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Why you should create your own writing samples

A pile of roughly-bound books on a table

It’s always been tough for new writers, ones with few (if any) clips, to snag an assignment or gig. Editors and employers want proof that you can tackle the assignment or do the job. They want to get a feeling for your writing style, for your strengths and weaknesses as a writer.

Unless they have some proof, editors and employers probably won’t give you a second glance.

That’s where having a portfolio of writing samples comes in. But if you’re the writer I alluded to a couple of paragraphs ago, you’re running into a problem: no clips. There is, however, a way around that problem: create your own writing samples.

That sounds like cheating, but it really isn’t. Creating your own writing samples, if done with skill and integrity, can give you an advantage when querying for an assignment or applying for a gig.

Here’s a little advice that can help you create your own writing samples.

Why do it?

Creating your own samples isn’t a substitute for amassing actual published clips or samples of your corporate work. You should still try to get your foot in the door, even if it means doing less interesting and lower-paying work.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, creating your own writing samples is a way to show editors and employers your skills. It shows that you’re passionate about writing, that you’re willing to go above and beyond to show what you can do. It’s a way of proving that you can write, that you can finish what you’re writing, and (I hope) do a good job of it.

What to write?

That’s up to you. I’m not just talking about the subject matter, but also the format. If you want to focus on non fiction, you can write:

  • Essays
  • Interviews
  • Short news articles
  • Profiles
  • Blog posts
  • How-to articles
  • ebooks
  • Case studies
  • Press releases

Or any combination of the above. Just make sure that you know how to write what you plan to write. By that I mean knowing the structure and the conventions of, say, a case study. The best ways to learn that are to take courses, to read instuctional books, and to read and analyze actual examples of what you plan to write. Then, practice. And do more practice. Then practice some more. That way, you’ll internalize the rules and formats.

Where to publish?

Back when I started writing, self publishing was difficult. It could be expensive. And the results generally looked cheap and amateurish (even if the writing wasn’t). Today, it’s a lot easier to create a professional-looking set of writing samples and you don’t have to be a designer to do it.

You can publish your samples:

  • On a blog
  • In an email newsletter
  • As an ebook
  • As a nicely-typeset PDF

There are other options, too. Just remember to choose a simple, clean, eye-catching design. You want your work too look professional in addition to reading professional.

A few do’s and don’ts

It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: only include your best work in your set of samples. Take the time to refine and polish that work before presenting it to editors or potential employers

When creating your samples, try to leverage your enthusiasm. Write about something you’re interested in or passionate about. If you do that, you’ll have a better chance of producing some of your best work.

Don’t falsely claim where your samples were published. If you wrote a profile of a local business, don’t say it was published in The Riverdale Weekly. People can easily check those kinds of claims nowadays. Just be honest about having published your work on your on blog, in an email newsletter, or as self published ebook on Amazon. Or, confess to not having published anywhere.

Don’t fake quotes or interviews or even actual events. The people you’re able to talk to, the events you’re able to witness, might not be as interesting or exciting as interviewing a famous individual or covering a huge event. But if you can make the seemingly mundane fascinating, then you have a chance to stand out from the crowd.

While creating your own writing samples won’t guarantee you get that assignment or gig, they can help. Doing that can show you’re willing to do a bit extra to prove yourself and to get the job done. Sometimes, that makes all the difference.

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