Here’s a question for you guys – as a freelance writer, have you asked any questions lately? What information can I get from the event that just happened? That is how a writer figures out the story. Not by predetermined equations, or methods of writing but by physically and mentally observing everything around them. But what if there isn’t a clear way to do so? How do you ask the questions to get your answers? There’s always a way to ask a question, you just need to know which method to use to find the answer – and be inquisitive enough to ask without thinking some days.
Asking for Clarification
When I would write a news story for the weeklies associated with the Ithaca Times, it was often a community event or a group not many would otherwise know about. Like the town or school board meetings. Yes, those could get boring. But if you paid attention to the little things around the meeting it added a value or another view to the main ideas. The town meetings were always good for this. As a reporter I was expected to get the main stories, what the board was talking about. But at the same time, I could add more by observation of the people and their words. I was also allowed to ask for clarification of most any point – and I did many times.
Another aspect of freelance writing is asking yourself questions about the situation around you. What would your readers want to know if they were in the room with you? No, you can’t answer everyone. But you can sit there and think about it. “What was the emotion of the day or event?” “What did I miss by not attending?” Often adding the weather conditions, the time of day or just the sheer amount of people make the story stand out. There was a school concert held near the holidays where it had snowed heavily the same day. The kids put on a great show, and the gym was packed with parents, friends and neighbors. Just the fact that they all acted like the snow didn’t even matter made the event fun. There was the memorial watch fire in Lansing New York; now not only did the memorial idea itself make a story, but the huge blazing bonfire on a lake added to it. And then there was the huge number of both veterans and civilians; I remember the organizer thanking me for the story because no other paper had covered it, and just his voice told me it was greatly appreciated. Each observation added to make the entire story worth reading and remembering.
Finding Answers to Unasked Questions
Writing is about finding an answer to something for as many people as possible. Questions such as “why is that point so damn important?”, or “why doesn’t anyone care about this fact?” and the favorite “who are you and what makes you such an expert?”
Writing is also about noticing things that seem out of place or unusual for the moment or location. There was a sky blue 1960s Cadillac at a local county office building that I was parked next to one time. I wondered just who would be driving it, and why would such care be made in its condition (it was actually in really good shape). Waiting for the owner to claim the car led to an amazing story about a family who had just lost their son earlier that year. The son bought the car as a Father’s Day gift for his dad so they could work on it together; the son died in a motorcycle accident, with his parents not far behind him as they headed home from celebrating dad’s birthday. That article became a memorial piece for that family.
The point is, you don’t know what information is out there. Not if you don’t ask any questions. Simply walking through the day isn’t enough. Simply seeing things around you isn’t enough. Freelance writing is about asking for material to write about. Trust me, there’s enough of it to fall over if you are looking for it.