||There are days, maybe even weeks, when you just can't seem to come up with an idea. Yet, as a smart writer once told me, finding ideas is like birdwatching -- once you know what to look for, you discover they're all around you all the time just for the taking.
One reliable place to look, always, is right at your own feet. Your home, your life, your family, your work, your hobbies and passions are all rich sources of story ideas that can be marketed and sold as articles to newspapers and magazines.
Some of the unlikely subjects I've sold stories on include:
putting my dog to sleep, getting married, getting fired, my girlfriends who own guns, moving to the United States, why I don't want kids (all sold to the national daily, The Globe and Mail in Toronto.) When I first got my dog, inherited from my mother when I was 23, I wrote an essay about becoming a dog-person. That ran in Miss Chatelaine (now Flare), a national Canadian women's magazine.
Recently, on one idea-challenged day, I looked around my home at the antiques I've picked up over the years, some of them worth far more than I paid, and realized that many people own things whose value they don't recognize. We all want to think we're sitting on a treasure, and I sold that idea to a national magazine.
Look carefully at the many magazines that carry first-person essays, whether humorous or serious. Decide how you want to treat your own story. A funny anecdote expanded? A moving memoir? A factual account with additional sources to back up your viewpoint?
Remember that your own story may well be part of a larger trend, locally, regionally or nationally. I sold a piece, listing the things not to say to a newly divorced person, to another national women's magazine. Look at the national divorce rate -- that's a market of readers that's not going away anytime soon. (There is even a magazine, Divorce, based in Toronto.)
But if you decide to use your own life and that of friends, family or colleagues, you also have to decide how much of yourself, and others, to reveal to readers. I've unintentionally blown the cover on a few friends who were source material for more personal stories and have even recognized friends quoted anonymously because I knew they were friends of the writer.
(My dog, thank heaven, never complained....)