Need inspiration? It’s time to overhaul your regular reading list.

“What magazines do you read?”

Throughout my career, I’ve found that potential clients and employers love to ask this question. I like to ask that question of my colleagues, too. Asking  a writer or editor what she reads regularly reveals valuable information about her personal interests, her knowledge of her chosen subject matter and the degree to which she’s up on the trends in her industry.

If you specialize in a particular type of editorial, you don’t need me to tell you that it’s important to read magazines in your area of specialty. But I’m here to make a case for adding a few non-traditional options to your tried-and-true magazine subscription list. In fact, I recommend becoming an all-around magazine sponge. Here’s why:

A variety of brands can inform the type of content you produce.

Studying a plethora of magazines will give you cross-brand ideas. A business profile you saw in Fast Company might offer ideas on how to portray a contractor, doctor, dentist in your next set of local professional profiles. Study Vogue and House Beautiful and you might discover how a  particular fashion trend is influencing interior-design trends.

One of my favorite cross-brand connections is the relationship between fitness and family health. Nutrition stories in Runner’s World  and Women’s Health often provide inspiration for the family-health stories and recipe ideas I pitch for one of my regular clients, a family lifestyle magazine produced for Hawaii’s largest dairy distributor.

I’m not proposing that you stop subscribing to the magazines that are most important to your area of coverage. However, if you’re stuck in an idea rut, I propose taking a break from your reading list for a while. Head to your nearest book or magazine superstore, grab ten titles you’ve never even cracked, choose your poison (mine is a delicious, strong cup of coffee or Irish Breakfast tea) and settle in.

Don’t think about how what you’re reading relates to what you normally write. Just absorb what you see, what you read or simply how you feel as you turn the pages. Study photography, products, titles, subtitles and illustrations. Sometimes, even interesting font treatments provide new story ideas or suggestions for new design treatments.

Repeat this process at least once a week. Schedule it in if you can. I like devoting a few hours on Friday afternoon to perusing. It feels like a luxury. (Shouldn’t you be spending your valuable work minutes on scheduling, organizing, writing, outlining, or interviewing?) But please, allow yourself this time.

Regular study of a variety of magazines will inject a much-needed dose of inspiration and creativity into your process. In addition, taking a break from your blog reader or online articles will get you back in touch with the tactile pleasures of reading on paper and, possibly, force you to slow down and really take in what you see and read. Keep a paper an pen handy. You’ll need it for all the new ideas that are bound to wash over you.

What magazines you read on a regular basis? See, I can’t resist asking either.

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