How freelancers can give old topics a new twist
Published: March 30, 2007
The first three decades of my life were filled with exciting moments such as bartending on Bourbon Street, grooming thoroughbreds in Lexington, Ky., and working for several renowned advertising agencies. I fancied myself an adventurer, only pursuing endeavors worth writing about. There was only one problem: I never had a single article published. While I always pursued writing as a hobby, I had never had a piece appear in print, not even in a high school or college newspaper.
"I opened my eyes and learned to view every event, no matter how mundane, as a possible story idea."
My 30-year dry spell ended three years ago. I now have dozens of clips covering a wide variety of topics, and my work has appeared in numerous publications. The secret to my relatively quick success? I opened my eyes and learned to view every event, no matter how mundane, as a possible story idea. I found that sometimes the most interesting articles are right under your nose.
The first approach I mastered was to give each story a unique angle. Readers want to hear recycled stories about summer concerts or holiday shopping only so often. Break from the norm and bring a story to life with a unique twist.
For example, rather than report on Tom Petty's performance at a concert I attended, I opted to profile the sign-language interpreters working his show. The interpreters not only sign for the entire concert but also dance the entire show in order to convey the spirit of the songs. I discovered that they practice for weeks in advance and provide an essential service for hearing-impaired concertgoers. I informed readers how important visual stimuli, such as lights and strobes, are in conveying the tone of music at concerts and how interpreters must do much more than just sign; they must also express emotion with facial expressions and body language.
During the holiday shopping season, I ignored the trendy gifts and wrote a lost-and-found piece that was both humorous and informative. I interviewed store workers and discovered that, amid the shopping rush, customers had left behind everything from half-finished omelets to iPods. In addition to listing peculiar items that had been lost and detailing some happy reunions with misplaced merchandise, I also offered tips for shoppers who have left items behind.
Another way to get published is to embrace the role of information provider. Did you just spend several weeks trying to close a real-estate transaction, or hours trying to figure out how to properly dispose of an environmentally unsafe product? You probably aren't the only one who needs a well-written resource on these topics. If you're having trouble finding information about a certain subject, then become a purveyor of knowledge yourself.
Recently I bought a new computer and was perplexed about how to dispose of my old one properly. After hours of research, I discovered a nonprofit organization that not only accepts computers but refurbishes them and donates them to those in need, including children overseas who lack technology. After donating my computer, I wrote a profile of the organization and included the steps to take when discarding electronic products.
Maybe in planning your well-deserved vacation, you just researched inexpensive accommodations and eateries off the beaten path. Don't just tell your friends about your finds-educate others with an informative travel piece. The possibilities are endless.
A freelancer based in Seattle, Chelan David has published articles in such publications as Spin, Film Review and The Seattle Times.
Originally published in the October 2005 issue of The Writer.