by Erin O’Riordan
Editors are always in the market for seasonal material. Blogs, newsletters and magazines that rely on a steady stream of fresh content constantly need original approaches to holidays and other ways we mark the passing of time. Book publishers also need seasonal material, whether it’s themed short stories for anthologies or a group of full-length seasonal books that can be launched as a set.
How can you help meet this demand? Keep a calendar of what seasonal materials will be in demand six months ahead. What should you put on this calendar? There are many ways to brainstorm seasonal ideas.
Most commercial calendars come pre-printed with the major bank holidays of one or more countries. Some include religious holidays or other specialized information. By looking at several calendars, you can assemble a list of holidays. As a general rule, in January, be prepared to pitch your articles about July topics; in July, you’ll be pitching your January topics. Of course, some publications (particularly in print media) require more than six months of lead time on seasonal articles, so check ahead.
I like to keep my list in a notebook, with one pair of months written at the top, a list of holidays for the target month under that, and plenty of room to jot down ideas underneath. I may have a great Groundhog Day article idea in October; I never know.
Check your library for books with monthly lists of holidays and observances. Books aimed at teachers and preschool instructors often list holidays as well as suggest activities for all ages related to each one. To the writer, these suggested activities may suggest unique story angles. If you write enough seasonal articles, you might even visit a teaching supply store and invest in a set of monthly activity planners.
Although not always reliable (to say the least), Wikipedia can be a starting point for finding some of the more obscure holidays. Search by month (“May observances”) or by country of origin (“public holidays in Sweden”). You can also watch Twitter trends for “new” holidays. Every first week of May, for example, you’ll see lots of “Happy Star Wars Day! May the 4th be with you.” There’s a story in that.
Commonly celebrated holidays, like Christmas, and more obscure holidays, like Japan’s Greenery Day, both require some creativity in coming up with original approaches to them. Repetition isn’t always a bad thing: every May, editors begin looking for beloved Thanksgiving side dish recipes, and yours needs to be just interesting enough to stand out above the rest.
Yet a new twist can be irresistibly eye-catching to an editor. Got a great idea for New Year’s resolutions? Instead of aiming for January, when everyone will have a New Year’s post, stand out by gearing yours toward Rosh Hoshanah, Chinese New Year or the Persian Naw-Ruz celebration. Call it “Naw-Ruz Resolutions You Don’t Have to Be Persian to Make.” Think about how observances relate to one another, how they’re similar and different.
Need to talk to someone who observes another culture’s seasonal practices? Use your social networking connections. If you have friends in Mexico, ask them if they’d like to share with you about el Dia de los Muertos. Are you an American who’s never participated in Boxing Day? Talk to your Canadian, UK or Australian friends.
Keep in mind that some holidays, including Thanksgiving and Mother’s Day, are observed at different times in different parts of the English-speaking world. The dates of Christmas and Easter differ on the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic/Protestant calendars. Make sure you and your sources are talking about the same holiday–though these differences can also make for a new approach to your story.
A visit to your library can turn up encyclopedia-like volumes on individual holidays: Lisa Morton’s The Halloween Encyclopedia is a good example. I’ve used it as one of my references in a blog post about off-the-beaten-path Halloween vacations and another about Celtic languages. Flipping through one of these may bring you story ideas you’d never before considered.
By making a list and leaving yourself room to jot down ideas, you set yourself up for a year’s worth of seasonal article creativity. If you do your list well enough, it will be evergreen, serving you year after year.
Erin O’Riordan is a freelance writer of a romance novel series, two crime thrillers (co-authored with husband Tit Elingtin), a column in Poetic Monthly magazine and numerous articles. She also writes the Pagan Spirits book blog at http://www.erinoriordan.blogspot.com