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How to create a good writing portfolio

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You’re a wannabe writer. Hooray! Welcome to one of the most rewarding, if not financially reliable, career paths you can take. But wait, what’s that? You need a portfolio? Panic time.

What for?

There are lots of reasons you might need a portfolio of writing, be it made of fiction, poetry, or journalism, for entry to a university course or as something to give to employers, or, gulp, to demonstrate your talents as a freelancer. It sounds easy until you start putting it together, at which point every single word seems to need changing and everything, for a horrifying, stomach-churning moment, looks like rubbish.


But the experience of creating a portfolio can be a good one – and once you’ve got it, you have a solid folder of work that will be easy to change and adapt according to your needs. The following tips are based on creating a portfolio for entry to a university course or for assessment as part of that course, as that’s when you’re most likely to have to start from scratch, but they should work in any hair-raising, emergency portfolio-creating situation.

Don’t start writing from scratch

Anything that goes in a portfolio should be polished, which means you’ve had it a while and already have confidence in it. If you write something new to fill a word count or fit a theme, it will definitely show – and put you under more pressure. Use something old, and re-edit if you have to.

Use variation

If horror stories are your thing, start with one of those, but move away a little from that genre. It shows that you are more than a one-trick pony and your skills are strong enough to adapt. Having said that, if you have a very strong, unusual voice, don’t force it to change. Just use it flexibly.

Think hard about the order of your work

If you’ve got short and long pieces, mixing them up makes the portfolio a more engrossing read (and less hard work). If there’s a piece you know is better than anything else, definitely put it first – this is where the reader is being introduced to your style and is paying most attention. End with something you think is particularly strong, too, so your portfolio doesn’t fizzle out.

If there’s a word limit, really, really stick to it

Don’t give the reader an excuse to throw it aside. Plus, going way over means you probably aren’t editing enough (at least, that’s the assumption the reader will have).

Using extracts?

It’s normal practise to take the extract from the beginning of the piece. This shows that you haven’t had to scour the longer work for something good, and it avoids you having to explain the context.

Proof read!

This should be obvious, but do it. More than once. Get someone else to look, too, because they’re likely to spot things that you missed. The worst feeling in the world is sending something off, then realising there’s a glaring mistake. Imagine that feeling when you’re putting off proof-reading, and know you can avoid it.

Excellent. Time for a cup of tea, you brilliant writer, you.

Do you have any tips on how to create a good writing portfolio? Let us know in the comments below.

Photo: photosteve101 / Flickr

Charlotte SalterHow to create a good writing portfolio

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