Most freelance writers, when they start out, aren’t sitting on a pile of published and lauded writing samples.

You might have experience but you’re unpublished. Or not published for what you want to be known for now. Maybe you’ve decided to try writing as a new possibility. Maybe you just need a freshly updated portfolio.

You can’t build your freelance writing career without experience; you can’t gain the critical writing experience without a portfolio.

That’s the sneaky catch-22 of all newbies entering any job market.

So how do you create a solid writing portfolio, from basically scratch? Here are some ideas, hopefully a few will be new to you:

Build on what you already have.

As writers, published or no, we tend to… er… write, right? Go through everything you’ve done involving the written word. Dust it off. Excerpt it. Try to choose variations in styles to highlight what you’re capable of. This can include:

College papers or essays.

Go through the cream of the crop and choose the strongest part. If possible, try to get a variation. An essay, a review, a research project. They can show your writing diversity. And no, it doesn’t matter if you wrote it years ago. As long as the topics are evergreen (timeless), they’re good to go.

Use Your Blog.

If you don’t have one, start. Just make sure it isn’t filled with angst, rants or otherwise personal things like pages dedicated to ‘How The #?@! Broke My Heart.’ Blogging is representative of another writing style you have- with a valid byline. It’s great for a portfolio, as long as it’s relevant for the type of writing you want to pursue.

Network your buns off, on and offline.

You might be uncozy with meeting a lot of new strangers, or outside of your comfort zone in asking acquaintances but one of the best ways to get your name out there is to get connected.

Do some pro bono writing work in exchange for: testimonials or references; a byline on a reputable blog; a byline on a clip from local newspapers; and even volunteering.


Friends, classmates, acquaintances, local businesses, charities.

Make a list of people you know, and then a secondary list of what possible writing needs they might have. Tell people. Ask around. Create writing possibilities- a poem for a wedding or anniversary. An ‘About Me’ page for your best friend’s sister’s boss. You might be pleasantly surprised by the response.

Local businesses, charities and newspapers.

Many people would be more than happy to exchange a recommendation for free help with their business writing. Pitch ideas to the local paper or businesses you’re familiar with, offering them articles or press releases, for example. Non-profits are known for being short-staffed. You’d be helping others while helping yourself, which is a pretty nice trade.

Online Networking:

Expand and professionalize your social media sites.

Three sites you should join, if you’re not yet a member: LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+ (Google’s an up-and-comer this year for professionals). Fill out your profile, connect with groups that are in your writing genre and interact. It’s a great way to meet experienced writers, make valid contacts in your writing field and get the low down on the latest.

*Don’t use your personal: website, Facebook page or Twitter account, unless your master plan is not to be taken seriously.

Guest blog or write a review for a byline.

Two of the hottest trends right now are perfect for your writer’s portfolio. Guest blogging on a site is in high demand, since many bloggers and companies find it time-consuming. Reviews for companies/products/blogs are also popular right now, since a lot of them are looking for the same thing you are: credibility and reputation.

Find the areas that interest you. Check out sites like ProBlogger. Pitch ideas to bloggers you actually like. Start establishing your writer’s ‘brand.’

Become a ‘virtual volunteer’ writer.

There are tons of opportunities out there for writers, whether you’re green or just getting back into the writing scene. Volunteering your writing services can be a good way to get experience or brush up on your skills

Volunteer sites have a wide array of writing that’s needed: content and articles; professional emails; newsletters; and even social media updates. Check out Coyote Communications for a list. A high-profile volunteer site to write for is the United Nations. Seriously, take a peek. It’d look great on your portfolio, no?

Try your hand at contests.

Think about what type of writing you want to do. 9/10 times, there’s a contest that’ll be right up your alley. Don’t limit yourself too strictly. It’s a good chance for you to expand and challenge your writing skills. If you place, it’s a nice addition to your writing portfolio. Many are free. What do you have to lose?

Just a few samples (out of thousands):

Poetry: Poetry Writing Contests 

Short Stories:  Short Story Competitions

Flash Fiction:  Flash Fiction Contest

Travel Writing: Travel Writing Contest

General Writing (Poetry, Short Stories, Non-Fiction, Etc.): Writing Contests

Upcoming Contests: Writer’s Contests

New/Unpublished Writers Contests: Writing Contests

Greeting Cards (not a contest, but open to submissions year-round)Greeting Card Writings

I’m sure you can already feel your writing portfolio plumping up. Grin. I truly hope some of these have helped- or at least, inspired you to try new directions- in building up your portfolio. Let me know if you’ve found any other nifty tidbits I can add to this list-? Happy writing, M.