Although most freelance writing sites will have either a proprietary piece submission requirement, writing samples are important to have waiting in the wings. Stepping into the freelance writing gig with your arsenal already loaded means that you’ll be able to be more nimble and jump on job opportunities – getting paid with writing is about 1/3 timing, 1/3 prep and 1/3 solid writing, when you get right down to it.
Write Like You’re Getting Paid
Avoid the temptation to recycle that Brit Lit paper from sophomore year and crack some knuckles; you should really be writing your samples from scratch. The more you write, the better you’ll get, which is why example pieces, barring rare cases of high-profile clients or publications attached to them, should be as fresh as possible. As you write them, try and convince your brain they’re for a job – they’ll end up with a more professional edge and go further towards convincing the client to pick you up. These aren’t fun pieces or fluff, this is your interview on paper so be sure to treat it that way.
But What Do I Write??
Okay, here’s the thing. Hit up a site like Odesk.com (which you should really be signed up for anyway) and scan through the jobs available after searching a keyword that matches your preferred writing style or skill. Love writing press releases? Pop “PR” in there. Prefer to cover the news? Type up “News Articles” and see what you get. As you scan the jobs, you’ll probably see some trends and common themes, and that’s what you’re aiming for. Pick a concept or field and go forth into the great wide Google to get your source and ideas ready and just…write. For myself, I prefer product descriptions, so I headed over to my favorite online store, grabbed 2 or 3 products that I could see myself buying, and rewrote their descriptions entirely. This allowed my enthusiasm and passion for those products to shine through and give my writing a natural boost. Plus, linking the high-profile site to demonstrate the original description didn’t hurt my cred with the client – they don’t necessarily have to know that you weren’t hired to do that piece for that company, but do be truthful if they ask directly.
Your pieces should not be the new War and Peace. Keep it short but simple, folding in a 300 to 400 word piece along with a few 200-ish ones so you have a body of easily-digestible work for the client to leaf through. If you need a refresher on how to write an article, click here. Essentially, for web writing, you want to have a short opener and closer, cap paragraphs at 100-ish words, and use subheaders for each paragraph.
Some Final Tips:
- After you’ve written one or two pieces, don’t be shy about hitting up friends and family and asking their opinion – it’s sort of like a phone-a-friend lifeline for an interview, and it’s a rare shot at assistance you should make use of. Pay the most attention to what they think of the overall flow and tone, because those are the important bits.
- Save these pieces in a “normal” – e.g. compatible-with-Microsoft-word format, using size 12 Times New Roman font, which is pretty much industry standard. Save it to your account at drive.google.com (and if you don’t have a writing gmail address yet, you get a smack with a rolled up newspaper. Go do it.) so that you can access it wherever you need to, whenever you need to.
- Take exclamation points out. This is an article, not a used car sales lot ad. Unless it is, in which case leave em in.
- Look through your piece with a careful eye and see if you’ve repeated any concepts or thoughts. If so, get back in there and rewrite them into different ideas. If you’re relying on repeating your own work to fill a short self-selected piece that you have free reign on, you can bet the client is going to notice.
- As Mark Twain once said, “Substitute “damn” every time you’re inclined to write “very”; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” Take this to heart and also swap out the word “great” for another adjective after you’ve used it once in a piece. Trust me, it’s a pain in the ass but man will it help your writing.