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When I started Writing Roads, and I started hawking my services, almost across the board, people asked me for the same thing: my portfolio. They wanted to see my work. I know, it’s shocking.

I knew I could write. I knew I could write for them. But I didn’t have anything that I could show them in the way of a portfolio per se. And that seemed impossible to me. I’d been writing my whole life – how could I not have any writing samples?

There was a moment where I thought, ‘Shit! I’m stuck in the classic Catch-22. I need a job to get writing samples, but I need writing samples to get a job.’ I felt dependent and a bit hopeless. I’d thought this was all going to be so easy – people would need good writing and I would write for them, goodly. All I needed was my computer and my brain. But now, with the writing sample roadblock, I was convinced that I needed other people to make my life as a copywriter begin.

I hate when that happens. It can be paralyzing. But really, it’s just an excuse not to move forward – born of the fear of taking a risk and the possibility of being great. Which is why I was thrilled when I saw that there was another way.

I cobbled the pieces together in my brain like this:

  • I’m a writer.
  • I’m trying to prove that I’m creative.
  • I’m trying to prove that, as a freelancer, I can be responsible and self-manage.
  • I have absolutely nothing to lose.
  • I have a computer – and I know how to use it. (just like I’d said before, I was just going to use it for me first and then for my clients)

So in a stunning show of non-procrastination and verve, I gave myself twenty writing assignments. And then – and here’s the kicker – I completed them! I made the whole thing up. I wrote ads, I wrote sales letters, I wrote press releases, I wrote web copy, I wrote marketing letters. And I put them in a lovely black binder.

I also told potential clients what I’d done. I wasn’t about to start out under false pretenses. This was me – love me or I’ll leave you. I figured one of two things could happen:

  1. They’d respect it and jive with the gumption. And this would be good.
  2. They’d think I wasn’t for real and judge the fact that I didn’t have ‘real’ samples. And I wouldn’t want to work with those kinds of people anyway.

Most of them hired me. And I slowly replaced my made-up pieces with actual client work. Though I kept a few in there…for posterity.

I’m thinking about how often we don’t do things because we think we need something outside of ourselves to complete the task.  I’m thinking about how often we wait for someone to come through and do their part before we can take our  next step. I’m thinking about dependency. I’m thinking about self-sufficiency.

Is there anything – right now – that you’re not doing or finishing or starting because you think you need someone or something else to help you? Why in the world are you doing that? I bet there’s another way.

Image credit: newwavegurly (those are not my feet, but I do have and love those shoes)

Join the discussion 21 Comments

  • DCPrincess says:

    This is exactly what I’m trying to do. I don’t have the best portfolio right now and my current job won’t be giving that opportunity for me for a couple of months. My next goal is to get at least 10 writing samples together.

    What would you recommend the top 5 examples be among the samples?

  • Way to go! I’ve done similar “fake” pieces for my portfolio as well, particularly when I’m building skills with a new medium, or when I’ve been doing a lot of proprietary work that I can’t use as sample pieces but still want to keep my portfolio fresh.

    And there’s no reason that your sample sales letters, press releases, media kits and the like can’t be all about YOU and your services!

  • Lindsey says:

    I love this! Wish I had your gumption. I feel like by reading your words I am absorbing a teeny bit of it – as if by osmosis – so, thank you for that!
    .-= Lindsey´s last blog ..The introverted Connector =-.

  • Julie Roads says:

    Hi DCPrincess!
    Great question. The answer is that you should write the kinds of samples that you’d like to be hired for. If you want to write blogs for companies, create those. If you want to do ads for the fashion industry, create those. Capiche???

  • Van says:

    For my current marketing writing job I was asked to produce a writing sample. As a fresh inexperienced 21-year old (nearly 3 years ago) I desperately wanted the writing opportunity so I proved it. I made a mock website based on the company’s website and put the requested article along with another in it and sent it to the recruiter within 30 minutes. I was asked to come in for an interview immediately. I’ve always done the same thing- if I don’t have true samples, I make them. If I’m not “exactly” qualified, I’m earnest about my shortcomings but prove my skills to the recruiter. All of my best opportunities have been achieved this way. I give all my friends on the job hunt trite but true advice, “Take advantage of even the tiniest opportunities, and think outside the box.”
    .-= Van´s last blog ..Dollar Book Therapy =-.

  • Julie Roads says:

    Van! I love that story!!!! Knew you were awesome, but thanks for proving it.

  • Susan Greene says:

    Some of my first freelance writing assignments were for relatives and friends. Their budgets were too small to hire an experienced copywriter, and I needed samples for my portfolio. Worked out well for everyone.

  • Justine says:

    Wow – I’m now at exactly where you were. I love writing and I’d like to start freelancing but I lack the samples. I like your approach in building your portfolio – you’ve inspired me to embark on this journey with or without real samples. If you don’t mind sharing the assignments you gave yourself to enrich your portfolio, I’d love to see them.

  • Julie Roads says:

    I wish I could remember them! My best advice – which I gave up above – is write samples that mimic what you’d want to be hired to write. In other words, write what you want to write. (or write where you want to go…hee hee)

  • Ari Herzog says:

    A wise person once told me, if talking to a prospective client who asks if I can do X, I should say I do X even if I’ve never done X.

    Your wisdom adds to it. Instead of saying I can do X, why not show an example of X?

    Thanks for sharing!
    .-= Ari Herzog´s last blog ..Blogging with Influence in 5 Steps =-.

  • Tara says:

    I love this! It’s so simple but never occurred to me. Thanks for the idea.

  • marilou says:

    Love this… forwarding to my writer friends!

  • Karina says:

    This is so fantastic and truly empowering! I would also appreciate a few samples of your ‘self-assigned assignments’, if you wouldn’t mind sharing!
    .-= Karina´s last blog ..(belated) mother’s day happy’s =-.

  • Alisha says:

    Love this. I often wondered about getting started that way…like future employers wouldn’t take me seriously. But if you’re writing is good, it’s good and that’s all that matters. And I think that creating your own portfolia probably shows a lot about your character, your determination and wit. Thanks for sharing this…very reaffirming.

  • Dave Doolin says:

    Works the same way with programming. Which is what I’m doing right now.
    .-= Dave Doolin´s last blog ..Persistence – the critical trait for success, in any endeavor =-.

    • Julie Roads says:

      Dave – doesn’t it work the same way with *everything*??? Can’t wait for my lesson from you tonight!!! Everyone, Dave is the bomb. Check him.

  • Ije says:

    thanks for that gentle kick in the butt to get typing. i feel like i just got a “jump”. lol! i love your graphic by the way:-)

  • Walker says:

    Great post. I am planning to write an article to ‘pedal’ somewhere.. I guess it’s really to show what I can do and to have something ready for that question about my work. I’m looking at areas where I don’t do much work yet, as I don’t have the ‘sample’… thanks for the inspiration…
    .-= Walker´s last blog ..Wednesday Words =-.

  • Andi says:

    I am always getting on my husband for this. He is always putting what I call “false obstacles” in front of himself to prevent him from trying out something he wants to do, or making a step in certain direction. Sometimes you just got to do it!
    .-= Andi´s last blog ..5 Things Sex and The City taught me about life =-.

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