Creating a Portfolio
The final point I’ll make here, and only touch on briefly as I intend to elaborate more thoroughly in a whole installment on self-promotion, is the professionalizing aspect of the portfolio.
A portfolio, as I envision it, is something like a running list of credits, publicly accessible, on a webpage or site you (or your henchmen) maintain. At one point I kept a decent little website for my writing. Now I just have a Facebook page, which seems to do the trick.
Whatever the format, I’ve realized four distinct benefits from having my work cataloged and accessible online.
First, when I’m feeling blue about my writing, or can’t quite find the right voice for something, or just need inspiration in general, I can quickly turn to a running list of publications and give myself a boost, like a silent cheerleader and an archaeological dig all in one place.
Second, when sending out a new short story or set of poems or whatever, it is handy and builds credibility to be able to reference such a page. Most editors at journals will tell you that they only look at the work. I’ll tell you – having volunteered as a reader, ie an assistant-editor-slushpile-slave, at a couple funky little journals – that I definitely read the paragraph in each author’s cover letter that laid out some of their past credits. It makes an even bigger difference when you can lead your submission email with a sentence like “Hey Barney . . . thanks for publishing my last whatnot. Loved the art you picked to accompany it. Since we last spoke I’ve placed a few more pieces at blankety-blank and gobbledy-gunk journals. Here, attached, you’ll find another groovy little whatnot for your consideration. I hope you like it.”
Third benefit: when my agent found me (again, see the My Journey edition of this series for full backstory), I sent him a bunch of really experimental and unsaleable work to see if he’d rep it. He wouldn’t. But he turned right to my list of credits and told me: “Write something just like this one, but make it novel length.”
Perfect criticism, gladly accepted, and it happened because of the easy access I provided to my own list of credits.
Fourth, and only recently becoming relevant, as clients approach me to help write their projects – whether for ghostwriting, professional writing, or even for commissioned projects – it has proved very helpful to show them a body of work and to reference specific pieces that might match the tone and intent, or suggest a potential tone and intent, for their project.
While the portfolio also has a self-promotional aspect, its qualities bear on the way you, as a writer, present yourself. It affects your view of you and it affects the view of others, who will treat you as a professional if you give them that chance.
Thick skin, executing based on a plan, overcoming the investment of self in any one project, and presenting a portfolio of work are all means by which you can start to foster a professional attitude and oeuvre in your work. This need not suck the joy from writing. It need not be something embarrassing (if you delink yourself from your writing). I occasionally, in the midst of worrying or loving or hating or having to take the scalpel of revision to a piece, remind myself that – if this piece were just a business plan or an account summary or a PowerPoint deck and my boss wanted me to make changes – yeah, I might, in that ‘normal work context’ have some small amount of resistance, based on whatever sense of ownership and effort I’d put into the project. But, in the end, I’d do the work. I’d make the changes. I’d keep my job. I’d help that boss get his next promotion or ensure his or her stock options vested. It’s the combination of passion for a project and dispassionate professionalism that seems to be the key. It’s not an impossible goal. But you, writer, should look at it in the context of your own work and your own sense of the self you’ve poured into your writing.
Is that self preventing you from failing faster and better, failing until something sticks? If so, then maybe a few of the tips and tricks above will help.