Open thread: Where do you find your best story fodder?

September 28th, 2009

Newer nonfiction writers often ask their grizzled peers where we get our ideas for all the articles, blog posts*, columns, personal essays, and pitches we’re endlessly cranking out – often on deadline. In an era where computers and phones are exploding with content, links, and commentary galore, this may seem like an odd question to ask. But I thought it would be fun to answer anyway.

On any given week, I’m responsible for turning in at least one career column and three work/life balance blog posts. Then there are the half-dozen or so stories I’m pitching each month to my regular stable of editors, as well as new ones I’m trying to woo. Meaning if I’m not constantly cultivating fresh story and blog post fodder, I’m sunk.

My top sources of content inspiration:

Blog aggregators. YPBLOGS – the Young Professional Blogs Aggregator — is my blog clearninghouse of choice. One, the 225+ Gen X and Gen Y bloggers featured on this site often bring career and work/life balance issues and trends to my attention. Two, all the cool career-oriented bloggers are doing it.

HARO. is the Swiss Army Knife of reporting. Besides being one of the best ways to find sources if you’re in a deadline fix, this e-list gives you a sneak peek at some of the stories other journalists are researching at any given time. And while idea pilfering is pretty unbecoming, sometimes you can riff off someone else’s idea to come up with a brand spanking new story angle of your own.

Google alerts. If you’re not relying on Google’s handy bots to tell you who’s saying what about your pet topics on any given day, it’s time to start. Again, I’m not advocating simply pilfering or rehashing someone else’s brilliant post or story idea. But a Wall Street Journal article about working moms that raises your hackles can make a great springboard for your own post, column, or reported piece.

Twitter and Facebook. I can’t even open Fritter (or would that be Frittbook?) without finding half a dozen links that scream blog fodder during any given hour.

Friends, readers, and real life. I love when I’m at a party and someone tells me about some bizarre work situation they’re experiencing and it’s all I can do to not blurt out, “YOU! MUST! LET! ME! INTERVIEW! YOU!” Likewise, colleagues and readers frequently email me their unique, off-the-wall ideas. If you write about a topic long enough, this will happen to you too. I promise.

So how about you? What’s your holy grail of content fodder?

*No cracks about the infrequent posts on this here blog. Details on what the heck is up to come soon.

Entry Filed under: Creative process,This freelance life,Toolbox

8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Susan Johnston  |  September 28th, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    I’ve found great ideas by attending lectures or panels in a given industry. Also, reading alumni mags for under-the-radar ideas works pretty well.

  • 2. katy  |  September 28th, 2009 at 2:16 pm

    my husband is a surprising fount of information. he is an accountant (how boring!) and i would never expect him to be so tuned in, but he always comes home from work talking about stuff he heard on the bus or things his coworkers are doing…he is an amazing way to be in touch with a circle of people who have nothing to do with writers yet seem to generate amazing ideas FOR writers! partners are the best.

  • 3. Michelle Goodman  |  September 28th, 2009 at 2:38 pm

    I love hearing this stuff. I also appreciate you guys continuing to read le blog even though I’ve disappeared without explanation lately. Thank you. Nice to hear from you both. xo

  • 4. Manisha Thakor  |  September 29th, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    M – Thx for sharing your wonderful list! VERY helpful.

    One thing I can contribute… A good 15 years or so ago I came across an article extolling the virtues of “Grazing” – reading bite sized bits of information in areas that typically have nothing to do with your core area of interest. For the life of me I wish I could remember who said it as I’d like to THANK! THEM! PROFUSELY! In my pre-grizzled days “grazing” required a bit of advance planning and typically involved things like poking through the magazine racks at the local bookstore or watching a documentary on something random. In today’s uber-Twitterfried world, yeesh… I’ve got to count those grazing calories because the fodder is everywhere. My focus is on women & money – but some of my best ideas for personal finance pieces come reading on subjects ranging from social media to happiness. Grazing. Highly recommend it.

  • 5. Friday Linky Love | Small&hellip  |  October 2nd, 2009 at 10:57 am

    [...] The Anti 9-5 Guide: Where Do You Find Your Best Story Fodder? [...]

  • 6. Anali  |  October 3rd, 2009 at 8:55 am

    I always have way too many things that I want to write about at any given time. Between real life and online news, I’m set.

    Recently, I even found a source for an article from someone that I saw speaking on a panel. Maybe it’s that I’m super curious, so just about everything fascinates me.

  • 7. Sophie  |  October 8th, 2009 at 8:35 pm

    My family, especially my kids.
    Radio morning shows for their topics and call ins.
    Forums like Two Peas In a Bucket – always lots of drama there. And, when all else fails, I eavesdrop.

  • 8. Eric Novinson  |  June 13th, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    Government websites can be good. If I see an article where the government plans to give grants to 10 companies, and it makes huge news when the first grant goes out, the other 9 companies provide 9 possible topics.

    Political websites are helpful. Many are full of active posters at all times and it’s frequent that a good article topic shows up in a comment that has not been covered by a major source yet. Sometimes the posters provide additional insight or research.

    Open access journals. They provide in depth coverage of a topic, and the articles are written by professors who have links to other important information on their web pages.

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Who I am

Hi, my name's Michelle Goodman and I've been freelancing since 1992. I'm author of My So-Called Freelance Life and The Anti 9-to-5 Guide. Read my full bio here.

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