Develop a Unique perspective
I love writing and can imagine writing about almost anything (except maybe sports). But, for now, I've focused on science writing, and further narrowed that window down to women in STEM and ocean ecology. There aren't enough hours in the day to become an expert on too many topics at the same time, so I find this narrowing helps. When I get bored with one or both of these topics, I'll happily move along to the next arena, but for now the focus makes me smarter and more agile.
Writing about a new subject is so difficult. You have to learn as much as you can in a limited amount of time. I now see how stories I wrote early on were lacking because I didn't fully understand the intricacies of the topic. Now that I've been covering oceans for two years, I see how issues and emerging technologies are interconnected and this helps me see new story ideas alongside the evolution of trends I've been following.
It helps to have some authority and/or access. Because I've written a few stories about women from science history, I've got a tiny bit of street cred when I pitch my idea about this topic. Without those previous stories, I have more work to do because I must convince the editor not only my idea is good, but that I am also capable of pulling it off. (I hope.)
Read. Read everything. Then, read some more. Even when I am not working on a specific story, I follow all ocean-related news as much as I can. Even if it is only on Twitter because I'm overwhelmed grading your beautiful papers, I'm staying in touch with what's happening and looking where things are headed. This is especially true with magazine writing because editorial calendars are figured out months in advance.
It helps to start thinking out of season with everyone else (but in sync with the editors). If you want to pitch a story about baseball, you may want to pitch it in the winter when no baseball is happening. In other words, pitch your idea for the best holiday gifts in July because that's when the magazines are planning for their December issue.
Finally, use social media wisely and build your online presence with intention. Since Twitter is my professional social media platform, I don't post a ton of extraneous information. Someone following me on Twitter will see evidence of my work as a science writer and teacher peppered with a few other human items, but nothing too far afield from those aspects of my life. Whereas, on Facebook and Instagram, which I've only really opened to friends and family, one might see a wider range of personal interests like my obsession with knitting.
I suspect it may be more important than it ought to be to cultivate a following on social media, and I think some editors and fellowships look at this sort of thing because it helps them increase the eyeballs on their pages. It isn't very comforting to think that something so unrelated can impact the reception of your writing, and I'm sure there are lousy writers out there with a large following, but it is worth keeping this in the back of your minds.
If you aren't social media savvy, that's OK, you can still use the platforms to your advantage. I religiously follow publications, editors, and writers I admire -- especially if I hope to see my own work in their outlet. You get a sense for the rhythm and flow, for the voice of the publication, and this will help you develop ideas that will fit within their pages (or virtual spaces). I've read about and heard a frequent lament from editors about pitches from writers who've obviously never read the publication -- it's like pitching a feature story on the joys of living with black labs to Cat Fancy Magazine.
And, again this is only what I've learned from my experiences. Others make things work in their own way. You should figure out your own path; just do so thoughtfully.
Think of your reader, always
This final tip can be applied in a variety of ways. From the most basic perspective, I try to write in service of others; I write to inform and illuminate. If I were to write about myself (I'm not very good at this and don't know if I ever will be), I hope I'd be exploring self as a means of sharing something that might be useful to others in some small way. To me, it is all about storytelling.
Be a good storyteller.
For me right now, this means looking at how I communicate. I see the world changing in exciting (and often scary) ways and I want to be able to convey information in a manner that's meaningful for my readers. Image, hyperlinks, video, voice -- these are easier than ever to incorporate into your process and I think this will keep changing. Try to challenge yourself to do something you've never done, whether it is a new form or adding an unfamiliar element like video. I really enjoyed rewriting my thesis as a children's book and learned from the experiment. Make art on your computer; make it by hand; just make it. However you choose to explore your writing and this strange world, be engaged.