How to Create a Writing Portfolio With No Experience

Written by Monica Shaw

Starting out as a writer often feels like navigating a Catch-22: you need published articles to showcase your abilities, yet require quality samples to get published in the first place. How can you present writing samples without any prior publications? This post aims to illuminate this dilemma for aspiring writers. Fear not if you're lacking experience or publications. By the time you're considering building an online writing portfolio, you're already further along than you realize. Drawing from my own journey, I'll share insights into creating a freelance writing portfolio from scratch, even without industry experience.

How To Create a Writing Portfolio That Gets You Hired Even If You Have No Experience

I faced this problem when I first went freelance in April 2008. I'd been working as a banker for over a year and held previous jobs in software testing, research and teaching. I decided to quit my job and give this writing-for-a-living malarky a go but was left with a dilemma: to get published, I'd need to demonstrate to editors that I can write. But how would I do that without samples of published work? The ultimate writer's Catch-22!

My solution was to think a bit more broadly about "published work". I ended up taking samples from teaching material, flyers and a few of my better blog posts and turning them into "writing samples" for my online writing portfolio. With the help of my portfolio (and a good pitch) I was able to land my first commission, an article on endorphins for The Daily Telegraph. After that, my arsenal of "published" writing samples only grew.

Just because you don’t have any published clips or writing samples doesn’t mean disaster – we all have to start somewhere. Here are a few tips for dealing with clips in the early stages of your career.

You Think You Have No Experience? Think Again

Sources of writing samples you probably already have

If you want to be a freelance writer, chances are you’ve already done some writing. Consider these possible sources for your writing clips:

  • Business reports - If you've had a job in business or as a consultant, chances are you've done some writing. Project reports, business plans, feasibility studies, market analysis reports, and the like all make brilliant writing samples and demonstrates your problem solving skills and client-focus
  • Copywriting - Brochures, website content, landing pages, and any type of writing, commercial or otherwise, with a set purpose
  • Technical writing - User manuals, technical reports, API documentation, research reports, white papers, and even help files and FAQs
  • Blog posts - Be it for yourself or someone else
  • Voiceover, podcasts, and other scriptwriting
  • Press releases 
  • Newsletters

If after all this you feel short on samples, consider these techniques for getting more:

Write sample articles to showcase in your portfolio

Write a couple of articles in the genre you’d like to write for and be your own editor. Make sure these articles represent your best work and give them the same amount of attention you would to a paid article. Who knows, you might be able to sell them someday.

Publish online, either for yourself or someone else

Start a blog or offer to write guest posts on other people’s blogs. This is a great way to build up your portfolio and gain exposure to your work at the same time. And there are increasingly more and more sources for writers to self-publish: Substack and Medium come to mind.

Go for small publications

Many small publications and local newspapers are more willing to take a chance on an unknown writer. You can also try pitching shorter pieces to magazines as fillers.

Query without clips

Don’t let a lack of clips keep you from pitching ideas. Simply write a great query and don’t mention clips at all. Instead, talk up other aspects of your experience that makes you right for the job. As always, play up your strengths and omit the weaknesses. Most importantly, keep writing!

Things you shouldn't do

  • Write on spec. Some may disagree, but I think life is too short to work for free, so unless you're writing about something you'd write about anyway because you just can't help yourself, don't spend the time until you're sure you're going to get paid. Professional writers get paid for their craft, and there's monetary value in what you do.
  • Don't acknowledge your lack of writing samples. All professional freelance writers have writing samples - that's what you are, right? This is a fake it til you make it moment. Use my tips above to collate some great samples of writing to show off what you can do. 

In fact, that last point is the most important point of all: if you want people to take you seriously as a writer, YOU need to take yourself seriously as a writer. That means creating a presence that tells the world "hi, I'm a professional". You don't need a huge collection of published work to do this. You simply need a little creativity and confidence.

Position yourself as a professional writer in your pitches, online profiles and especially on your website, not only through your writing samples, but in the words you use to describe yourself on your home page and about page. Soon enough, you'll have more writing samples than you can keep up with.

You can find more friendly advice about creating a portfolio with no experience in our interview with Blair Sharp

If you have no experience or no writing samples, look for guest posting or volunteer writing opportunities. Reach out to smaller publications to increase your chances of getting accepted. You could also put your writing on a platform like Medium or Substack. Remember, you don’t need big names to prove you can write—your writing should speak for itself. 

Related reading: 


How can a writer create compelling writing samples if their work primarily consists of confidential or ghostwritten content?

When creating writing samples from confidential or ghostwritten work, the key is to craft new pieces that echo the style and substance of your original work without revealing confidential details. This approach allows you to showcase your writing skills and maintain your professional integrity.

Are there specific genres or types of writing that are more effective for unpublished writers to showcase in their samples

Choosing the right genre for your writing samples is crucial, especially when aiming to get published with no experience. Focus on genres where you excel and that are in demand. This strategy increases your chances of catching the eye of publishers or clients looking for fresh talent in those specific areas.

What are the best platforms or mediums for unpublished writers to publish their samples to gain visibility and credibility?

For unpublished writers looking to get published with no experience, leveraging online platforms -  particularly a writing portfolio website - is a strategic move. Creating an online portfolio with a tool like Writer's Residence can not only showcase your writing but also build an audience. These platforms offer a space to demonstrate your writing prowess and can serve as stepping stones towards getting your work published professionally.

Monica Shaw

I founded Writer's Residence alongside my own journey as a professional writer in 2008. Today, I continue to work as a writer among other side hustles that contribute towards my freelance lifestyle. I write for other businesses - white papers, research reports, web content, and other forms of copywriting - as well as for pleasure on my own personal websites, and

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