There’s nothing like a light bulb moment, followed by a lucrative commission, to make you remember why you went freelance. This business is based upon bright ideas and the ability to sell them to the highest bidder. That’s why a blank Word document, twinned with a blank mind, is the stuff of night terrors. Suddenly you have nothing to write, nothing to trade, and nothing to soften the next mortgage payment.
So what does it take to keep those ideas coming? Not much, according to London-based freelance journalist Ellie Levenson. ‘Anyone who is interested in the world around them should be buzzing with ideas all of the time,’she says. ‘For example, I tried to buy emergency contraception for a friend and was refused it. It led to me setting up a campaign and website called www.womenarenotstupid.co.uk.”
If Levenson is interested in a subject she assumes that others will be too. She’s not afraid to ask people for ideas either. ‘I don’t just ask PRs, but also friends and family. If I send out an email asking them what they wish someone would write about, I get lots of ideas back. I then keep them and on the days that I have a mind blank I dip into them.’
And it’s the interaction with the world that keeps the ideas coming. You can beaver away in the back bedroom but without fresh input you’ll soon dry up. Just realise that the more you get out there, the more inspiration you’ll find.
Grumbling in a bus queue, going on a disastrous date, meeting an old friendâ€¦ it’s all feature fodder. It only takes a chance remark about the youth of today or the state of M&S knickers to spark a money-spinner.
‘When I worked at Big Issue Cymru, the vendors kept saying that people were verbally and physically abusing them,’says Cathryn Scott, a freelance journalist and former editor of the magazine, who lives in Cardiff. ‘So we did a survey of 100 vendors and it led to a massive campaign.”
The time when are switching off can be fertile ground for ideas. In the shower, on the loo and as you’re dropping off in bed have all been cited as sources of inspiration by freelances. Why? Because when your mind is free of clutter it’s more likely to be creative.
Then record your ‘eureka!’moments. Many freelances have had that 3am flash of inspiration only to fall asleep and, by morning, be clueless as to what caused the excitement. That’s where the notebook and pen come in handy. Rachel Newcombe, a Hampshire-based freelance agrees.
‘I write down ideas when they strike,’she says, ‘and I’ve kept all of my notebooks so if I’m stuck I go back to them.”
Cuttings files serve the same purpose. Sifting through articles that you wrote years ago either sparks something new or helps you revisit the issue from a new perspective.
Which means that by now you are wondering when press releases are going to get a mention. After all, when ideas just appear in your inbox, why ignore them? Here’s why: ‘I know perfectly well that a million other people will have seen the release,’says London-based freelance health journalist and author Lucy Jolin. ‘The surveys
and research they contain are usually a load of bollocks too. Why not just go digging for better stuff yourself?”