Say you want to be a freelance writer. But you’re not the kind of person who just fell into the business by chance when you were on the high school paper and then naturally had contacts for bigger and better things eventually ending in a lucrative career with clients calling you and not the other way around. (Run-on sentence. Deal.)
Instead, say you’re the person who has fiddled with their life for years doing one thing or the next without much drive, or with a vague sense that you’d like to write for a living but somehow didn’t know where to begin. Say you’re like a lot of other people who are just like that, and you wake up one day to realize that writing would make your life complete, but maybe the window has closed, leaving you staring out it wondering if the train had already left the station. (Run-on AND mixed metaphors! Sheesh!)
The problem with getting a writing job is that it requires you already to have written. Whether you are applying for a gig writing articles for cheap online or trying to convince the local ice cream shop to hire you and write their advertising, without fail they all want to see a sample of what you can do. If you’re like that cartoon character who pulls his pockets inside out only to reveal the starving moth, you are wondering where the writing sample comes from when you have never been hired to write in the first place.
Good news, buddy. Getting writing samples is a piece of cake. Here, take notes:
- Just start writing: Does the client really care if you are already published? Maybe, and maybe not. What they do want to know is that you can write. Sure, it’s more impressive if you can send a copy of a published article or a link to some major online work. But when you don’t have that, make your own articles. Start with a list of your favorite subject, then write some statements that focus on a specific idea in that subject. A good article will offer a different slant on a familiar subject. Voila! Writing samples.
- Apply to those online writing sites: Most or all of the many online content mills and magazines (Suite101, Examiner, Demand Studios, etc.) ask you to provide a brief article in their style or using their subjects. They will probably suggest an article topic. Take a moment and write a solid article for them. But here’s the trick: save the article for your portfolio. And why not? You put the effort into it. View it as your first writing assignment for a client. But you’re not working for them yet. As far as I know you can keep and use the article as a writing sample for another potential client. (Just don’t take my word as gospel on this. Check out the client’s rules first!)
- Write a blog. Yes, just like this one. Maybe better. If you are writing a blog you are creating writing samples with each post. Now, I’m not talking about your blog where you tell your peeps how you told off the guy in the car ahead of you. Instead, write the kind of blog that is creative and showcases your professional style and the kind of subjects you like to write about.
Keep everything. Post them on your blog. Post them at ezinearticles.com or any of 100 free article hosting sites. Point potential clients them. Link to them from your own site if you have one. Before long, you will have a portfolio to be proud of, one you may add to when the clients come knocking on your door.
I’ve just put up two new articles as the Kettle Moraine New Dads Examiner on Examiner.com. Both are about being unemployed, and list things to do and not do. Start with this one.
We are fast approaching the most exciting month of the year. November! Now, some (here in the US, at any rate) get excited because they are looking forward to their next supersaturation of L-tryptophan, but not this humble wordsmith. No, November 1st at 12 o’clock a.m. begins the hallowed National Novel Writing Month.
NaNoWriMo — as it is known to those who love it — is the wonderful month-long foray into sleep deprivation and overclocking of the plot crank, yes, that caffeine-driven deluge of words on page without rhyme, reason, or regard to personal safety. If you’ve done it right, on November 30th at 11:59:59 p.m. you will have several things: 1) 50,000 words of a previously unrealized novel, 2) friends and family who complain they don’t see you enough, 3) a mean coffee monkey, and 4) serious bragging rights. What you will also have is an obligation to finish what you so hastily started: a novel!
Alas, I will not be participating in NaNoWriMo this year (heavy sigh). There is quite enough to do in the Wade household with The Boy now starting his third month of benevolent dictatorship. But I did want to weigh in with my full support to anyone who is curious about it or is planning to give it a go. Do it! It will be worth it. Go to the NaNoWriMo website and sign up. Just having access to the forums is worth the price of admission. Well, it’s free to sign up, but…you know what I mean.
There are also many bloggers out there who are posting NaNoWriMo content this month and the next, posts about how they are doing it and giving excellent tips on how to make it through this next great month of November. I’ll have another post, soon I hope, with links to some of those. In the meantime, all of you my faithful and teeming trove of readers are welcome to post comments here about their NaNoWriMo experiences and tips as well.
TTFN and keep cranking!
Yesterday my first guest post was posted at Clean Reads, a review of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation. Essentially it’s a reposting of the review I wrote for this site, with a brief intro to science fiction and speculative fiction added for the unitiated.
This was my first guest blog anywhere, and I admit I was a little intimidated at the thought. It’s like sending your manuscript to an editor and waiting for their form-letter rejection notice. Just because it’s someone else’s blog (instead of a magazine or publisher) doesn’t mean your article will be automatically accepted. Laura, hopefully you used the same editorial selectivity when posting my review! 🙂
Thanks to Laura Fabiani for inviting me to be a guest poster! I appreciated being able to add my review to her website, because I believe that reading a good book or an important book does not automatically mean that the reader has to read a lot of profanity, violence, or spiritism.
Incidentally, Laura would like me to mention that she is hosting a book giveaway at her site. Go check it out & you may come away with one or two good reads.
There’s a book inside you. You know it. You can see it when you close your eyes. The characters are familiar friends. The world they live in is old and well-visualized. There is only one thing keeping you from bringing it outside: You.
What is your roadblock? Often times it’s only the perception of a roadblock that keeps you from starting or completing your project. If your complaint is “there isn’t enough time,” “my family keeps me busy,” or “I can’t see past a certain point in the story, I’m blocked,” then rest assured that those are the worst excuses ever devised; they are not even clever enough for a writer to have come up with. But, if you find yourself buying into these anti-productivity slogans, then perhaps what you need is a little self-competition.
Competition can be very good for a writer. Think about it: if you are getting paid to write an article for a magazine, your competitor is either another writer or your deadline. Nothing changes when you are writing for your own pleasure, or if you are banging away at your first novel in the hopes of getting it published. It’s just that your competition is ‘softer’ in a way. Your competition is YOU.
You’re not just one runner in a marathon. You are two runners: the pace runner and the runner trying to keep pace. If your pace runner isn’t doing his job, there is no goal to shoot for. You can just stop whenever you want and chat with an onlooker. On the other hand, if your pacer (that part of you egging you on) is ahead of you shouting encouragement and taunts, well, there is nothing you can’t accomplish. Are you a worthy competitor?
If you need to set a pace that will stretch your abilities, consider one of several ‘self-competitions’ that will challenge you by challenging yourself.
- NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month is the grand master of writing self-contests. The idea is to write a 50,000 rough draft of a novel from whole cloth in the month of November. Creator Chris Baty has built quite a website that administrates the contest, where you can log in your progress through the week and talk in forums with others who have accepted the same challenge. I completed NaNoWriMo in 2007 with a manuscript that was around 50,010 words. Yay me! What a rush that was. Now, to edit it into something that doesn’t resemble sad mush. I’ll be posting about this later. I have ideas!
- JulNoWriMo: Not to be outdone by November, July has its own contest. Though newer and not as fancy, its participants are on the rise. Too bad we just missed it! Keep it in mind for 2010.
- 10K Day: Milli Thornton at the Fear of Writing hosted the first 10K Day in June, and it was such a hit that she decided to make it a regular thing, and even to add a second day (a Saturday) to the monthly challenge. Check out her site, which has just moved over to WordPress and so has a little construction dust right now. This is a good site for a little jolt of inspiration to get you back to writing.
- The 500 Words-a-Day Challenge: Debbie Ohi at Inkygirl has put out a daily challenge of writing 500 words a day or 1000 words a day. If these word counts seem small then keep in mind that a single Lego seems small, but with enough of them you can build a rocket ship or landspeeder or castle. Or TARDIS! It certainly helps that Debbie offers cool Yay Me! badges. That’s reward enough.
There are other self-challenge sites out there which you’ll find with a quick browse. Some of them require an entry fee. All of them challenge you to challenge yourself.
Let me know: which challenges have you accepted? And whether you completed the challenge or not, how did it help you with your writing? Feel free to post your answer in the comments below.
Just a quick jot to link to this awesome article about fear in writing: I’ve done it, probably you’ve done it. Stared at the screen or page wondering what is going to go there. It’s your internal editor heading you off at the pass, saying “You don’t have anything brilliant to write. Just don’t bother!”
Well, we have to fight that feeling. For every excuse, there is an equal and opposite excuse-killer. Our job is finding it.
Michelle Russell at Copyblogger lists 5 reasons why we should throw caution to the wind and write the Most Horrible Blog Post (or story, for that matter) Ever:
- It’ll Give You Courage
- You’ll Fail Faster
- Happy Accidents Happen
- Nobody Likes Perfect People
- People Need You
Go check Michelle’s article out. Now I have to go write badly horribly. Keep cranking!