A few years ago, a chat with a book group buddy gave me an idea for an article that won me a national writing award. More recently, a friend’s Facebook post about a problem her child had at school inspired me to write a cautionary tale for other parents.
Though I hesitate to call myself a thief, I plead guilty to stealing freelance writing story ideas from my friends’ life experiences.
As a former print writer who migrated to the web, my biggest challenge has always been coming up with article topics that are fresh and relevant. Nobody wants to read another article on how to make centerpieces from pine cones, not even squirrels.
So it makes sense that something a friend says in passing or posts on Facebook could be a potential story idea. If people are talking about it, it’s news.
The article for which I won a writing award, “Transient Global Amnesia: Not as Scary as it Sounds,” was hatched after my friend told me she was hospitalized on a trip to Manhattan after losing her short-term memory. She still knew who she was, but she had no idea where she was or how she had gotten there. It turned out she had suffered a bout of transient global amnesia, a condition I had never heard of. Being the curious type, I Googled it when I got home, and the next thing I knew my friend’s health episode had turned into an article.
Another recent article, “Student with Health Condition Told to ‘Tough it Out’ — Could This Happen to Your Child?” was the result of a Facebook post from a co-worker who was horrified that her child was denied permission to leave the school auditorium, despite having a plan in place with the school for her chronic health condition. Her daughter told a teacher unfamiliar with her situation she needed to go to the office because she was having chest pain and a headache, but the teacher told her to “tough it out.” How often does this happen, I wondered. And how could other parents prevent it? After researching the problem and determining it was not uncommon, I wrote an article that not only warned parents of this potentially dangerous situation, but also provided strategies for teaching children how to self-advocate.
Another article inspired by Facebook came from an acquaintance who mentioned getting insurance through a woman who called herself “The Insurance Mom.” What a great name for a company, I thought and began searching for other businesses with names that evoke a feeling of comfort. Thus was born, “What’s in a Name? Business Names that Make Customers Feel Warm and Fuzzy.”
Even my brother-in-law has served as a muse. His story about ignoring his real estate agent’s advice and staying home during an Open House inspired “Good or Bad Real Estate Agent Advice?” It turned out the buyer saw how comfortable he looked watching football in his easy chair and pictured himself doing the same.
Meanwhile, a friend’s story about her daughter who woke up with a headache after surgery, “Surprising Cause of Post-Surgery Headaches — Caffeine Withdrawal” made me wonder why hospitals don’t add some Starbucks to IVs after operations.
If you’re thinking of lifting stories from your friends’ lives, keep the following in mind:
— Because of federal health privacy laws, always change the names of people with health conditions.
— Never write anything that will embarrass someone you care about since friendships are more important than making money from page views.
In my case, the opposite seems be true. My friends are tickled when I turn their stories into articles, and I get satisfaction from contextualizing their experiences and sharing them with a wider audience.
More From This Contributor:
Can Happiness Books Really Make You Happier?
Memory and the Middle-Aged Brain
How to Start a Book Group & Book Group Discussion Tips