See it, sell it: Finding freelance story ideas out in the wild

“If you’ve ever gone birding – but without binoculars or a clear idea of what a jay or robin or red-tailed hawk actually looks or sounds like – it’s likely you came home disappointed, persuaded that the trees were empty. But once you know what to look for, it’s hard not to spot birds all around you.

Story ideas are like that. They’re everywhere. It’s a rare day I leave my apartment in a small suburban New York town without stumbling across several great story ideas for my magazine, newspaper or web editors, or material for my non-fiction books.

Ideas are all around us for the taking: cropping up in casual conversation with a local merchant, neighbor or our children. They’re hanging from bulletin boards, both real and virtual. If you’re not already carrying something with which to record every idea as it occurs to you, start today. I often use my cell phone to snap reference visuals that help me add great detail to my pitches and stories.

The following are marketable story ideas I’ve found just by keeping my eyes and ears open.

• As do most writers, I read a variety of publications. I kept seeing a small ad in a local city magazine advertising a wilderness survival course – hardly what you’d think necessary for people living in or near New York City. The class was offered in a corner of Central Park, and the day I took it, it poured rain for much of the time, but I was there on assignment for The New York Times.”

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