Writing for magazines can be fun and sometimes you can even get paid to write an article. First you need to brainstorm some ideas. In On Writing Well William Zinsser says, “No area of life is stupid to someone who takes it seriously. If you follow your affections you will write well and will engage your readers.”
Before forming an article idea take a look at yourself and those around you. Make a list of your own skills and interests, and a list of the interesting people you know—including friends of friends. What and who do you deal with in your daily life? Even if you work in a car wash others could benefit from your experience, because you could write about how to avoid damage to a car when it goes through the mechanism. Everything, even the simplest tasks, could result in a writing prompt. A friend of mine sold a piece to a glossy magazine about organizing family photos. If you don’t have an exciting career or a fascinating hobby, look at the people around you. I knew a lady who owned a massage school, so between interviewing her and the contacts she gave me, I wrote something about the benefits of massage.
Chances are other people will enjoy a topic you’re excited about. But take time to mull over the idea and be sure you’ve looked at all aspects. Good ideas get dismissed, and bad ideas can be turned around by adding a simple twist. I find performing minimal tasks, like laundry, helps me relax and lets the ideas spin around in my head and come out fluffed up. Will the subject be interesting to enough people to warrant writing about it, or can the idea be beefed up to reach a broader audience?
The most common type of articles fall into five categories:
PROFILES: Personality profiles can be done on just about anybody—the family around the corner who’s kids are all honor students, your friend’s friend who recently published a book, your neighbor who sold his house to buy a camera and make an independent film, or the lady at your church who volunteers 75% of her time to several organizations.
REVIEWS: movies, books, CDs, restaurants, art exhibits, plays (don’t forget the ones at the community college), the jazz group that performs at the local café, the new cheese shop down the street.
COMMENTARIES: Your opinion on anything. A lot of commentaries involve politics or current events, but if you’d rather limit it to your daily life, go ahead. Dave Barry made more than a million dollars by writing about being an average Joe with a couple kids because he interjected humor. But even without comic genus a poignant personal essay can be a winner.
Ernie Whitham talks about finding humor in everyday life
HOW TO: Just about anything you know how to do can be turned into an article. Here’s some ideas used by ehow.com: “How to tie a bow tie”, ”How to build a deck”, ”How to kiss on a date”, ”How to throw a curveball”. You might have found an article about something you do and can improve upon or add to what the writer said, then you can sell your article to a similar periodical. So many publications are on the market these days that no matter how strange or small your hobby is there will be a magazine or at least a newsletter about it.
DEPARTMENTS: These are the regular columns the publication offers, which could have titles such as Health, Food, Travel, or Style. Maybe you can think of your own departmental topic. I approached an editor at an independent newspaper in my town and for a couple years I wrote a monthly column about local websites. Sometimes columns are written by staff writers, but often they’re done by freelancers. Check the writers’ guidelines, or ask the editor, to see what they need.
Go to your corner market, supermarket, library, post office, or wherever you can find free newspapers and magazines. Yes, free. These are the publications that most likely will publish first-time local writers. You won’t make a lot of money writing for them, but even $20 for your article is not bad. Remember, the goal is to get published so you have clips to send to bigger markets.
Make a list of four publications you would like to write for with topics for articles. Express the article ideas in only one or two sentences to be sure you have one single cohesive concept. It’s always nice to have somebody to bounce ideas off of, so feel free to post your ideas as a comment below.