Calling All Writers: Here's How to Create a Portfolio When You Have Zero Published Work

Calling All Writers: Here's How to Create a Portfolio When You Have Zero Published Work

Every writer’s ultimate goal is to get eyes on their work, whether that means selling magazines or racking up views on a digital post. But without published work, the best way to build a readership and showcase your voice to potential employers is to build a stellar writing portfolio. Finding the best way to round up and display samples of your work is an essential skill for any writer, especially those who are just starting out. With tips from College Fashionista alumni and freelance pros, I put together your go-to guide on how to create a writing portfolio from scratch.

Get Creative When It Comes to Getting Clips

First things first: When it comes to creating any kind of portfolio, you need to start by gathering all the work you want to showcase. But when you’re just starting out, you may be wondering how and where to get writing samples, or clips, to bolster your portfolio. Even if you don’t have bylines in major publications yet, you can still find other ways to get clips that will showcase your style, your voice, and your skill.

Maria Bobila, an associate editor at Fashionista.com, remembers learning the value of clips from a former professor. “One of the instructors that I had pretty much said that clips are your currency, especially as a writer, so I always kind of took that very seriously.” As for getting clips when you’re starting from scratch, Maria suggests getting involved in your school’s newspaper, turning assignments from journalism classes into samples for your portfolio, or even reaching out to local publications for writing opportunities. “Try and see if local publications in your area would be willing to let you write something or cover something that’s in the area, and you could probably get clips that way, without having to write for a big name title yet.” Whether it’s a blog post, a class assignment, or a story you wrote for your school’s magazine, finding writing samples that highlight your unique style and voice is the first step to creating a stellar portfolio.

Showcase Your Work (And Your Personality!) on The Platform That Works Best For You

In the days of all things digital, the need for a physical, spiral-bound portfolio has been replaced by the advantages of an easy-to-access online compilation of your work. Also with the age of digital portfolios, writers now have endless options when it comes to choosing a platform to showcase your work, from creating your own unique website to using ready-made portfolio websites with tools and templates that simplify the process.

Victoria Messina, an assistant editor at Popsugar and a College Fashionista alum, suggests taking the time to research different platforms to see which site makes the most sense for you. “Do some research first to find a platform that you enjoy using before pulling the plug and committing to one. I personally love Wix because it’s super customizable, both other popular options are Squarespace and Weebly.”

Samantha Peters, a fashion editorial assistant at Real Simple and another College Fashionista alum, adds that once you choose your platform, whether it be your own site or an online portfolio platform, you should add your personality by customizing your page. “Create your own website or sign up for an online portfolio, like clippings.me, to aggregate all your work in one place. Customize your page with unique graphics and compelling bios and personal info to make it your own.” If you’re super web-savvy and have the time to build your own site from scratch, or if you’re more likely to opt for a pre-made template that will allow you to get your portfolio up quickly, the most important part is finding which platform works for you, and then taking the time to add your own personal flair.

Consider Investing In Your Own URL 

If you do end up opting to publish your portfolio on your own site, consider going the extra mile and investing in your own URL. Most sites, like Squarespace and WordPress, give you the option to purchase your own custom domain name for a monthly or yearly fee. While buying your own URL could mean the difference between publishing your portfolio for free and paying to upkeep your website, the investment could pay off by giving your portfolio a more professional and polished look.

Victoria encourages everyone to consider investing in a custom URL, especially when it comes to sending your portfolio to potential employers. “I suggest splurging and buying your own URL, preferably something simple like firstnamelastname.com. I personally think it looks better to hiring managers if you went the extra mile to do so, versus simply sending them a link with ‘WordPress’ or ‘Blogspot’ in the URL. It’s definitely a worthy investment!” While the cost of your own URL might not be ideal for everyone, it’s definitely something to consider budgeting for!

Keep Your Portfolio User-Friendly

Once you have your platform set up, it’s time to decide how you’re going to organize your clips in a way that’s reader-friendly and makes the most sense for showcasing your writing and standing out to future employers.

Victoria perfectly sums up the main purpose of a portfolio for potential employers. “The goal of a portfolio is to have everything organized in one place for a hiring manager. It’s like a ‘one-stop shop’ of sorts. Create an about section to explain who you are and show off your personality, along with your résumé and a contact page.” She also adds that it’s important to make your portfolio as reader-friendly as possible and to put your best work front and center. “Organize your clips in a way that’s easy to digest, preferably grouping them into sections by publication and including two to three standout articles you wrote for each one.”

Maria also suggests categorizing your portfolio, whether it be my publication, by subject, or simply in chronological order, as long as it’s “in a way that’s easy for people to go through.” After all, you want hiring managers and potential employers to get as much from your portfolio as possible, so keeping it simple and user-friendly will go a long way in getting your work noticed. 

Tailor Your Portfolio For the Job You Want

 So, you finally have your portfolio perfected and published, and it’s time to start including the link in your résumé and maybe even sending it out to potential employers. There’s just one last thing to keep in mind, and that’s making sure your portfolio, just like your résumé, is always tailored for the job you want.

Maria says that a key aspect of making your portfolio work for you is ensuring that it’s always organized in a way that makes you look like the best candidate for the job. “A good writer can write about anything, as long as they’re interested in it. I write for fashion but I’m sure I wouldn’t mind writing about food or travel or music or anything like that, but if I was applying for a writing role at a fashion magazine or a fashion website, I probably wouldn’t be like, here are my restaurant review clips. It’s always important to tailor your resume and portfolio towards the job.” When you’re updating your portfolio, always keep in mind the job that you’re after, and make sure your portfolio is serving it’s purpose­—highlighting your work in a way that will help you land your dream job!

Have any tips on how to create a standout writing portfolio? Let us know in the comments below! 

Opening image by Haley Brandt.

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