(a) Email it to yourself.
(b) Use Evernote and keep an “ideas” folder.
(c) Use an app like Trello where you can also have a section for “ideas” and then eventually move them into a section for “works in progress” and then “done”. It’s very satisfying.
(d) Start a Word document called “ideas”.
(e) Write your ideas in a notebook.
(f) Take a photo (if you’re confident that photo is going to remind you of that idea).

On a recent episode of our podcast So you want to be a writer, journalist and freelance writer Allison Tait said: “I find that if an idea comes to me, I can tell when it’s really good. When an idea is really good, I act on it straight away… So I write the pitch and I send it off.”

Valerie Khoo added: “I have a specific folder for ideas in Evernote. So when an idea presents itself to me, I will email it straight into the ‘ideas folder’ in Evernote.” Valerie admits that weeks can go by before she looks at the folder again. “But at least I know I have a central repository and an ‘ideas collecting system’, so I’m never scrambling around for bits of scribbled paper with cryptic words on them trying to figure out what idea I was trying to capture at the time.”

Allison said: “Sometimes I’ll look at my ideas folder and think: What was I thinking? But, sometimes, I can see I’ve had three different ideas which don’t necessarily work separately. However, if I can put them together, they can sometimes become one really good idea. And that’s a good reason to write things down because then you don’t have to remember and your brain’s not working overtime all the time.”

2. Turn your idea into a solid pitch

Once you’ve decided to pursue an idea, you need to turn it into a solid pitch that an editor will find appealing. In order to make this happen you need:
(a) A strong angle
(b) A clear idea of which publication the story would suit
(c) A written pitch that you can email to an editor
(d) The name and email address of the editor of that publication.

Then pitch the editor. After all, there’s no point having great ideas unless you’re going to execute them.

Too often, we can let our ideas swirl around but never give them the chance to fully form. Or we’re too scared to pitch our ideas because we’re afraid our ideas aren’t worthy – and we’re afraid an editor will reject them.

Get over that fear.

Don’t let your ideas languish in your “ideas folder”. Take time to flesh them out and turn them into real pitches. Your ideas only get you halfway there. Executing ideas is when magic can really happen. So take action.

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