How to Become a Freelance Writer Part 2: Building a Portfolio

Anyone who’s even considered trying to build a career as a writer will have realised pretty quickly that writing itself is the easy bit. Before you can call yourself a published writer, you have a much bigger challenge than just putting pen to paper to face. First of all, you’re going to have beat the classic Catch-22: and that, my friends, can take some doing.

What is the catch-22?

It’s this: in order to get work as a writer, you’re going to have to demonstrate your writing experience. In order to get that experience, however, you’re going to need to get some work. How do you get experience if no one will give you work? And how do you persuade someone to give you work if you don’t have the experience.

This is the freelance writer’s Catch-22. And this is how to beat it.

The most important thing to note when you’re trying to gain writing experience is that the clips you show a potential employer don’t necessarily have to be published clips. Sure, it looks better if they are. Most employers will be far more impressed by an article in the New York Times than an unpublished piece from your desk drawer.

If you haven’t yet written that front-page splash, however, there are other ways to get yourself some credible writing clips – and not all of them involve being published. Here are a few to try.

1. Work experience/ Internships

In part one of this series I discussed how I managed to break into freelance writing by doing some work experience with the local newspaper. This is a great way to build some portfolio pieces for yourself, and you don’t have to restrict yourself to the local rag, either. National newspapers and glossy magazines may also be willing to offer work experience or an internship, although be aware that these places are very sought after, and you may have to fight off a lot of competition to get one.

By working in this way for a real live publication, you may not get much in the way of pay (if anything), but you will have the chance to get your name in print, and to build up a portfolio of pieces to show to prospective clients.

2. Work for free

Established freelance writers will often argue that it’s never OK to work for free. And, of course, that’s easy for them to say: they have all the clips they need. They don’t need to work for free, because they have nothing to prove. You do. And while I’d like to add my voice to the rest when they argue that professional writers should never work for free, I’d argue that sending a submission or two to a non-paying market can be a good way for an aspiring writer to start building up a portfolio of published clips. Note the word “can”, though. Don’t base your entire strategy around working for free, and try to only target those publications which will make a good addition to your portfolio.

3. Write for yourself

You know those articles you’ve been writing on the subjects close to your heart? There’s absolutely nothing stopping you using them in your portfolio, and sending them to prospective employers who ask to see a sample of your writing. Most of the time, these employers won’t specify that the sample you send them must have been published. All they’re interested in knowing is whether or not you can write. If you have unpublished articles or features which prove that you can, use them.

4. Start a blog

Much has been made in recent months of the sheer power of blogging, and the opportunities it presents to get your writing out there, and expose it to the masses. Let’s be honest here: unless you get lucky, or really know your stuff, it’s unlikely that blogging will ever make your fortune. But it’s free and it’s fun, and if you have nothing else to show of your writing, starting a blog can be one way to make sure that you write regularly, and have something to show for it. You can set up a free blog in a matter of minutes at sites likewww.blogger.com and www.wordpress.com


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