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It never fails to surprise me how many writers do not have a portfolio. Nurturing your gift and honing the craft are vital steps in your writing career, but don't forget this essential tool. A portfolio is your writer's resume, an at-a-glance glimpse of your capabilities and progress.
My first published piece was a little eight-line poem. I was so proud of it. In my exuberance to finally be a recognized writer, I mailed copies to all my family members and placed the publication, open to the exact page of my poem, on every available surface in the house from coffee table to bathroom counter, so that everyone would see it. With my little eight-liner and a few good college papers, I began building my portfolio.
If your clip (copy of published piece) is coming from a newspaper, for example, cut out the name of the newspaper with the volume, issue and date from the front page. Use tape or mounting stickers (available where photo/scrap book supplies are sold) to place the heading on the top of a clean piece of white copy paper. Then, tape your article underneath. A scanner comes in handy to reduce larger pieces.
The final step is to make a crisp, clean photocopy. Place your original clip into a plastic page pocket with the clean photocopied page on top. Why? The photocopied page presents a smoother clip. It will not show the cuts or yellow with time like newsprint can, making for better eye candy. After all this is your calling card, it should look as good as possible. With the original placed behind, you have an accessible file for making additional copies when needed to send with queries. Use the opposite side of the page pocket to display another article, using the same process.
Progressive vs. Thematic
Rather than lugging a giant notebook around to conferences and interviews, you can take the very "best of" with you. I purchased a smaller 3-ring that would only allow for about 40 pages. I added tabbed dividers and labeled them, Columns, News/Features, Other Clips, Honors and Bio. Your own labels may reflect the different genre you write in or you could divide the types of publications, as in newspapers, books and magazines.
You might say to an editor, "I would like to write a feature story on ___, here are samples of other feature stories I've written..." With your thematic portfolio in hand you can quickly turn to the section that relates to the idea you are pitching. The editor will gain a quick grasp of your writing style and be better able to determine if you will be a good fit for his publication. I cannot tell you the number of assignments I have been able to pick up from this very process.
I carry my portfolio to writers' conferences, trade shows and every editor's meeting. I will never know what prompted me one day to leave it propped against the wall in the hallway at a writers' conference while I ran into the restroom. But, when I returned, I found a renowned speaker thumbing through it, highlighting my various works to an editor with a major publishing house. Unnoticed, I thanked my lucky stars and slipped softly back into the restroom. Though I only had a few published pieces at the time, they were professionally displayed, and I now enjoy a friendly relationship with that particular editor. I never doubted the power of the portfolio again.
Motivation beyond words
Creating a portfolio helps to establish your writing career in your own mind. It cements your dreams and ambitions in the minds of those closest to you. "Hey, mom, you're a writer? Cool!"
Two years after I started my portfolio, I was reminded of an essay contest I won with the Optimist Club in 7th grade. I thumbed through my childhood scrapbook and hauled out the typed essay and it's accompanying news clip, aged a dark yellow. Now, it's the first page of my portfolio, and I realize that the dream I had waited thirty years for - to become a writer - has come true.
Tama Westman writes the Off the Page column for Write From Home. As a correspondent and columnist, she publishes news articles, feature stories and her column, Cuppa Thoughts, regularly with her local paper, the Chaska Herald. She has served as the editor of the award-winning literary and arts magazine, Haute Dish. As a freelancer, her articles appear in several local newspapers and, nationally in The Gathering and Light & Life Magazine.
She teaches creative writing and poetry classes with the AHEAD program (Achieving Higher Education and Dreams) at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, MN, mentors high school journalism students and helps to edit the column of her 18-year old, British-bred cat on coolpetsites.com, Purrfect Gypsy Ė The Catís Eye View. She is married with two college-enrolled children, and keeps her balance with a cup of tea taken in the afternoon in her English garden. Her published clips can be viewed via her Web site, http://www.tamawestman.com and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.