Week Nineteen - Writing for Children and Teens

From Inspiration to Publication

How to Brainstorm Article Ideas

 

October 11, 2016

  

The idea for an article has been following me since I started this course. When I introduce the idea to my instructor, he loves it. He tells me to start writing it immediately because he thinks it is sellable. I write the article for Assignment Seven.

After handing in that assignment, I immediately read the directions for Assignment Eight. I like to know what’s next. It helps me use my daily allotted thirty minute writing time wisely. In this next assignment, I must pitch three article ideas and find appropriate magazines to submit to. This is very practical work, but immediately my mind goes blank. I can’t think of a single thing to write about. I know I want to do nonfiction writing for these final assignments, but I can’t think of any topics. In a world filled with constant information and things going on, you wouldn’t think coming up with three ideas would be so hard.

The strategy I use for Assignment Seven is great for finding new ideas. You must look for interesting articles that are written for adults, then do more research, and rewrite the story for children. This is how I did it. I found this amazing story in The New Yorker. I did a lot of research to find out more. What I found was that dogs really do ride the subway in Moscow as a way of expanding their territory and finding more food. I knew kids would love the story as much as I do. So I wrote about it for them.

That’s a great idea for an article, but it’s only one idea. What I’m learning in this course is that you really need to come up with three ideas and start working on them somewhat simultaneously because a) you aren’t sure if the article will sell and b) if the article sells you’ll want to have another to start selling right away. So, here are some other ways I’ve uncovered new ideas for stories and articles:

TWITTER

What’s popping up in my Twitter feed? This shows me what people are talking about or interested in. I also read tweets that ask questions to help me develop an article around answering them.

SOLUTIONS
What are some of the problems children have and how might they go about solving them? I brainstorm things like how to do science experiments without an adult’s help.

YOUTUBE

Just like with Twitter, I try to find out which videos are most popular. What makes them popular? I check out the intelligent comments––I have to wade through some bad ones––to see what people like about the videos.

CONNECTIONS
I think about intersections between two seemingly unrelated topics. For example: If astronauts play baseball in space, is it more like Quidditch?

ANNOTATE
Reading is thinking, and when I start recording my thoughts as I read, I generate some great new ideas for writing.

Another great way to brainstorm assignments for yourself is to consider themes and then come up with stories that fit under each theme. In Assignment Eight, there is a list of themes to consider for ages 9-12, next to each theme I do a quick mind-dump for what might go along with this theme.

  • Independence: child invents something to help others
  • Honesty: child tells the story more accurately than adults might
  • Growing pains: child lives in hospital recovering from illness
  • Friendship: two children help each other when they are lost
  • Being new: deaf child must navigate school without sibling assistance
  • Appearance: child loses limb, but becomes athlete anyway
  • Earning money: child earns money and donates it to charity
  • Popularity: any story about a child that’s gone viral

  • After reviewing these themes, and generating ideas to help me look for true stories I can write about, I begin looking at my ideas in different ways through the specific and unique theme lens. For example, instead of a piece about baby animals, I might choose to write about the different rates at which baby animals become independent.

    Once I exhaust all of my ideas for themes, I begin to look at genres of magazine articles. I consider writing articles for each genre so I can get a feeling for each of them.

  • How-to articles: Consider what kids like to make.
  • The fact piece: Research what makes an animal interesting.
  • History, geography/culture: Compare the routines of two children from different places.
  • Biography: Write the story of someone’s big moment in life.
  • Sports: Where do kids learn to fence?
  • The arts: Find out what it takes to get really good at the accordion.
  • The profile: Interview the guy who brings toys to kids in war torn Syria.
  • Advice and self-help: Write about how to get ready for a new sibling.
  • Personal experience: Tell a story about my childhood.

  • Once I’ve written an article that I’m excited about and want to sell, I still have to write a pitch to help me sell it to a magazine or other outlet looking for pieces. A pitch is where I summarize what I’ve written about in an exciting or intriguing way. Long after I’ve spent hours and days writing an article, I’m still crafting and honing the perfect pitch to send to a magazine editor. Getting noticed and pulled from the slush pile is my goal, but when an editor gets 100 pitches in a day that can be difficult to do.

    Most experts on pitching say that it’s important to pitch the story and not the idea. So after I write the story about the dogs riding the metro, I write this pitch:

    Dogs like Alexei and Sasha are stray dogs who spend much of their time in the Filyovskaya traveling from Kuntsevskaya to Mezhdunarodnaya in search of food. These subway dogs are among the smartest of the 35,000 stray dogs living Moscow. They understand and use the metro system to gain access to food and commute symbiotically with their fellow commuters known as humans.

    In this way I’m hoping I’ve brought the story to life and written just enough to make the editor want to read my story and maybe even buy it. Being a writer means I get to write all the time about whatever idea pops into my head but being a published writer means I have to write those stories in a way that engages my intended audience.


     

    Kimberley Moran's site

    Kimberley Moran is a gifted and talented teacher and freelance writer who lives in Hampden, Maine. She has two children and one very nice husband. Kimberley would like her bio to make her sound brilliant, witty, and kind because she knows that when you write and read you get to be anyone you want to be.

     

     

     

    Comments

    Carol Wilcox
    October 11, 2016

    I'd like to read the article about dogs riding the subway in Moscow! Fascinating! And I want to share the rest of this article with kids who are having a hard time thinking of what to write about!

    Tammy and Clare
    October 11, 2016

    We love your ideas for generating possible nonfiction article ideas. We can't wait to share these with teachers and students. Thanks Tammy and Clare

    Jennifer Laffin
    October 11, 2016

    Great tips, Kimberley! Love the idea of taking an article written for adults, add your own research, and rewrite it geared toward younger readers. Genius!!

    Tara
    October 11, 2016

    I'm with Julieanne - these are wonderful ideas for ourselves and our students.

    Linda Baie
    October 11, 2016

    I enjoyed reading the varied approaches you're taking, Kimberley, and how to find new ideas, but in addition, ideas that are worth researching because you've seen that they have been of interest to others. I wonder what a list would look like when researching very old kid magazines? Would there be topics that were worth trying there, too? Love your diligence!

    Julieanne
    October 11, 2016

    The strategies for generating ideas are amazing! And that subway dog story seems like something I'd read in Scholastic's Scope magazine. You have learned so much with this course. What a treat it is to get a peek into the process.

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