Building The Basic Fundamentals
A portfolio is essentially a summary of your work that demonstrates your abilities. For a creative writing student, this means you need to have enough samples of your work to reflect the range of styles and media in which you are competent. You also need to have a manageable number of pieces that can be included in a concise and aesthetically pleasing format.
The good news is you can begin to build your portfolio right now with only a little bit of work. Once you have established a sound foundation with just a few pieces, you can expand your portfolio with more complex and ambitious projects. Begin by identifying your strongest samples of work and developing a comprehensive list of tasks that you have completed. You can also use this opportunity to identify your weaknesses and strive for improvement. Your portfolio will give you a clear idea of your strengths and weaknesses, as well as the kind of creative writing work that interests you and the kind you should avoid. As you begin to establish yourself as a creative writer, having a good portfolio is very important for progressing your career. A strong portfolio will allow you to showcase your writing style, while a weak or nonexistent portfolio may hamper your efforts to get noticed for your work. A good portfolio makes a good impression because it reveals a lot about you as a writer. It shows the judges what you are capable of and what direction you should be going in. It can also be a useful tool for getting exposure and establishing credibility as a writer. You should take the time to build a solid portfolio even if you feel you are not yet at a professional level. The more you put in, the more you will get back. You can also find many useful tips and guide lines on our blog.
The Need For Flexibility
Creative writing is a broad domain. You will be called upon to write for a variety of platforms and media. The best way to ensure you have the skills to back up your work is by constantly engaging with the medium and gaining as much experience as you can. The more you put in, the more you will get back. This is called progressive learning and it will serve you well in your creative writing career. Start by taking a class or two on the basics of journalism, editing, and business writing. These are the fundamental building blocks of any good piece of creative writing. From there you can branch out into specialized areas like literary journalism or narrative non-fiction. These areas can also be found at the collegiate level.
Know Your Audience
Your writing will be judged by more than just your potential future employer. You will have readers and audiences who are intimately familiar with your work and will hold an opinion of you based on your previous output. It is therefore vital that you write for the enjoyment and satisfaction of your readers, not for the sake of being ‘creative’ or expressing yourself. While we recommend you develop your career in fiction, it is still essential that you learn how to write well. Your first audience will be your readers and you must ensure they are satisfied with what they read. This ultimately boils down to being able to write flexibly and evocatively, as well as having sufficient control over your language. The need to write for different platforms will also serve to broaden your horizons and expose you to new ideas and approaches. Be flexible with your approach to writing and remember to always ask yourself, ‘Who is this piece of work aimed at? What do I want the reader to feel or think? How can I make the piece more effective and interesting?’
Quality Versus Quantity
An opinionated piece of advice often given to students is to avoid producing huge tomes of work. It may be tempting to rush into a major creative project and churn out work at a frantic pace. While it is important to develop your capacity for sustained creative writing, you should still strive to be perfect with each piece of work you produce. A good rule of thumb is to write something that you are not sure about, as this will force you to examine your work from a fresh perspective. It may also be a good idea to try out new styles and techniques and see how they work in practice. This is sometimes called ‘trial and error’ writing and it can be very helpful when honing your craft. On the other hand, huge tomes of work often prove to be a bit of a vanity project, as they are very rarely read and rarely, if ever, cited by other professionals. As a writer, it is very important to remain consistent in your quality and avoid bad habits. These are often formed as a result of poor quality output and it is essential that you do not become identified with poor quality work. It is also very important to learn to write short concise sentences. A lot of writing is done these days on social media, where brevity is the ultimate form of wit. Keep your work short and sweet, as it were.
Make It Visual
It is important to remember that the majority of the reading public does not consist of academics. Technical writing and business documents are often very dry and dull, consisting of long strings of facts. This is where graphics and visual aids frequently come to the rescue. Presentation tools like Microsoft PowerPoint can really help to bring your writing to life and make it much more interesting and memorable. Be wary of using too many visual aids and graphics, as this may cause your writing to become a bit too ‘busy’, and ‘overloaded’, and ultimately a bit untrustworthy. Graphics should only be used to enhance the text and not to replace it completely. It all depends on the kind of writing you are doing and the target audience you are trying to reach. A good rule of thumb when using graphics is to think of what you would like the viewer to do, or think, and then create a piece of content that will make their lives easier or pleasanter or more enjoyable. This will in turn make your job easier, and create a virtuous circle of content creation that will benefit everyone.
Cite Your Sources
The fact that you are now a recognized writer does not mean that you can just write whatever you want and make it ‘research’. Good writers constantly cite the sources they use, whether its historic figures, scientific theories, or other literary figures and works. Unfortunately, this can be a terribly tedious process and many students rush this portion of the task. Do not worry too much about citing your sources. Sometimes, common sense and a good memory are enough to get the job done. Just make sure you do it anyway. This will also serve to verify your claims and put your work in the correct context. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself, ‘Does my audience know enough about this subject to satisfy my curiosity and maintain their interest in what I have to say? Are they going to find this valuable in their own lives?’ If the answer to both of these questions is yes, then you are most probably okay to omit this part. However, if the answer is no, or even if you are not sure, then you should probably consider citing your sources anyway. This is a good habit and will only serve to improve your work in the long run. It also shows that you are a conscientious writer and that you care about the quality of your work.
Follow The Rules Of Good Writing
No matter what kind of writing you are doing, there are always universal rules that apply. One of the best guides to good writing is the Chicago Manual of Style, which you can access for free from behind the New York Times paywall. Learning to write well and following the universal rules will make you a better writer and allow you to produce work of a higher quality. Some of the rules you will learn include:
- Spelling and grammar should be correct (no typos or misspellings!)
- Capital letters should be used for title
- The main point should be made in the first paragraph
- Each paragraph should have a topic sentence
- The first paragraph should contain a hook
- The article should be structured using headings and subheadings
- The writer should avoid using a passive voice
- The writer should not put too much information in the article
- The information within the article should be accurate
- The work should be published and the writer should not cut corners
- Finally, the writer should not rely on clichés or tired phrases
The more you practice, the better you will become at writing. The more you put in, the more you will get back. Quality will improve and so will your bottom line. Good luck out there!