If you’re a writer, your portfolio should include samples of your best work—makes sense, right? Strong writing samples showcase your skills, creativity, and professional experience, which can help convince prospective clients, editors, content managers, and even potential employers that you’re the right person to hire for whatever job or assignment you’re after.
The only problem? If you’re a new writer, you might not have an abundance of previous work—or any previous work—to pull from. So how are you supposed to get writing experience when, more often than not, you need experience to prove that you can be trusted with an assignment?
Compiling standout writing samples is one of the most nerve-wracking and potentially discouraging obstacles novice writers face. But fear not, fellow writers: there are plenty of solid ways to put together your own writing samples that can help you land the work you want to be doing, with no prior professional writing experience required.
Here are a few methods to consider.
1. Repurpose an existing piece
Before setting your sights on creating a new writing sample from scratch, it might behoove you to take stock of everything you’ve written in the recent past. Could that book report you wrote in college be reworked into a more interesting, opinion-driven book review? Could you spruce up that old blog post you haphazardly threw together at your old job and reframe it as a reported news piece?
Compiling writing samples for your portfolio doesn’t mean you need to reinvent the wheel. Think creatively and recycle what you can. The amount of salvageable writing you dig up might surprise you!
2. Guest blogging
If you genuinely don’t have any reusable content, guest posting on niche blogs is a great way to create strong, professional-looking writing samples while simultaneously getting your foot in the door.
Whatever topic you’re interested in writing about—be it travel, parenting, marketing, fashion, entertainment, politics, or something else—there’s a blog about it somewhere on the Internet that accepts posts from contributing writers on a regular basis. Once you’ve identified a website you want to write for, simply brainstorm a few ideas that could be a good fit, make sure the blog hasn’t already posted a similar article, and reach out to the blog owner or editor to ask for a guest post.
A few tips to consider if you’re leaning towards this method:
- Don’t use a cold, generic email template when initially reaching out. Customizing your inquiry with the blog’s name, your contact’s name, and a genuine interest in writing specifically for their blog goes a long way.
- Read and follow all of the guest posting guidelines and style guides for that website, if they’re made available to you.
- Be courteous and professional throughout the entire process. The connections you make while guest blogging could potentially lead to paid work down the line!
3. Start a personal blog
If you’re looking for a little more independence, starting a personal blog to create writing samples might be the way to go. Blogging not only gives new writers more opportunities to practice and improve their writing skills, but also provides the freedom to develop their unique voice and write about essentially any topic with no restraints.
Getting an entire blog up and running certainly takes the most effort out of all of these methods, but if you’re looking to freelance or start a side hustle in the future, blogging can be a great way to support that. This method also works really well if you’re interested in writing about a few niche topics that relate to each other in a cohesive way, like little-known social media hacks and marketing strategies for local businesses, for example.
4. Create a sample from scratch
Creating a writing sample from scratch is pretty similar to starting your own blog, only this piece of writing won’t necessarily be published on the internet or attached to a website in any way.
Many writers tend to shy away from this method since it has the potential to be a lot of work that doesn’t guarantee the promise of an accredited byline, but a major benefit of this method is having the ability to tailor your sample specifically to the style of writing you’re looking to do more of. If you’ve got an idea for a piece and you’re ready to dive right into it, simply open up a Word document and get to writing!
What should a strong writing sample include?
Once you have a few writing samples under your belt, it’s time to tighten them up. If you’re wondering what might help your work stand out in a sea of other writers, job seekers, and creatives, here are a few key tips:
1. Double check, then triple check for spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors
This might seem like a no-brainer, but taking the time to thoroughly proofread an old sample can make all the difference in the world. Realistically, your client or editor probably won’t write you off completely for tiny mistakes (like forgetting a comma or misusing a semicolon), but a writing sample with virtually no mistakes shows that you’re intelligent, detail-oriented, and capable of delivering clean, accurate content.
2. Showcase your current skills and capabilities
Say you do already have a handful of writing samples to choose from … but they’re all from over five, 10, maybe even 15 years ago. You won’t necessarily be penalized for submitting an old writing sample, but you’ve likely become a better writer since then, so you want to be sure your writing samples show that.
Even if you think your older writing is top-notch quality, it’s always better to choose a recent writing sample, if at all possible. If you send an employer or an editor a sample from your high school days, for example, they might assume that you’ve done little to no other writing since then.
3. Always submit writing samples that are relevant to the job or assignment
The type of writing samples you submit for consideration should relate in some way to the job or assignment you’re looking to land. For example, if you’re looking to write for a website that usually posts quippy, lighthearted pop culture listicles, submitting an academic research paper might not be your best bet—but it could work well for a job application to be a grant writer, instructor, or researcher.
Taking the time to do some research on the job position, assignment, or publication you’d like to write for can help you get a better understanding of what style and tone your writing sample should reflect.
Keep up the good work!
As you continue to write more and gradually sharpen your skills over time, you’ll notice your pool of writing samples start to grow.
It’s super helpful to house all of your samples in an organized, professional-looking portfolio, but be sure to keep a running list of some of your favorites handy, too. That way, they’re handy whenever you need to send them off to an editor, a prospective client, or a potential employer, and you can feel confident in the fact that you’re supplying some of your very best work.