Writing Freelance Articles for Magazines

The Big Idea. Photo courtesy of Morguefile.com

The Big Idea.
Photo courtesy of Morguefile.com

It all starts with an idea… 

Idea Development

Ideas are all around you. How do you find them?

Think about everything you did today or this week:

Did you go to a new restaurant for lunch? Did you create an online dating account? Did you take the kids to the park? Did you make dinner? Did you make homemade healthy snacks? Did you knit a sweater? Plan a vacation? Rearrange the house? Redecorate? Sell something on Ebay?

You can turn all of those things into an article – someone will want to know how to sell something on Ebay or how to rearrange their home to use the space better.

Develop seasonal ideas for Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, Independence Day, Labor Day, Memorial Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Lent – how do you celebrate them? What could you do to celebrate them? How do you prepare for them? Do you have any special dishes that you serve? Any special family traditions?


The Idea Chart

Cheryl Sloan Wray presented the idea chart in her book “Writing for Magazines” and I’ve used it ever since college. Create a chart with 25 squares (this involves 5 horizontal and 5 vertical lines). On top 5 write types of magazines you’d consider writing for and to the right, come up with 5 topics you’re interested in writing about. Then, fill in the chart, coming up with ideas pertaining to each type of magazine for each topic.

For example (excuse my ideas, they’re not fabulous), one of my magazine types is “animals” and one of my topics is “babies” (I’m 19 weeks pregnant, so babies are on my mind…). So the nebulous idea I came up with is “Preparing your dog for baby’s arrival.” For “animals” and “travel” I came up with, “Steps for preparing your dog for international travel.” For “animals” and “fashion”, I wrote “Dog outfits?” and crossed it out and wrote “animal-inspired jewelry?” and then crossed it out and didn’t put anything new down. (I doubt an animal magazine will buy anything with “animal-inspired jewelry” in the subject line…, but maybe I could switch it and send it to a fashion magazine?)

Relationships, humor, parents. What type? Photo Courtesy of morguefile.com.

How-to relationship article? Break-up list article?Personal experience? What type?
Photo Courtesy of morguefile.com.

Article Types


Once you have an Idea, decide what type of article to turn it into:

Descriptive Articles      Hstorical Article        How-to Articles        Humor Articles

List Articles       Personal Experience       Personality Profiles         Short Pieces*

(*Book/movie/play/product/website/restaurant/music reviews, department pieces, devotionals, brain teasers, travel shorts, lists, quizzes)

Descriptive articles are exactly what they sound like. They provide all kinds of information about a specific topic, such as computers. They don’t tell people how to use something or how to do something, but give them a whole bunch of general and specific information about it. Example from March 2013 Issue of Psychology Today, “The Power of Touch“.

How-to Articles teach people how to do something – get rid of their pet’s fleas, get a date, buy a new wardrobe on a budget. One example is Seventeen Magazine’s “How to Pay for College“.

Historical Articles are generally about a historic person or event. These tend to be longer and are best when tied in with a specific event or holiday, such as Independence Day, D-Day, Henry VIII’s birthday or Veteran’s Day.

Humor articles are pretty self-explanatory (but kind of hard to find). Writing humor well isn’t easy, but a lot of magazines are easy to snatch it up if you can put a humorous spin on things.

List articles are like how-to’s, but they give a list and usually start with a number. For instance, “14 Secrets to Potty-Training Success” from Parenting Magazine.

Personal Experience articles are about something you did or learned. Skirt! Magazine publishes a number of personal essays every month, including “Survival Sisters.”

Personality Profiles are a glimpse of someone – famous or local – who has done something cool or survived something. Someone who has survived cancer or climbed Mt. Everest or just made a charity their life’s work are all people who could be featured in this type of piece.

Short pieces have a lot of variety. They’re easy to write but pay a little less. However, they’re often a really good way to get bylines for future articles. Most magazines have a few short pieces that are used as filler articles.

Share your article ideas. What’s worked for you?

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  1. Phenomenal article! Thank you so much… that Idea Chart is amazing! Just what I’ve needed. 🙂

  2. Robin says:

    Suzanne – I love that one. I was so glad my professor showed it to us when I was in college. Such an easy way to come up with ideas. 🙂

  3. Excellent article. For a number of years I supplemented my income by writing freelance magazine articles. It helped hone my writing skills, and I had a lot of fun. Wish I had had the Idea Chart back then.

    • Robin says:

      Judy – I like freelancing most of the time. I love the Idea Chart. It’s so helpful.

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