Think about this: Each year people all around you spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to travel to “exotic” destinations. What makes these destinations “exotic”? The fact that they’re different from the normal home environment. That means wherever you live is an “exotic” locale for people in most of the rest of the world. So, write about it.
“Here? There’s nothing worth writing about around here," you might say about your hometown. With the right focus on where to look, virtually any locale can yield multiple gems suitable for articles and stories. Research is the key. Here are offbeat and practical sources for generating new ideas no matter how small or dull you feel your hometown is. My colonial hometown of York, Pennsylvania has a population of less than 60,000. Still, I’ve found numerous gems just waiting to be dug up, polished and marketed. Here are some topics and resources to stimulate your thinking in even the tiniest, plainest, most remote towns.
Starting off: One indispensable resource is the telephone book. These pages contain enough starting information for you to produce reams of articles, if you know where to look. The front pages often contain maps, contact data for government agencies, museums, libraries, other reference sites and key organizations. Listings under clubs, fraternities, and organizations yield special interest groups just clamoring for promotional or human interest pieces. Thumb through your directory, you’ll start generating ideas right away.
Buy every postcard you can find related to your area. Key names, dates and facts on local sites will be printed on the back. Be sure to check out any available antique postcards of the area as well. Assemble them into a future reference scrapbook. Enter your town name and local sites key words from the postcards into several internet search engines. By following up on the results, points you’d never imagined can generate article ideas or new slants on ”old” stories.You’ll doubtless be spending eons of time at the library anyway, so get to know the reference department staff if you don’t already. They are invaluable allies in your quest for all types of knowledge. For the price of a cup of coffee rich rewards can be reaped as you chat with staff members informally. Ask for suggestions for article ideas. Don’t have a library card? Get one – and use it. Readers may not be writers, but writers are always readers. If you’re not scanning the daily papers and historical archives at the local library you’re missing out on a treasure trove of idea-starting news pieces.
The TV/radio news and commentary: Local events are often mirrored at broader levels. Never assume that a seemingly “local” problem is only of interest locally. When houseflies became a serious problem in a small Latin American town, I queried European and Asian magazines about possible interest in an article on what the townsfolk did to not only solve the problem, but make money from it too. An international magazine expressed its interest almost immediately. Tune in AM band talk radio broadcasts. Note the issues and contact information. Scrutinize them from different viewpoints. Talk with the station, friends, and family. Research radio or TV program featured sites, locations or businesses.
Crime: What was the most publicized, infamous crime committed in town? A robbery? Kidnapping? Arson? Murder? A modern re-telling of the events or a follow-up on the aftermath might be of interest to numerous crime magazines, police gazettes, law enforcement and insurance industry trade publications. Ghost tales can be both fascinating and profitable. Is a local site reputedly haunted? Cemeteries are a veritable cache of interesting ideas. Look for the unique, researching facts by Internet or newspaper archives. Talk to caretakers too.
Food: Almost every place has a hometown recipe or concoction they’re proud of. What’s its origin and special significance? How long has it been passed down? Are ingredients only available locally? Can people make it elsewhere? Can unavailable ingredients be substituted? Hotel, restaurant and bed & breakfast reviews are also marketable. In my hometown, eighteenth century Pennsylvania Dutch specialties like shoo-fly pie, apple butter, three bean salad, and chicken corn soup grace our tourist- attracting menus. An informative or historical piece, or perhaps a recipe collection might be just the ticket.
Celebrity appearances: Maybe Elvis didn’t sleep there (or maybe he did), but if ANYONE of note passed through, stopped or stayed, there are those who’d like to hear about it. The celebrity can be historic or modern, represent any walk of life from Art to Zen, or be their spouses, family and descendents. With an advance schedule of events, you can profile upcoming concert performers and try for interviews. Public relations and publicity offices carry stock bios on celebrities, which you can use as a start.
Music is of worldwide interest; an unusual type performed in your area could spiral into specialized pieces on local artists, artisans or exotic instruments like the accordion, harmonica, dulcimer, harp or zither. Where and how are they crafted? Are lessons available? Why is the instrument attached to the local area? If it exists elsewhere, compare your area with any others.
Nature: Are there seasonal invasions of bees, butterflies, bats, or other critters? Is your area home to an unusual species? A haven for hummingbirds? A wildlife sanctuary? Wildlife and environmental publications might like the story. Zoos, insect museums, pet shops and university departments are good starting sources. I discovered a family-run business that cultures butterflies then releases them at weddings, parties and other special occasions in addition to giving presentations at schools, trade shows and environmental conventions. Have you noticed a bizarre or curiously-shaped tree? Check with neighbors and the city planning commission. See if there’s a tale attached to that trunk or another natural wonders in the area.
Sports or Fairs: Cover city, county or state events with an eye to unique angles and multiple marketing. Look for interesting viewpoints. Talk to category winners. Are they elderly, ethnic, or handicapped? Family secret sharers? View the events in different ways. Take photos. Surely your area proudly hosts some tournament, race, rally or marathon? How contestants prepare, interviews with sponsors, family and fans are possible article generating material. When a backyard row of huge collard greens drew attention to my late grandmother’s fertilizing methods winning her a mention at the county fair, I wrote it up. (She’d used free elephant dung from a visiting circus as fertilizer.)
Whatever your writing genre, diamonds-in-the-rough ideas for articles abound all around you. Continually note ideas, brainstorm, observe, listen, converse and question everyone you can. Keep a calendar of local and regional events. Stay abreast of happenings. You’ll never again say, “Here? There’s nothing worth writing about around here.”
© Copyright 2005, Larry M. Lynch
Larry M. Lynch is a writer and photographer specializing in business, travel, food and education-related writing in South America. His work has appeared in Transitions Abroad, South American Explorer, Escape From America, Mexico News and Brazil magazines in print and online. He travels researching articles throughout Latin America and teaches at a university in Cali, Colombia. To get original, exclusive articles and content for your newsletter, blog or website, contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.