If you’re like many beginning freelance writers, no matter what your age, you feel conflicted when you ask yourself, “What should I write about?” The answer seems like it should be simple, but it gets tangled up in many different issues.
If you spent a lot of time in a creativity-deadening career before transitioning to writing, you might have forgotten how to take creative risks and how to feel confident about your ideas. Your interests, your hopes and dreams, your inner critic, and your concerns about making money also influence your writing choices.
Once it gets going, your freelance writing career could spin off in unexpected directions. Unfortunately, your career will never get going unless you find a place to start. Going back to your college days for topic ideas can launch your freelance writing career. You might specialize in something completely different later, but it’s crucial to get started today.
Remember Your College Days
If you’ve completed a college degree, then you have expertise in something. Even if you have something general, like a liberal studies degree, it’s still a degree that could launch your writing career. Grab a notebook or tablet and make a list of things you enjoyed learning when you were in college. Your list might include:
- Favorite courses
- Research papers you completed
- Group projects you liked
- Books you enjoyed reading
- Work study positions or internships related to your major
In addition to thinking about your academic work, list the extracurricular activities you loved and the causes that you supported. Create a brain dump of everything you can remember; don’t judge the quality of your ideas just yet. As you continue in your career, you’ll realize that having more ideas is better than having perfect ideas. Getting the ideas out of your head and into the corporeal world is the key to getting published.
Decide What Interests You
The hardest aspect of building a freelance writing career is staying motivated during the early months and years. Your writing should focus on items that you feel motivated to explore whether or not those items develop into a long-term professional niche. Now that you have a set of ideas based on your college classes and experiences, narrow down the list to the ideas that motivate you most.
Rate Each Item
Read each item on your list and rate it on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being “not that interesting” and 5 being “still fascinates me.” Then, rewrite your list with the 5s at the top, ranking the items according to how you rated them.
Brainstorm Topic Ideas
Suppose you were an English major, and one of the top items on your list is a paper you once wrote about Walt Whitman. Your list of potential article topics related to your paper could include:
- Poets unappreciated in their lifetimes. You could build an article around a list of poets, including Whitman, whose work received heavy criticism during their lifetimes.
- Whitman and the Civil War. Walt Whitman didn’t enlist in the Union army, but he often traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet wounded soldiers. His poem “O Captain, My Captain” commemorated Abraham Lincoln’s death.
- “Leaves of Grass” in pop culture.“Leaves of Grass” played a role in the infamous Monica Lewinsky scandal, and it was also referenced in the popular show “Breaking Bad.” You could explore why “Leaves of Grass” keeps showing up in both real and fictional scandals.
Find Places to Publish
Review “Writer’s Market” and other directories to see where you might publish your work. Worry less about payment and prestige at first and more about building a portfolio of respectable clips. In addition to acquiring clips, focus on learning the freelance writing business. Get comfortable querying publications, working with editors, meeting deadlines, and juggling your freelancing calendar.
Moving Beyond Your Major
Instead of trying to come up with the perfect writing niche or focusing on lucrative writing markets, it’s better to launch your career by writing about what you already know. Your college major provides a good starting point for generating writing ideas. When you’re ready for a new creative direction, you’ll have clips and you’ll already understand the business. If you wait for perfect ideas before you start writing, you might never get started.