View Full Version : writing sample?

Nov. 26, 2009, 04:26 AM
Ok, I know this is random, but maybe someone can give me some advice.
Say I was a college graduate applying to some internships with magazines that asked for a writing sample. What kind of sample should I send? I haven't written any articles, but I have numerous essays/papers on various topics from university (I studied English Lit and History). Most of the essays are 10-30 pages long and are entirely academic responses to a thesis statement. I also have some 'creative writing' that I work on just for my own enjoyment (you know, that novel I'm never going to finish). Should I send the academic sample as it shows that I can write intelligently? Or a fiction work that shows I can write creatively? And if I do send an academic sample, should I only send a couple pages (something tells me they won't be interested in 15 pages on insanity in Victorian England) and how should I decide where to cut it/what part should I send (the intro? some meat from the middle? the conclusion?)

Help please! I feel like I'm drowning and am isolated from anyone who could help :confused:

Nov. 26, 2009, 08:06 AM
OK, I guess it depends on what magazine you're applying to in order for me to give you concrete advice. If you're aiming low (COTH or something similar, or some locally-produced magazine), maybe you have a chance. If you're aiming high (Atlantic Monthly, Vogue, etc.), forget it.

Now for the even harsher reality check:

Given the state of journalism right now (not good) and given the fact that you have zero actual journalism experience (if all you have is essays or creative writing samples), you're going to have a hard time getting a magazine internship, period. There are literally hundreds of kids coming out of excellent undergraduate and graduate journalism programs who are writing in the form and who have excellent samples and who are hungry for internships and jobs.

An academic essay is going to be a hard sell, and creative writing is inappropriate. Is there any way you can try to freelance for a local paper or get some other appropriate experience? What was your degree in? Why do you want to enter journalism at a time when the profession is at its all-time low? Do you have any online skills to bring to the job?

In case you think I'm spouting this information out of my butt, I have been a journalist for more than a decade, and I have taught or advised in journalism at a college level for five years.

Classic Melody
Nov. 26, 2009, 08:34 AM
I interned at Harper's magazine, and I used an academic paper as one of my writing samples. I also had journalism experience, however.

A lot depends on where and what kind of internship you are applying for. Most internships are not writing-based but are rather fact checking, research, grunt work, rejecting submissions or otherwise. So it's not that the hiring editor wants to see that you are a Vanity Fair-level writer. It's that they want to see that you have a grasp of voice, clarity, grammar and style. Most likely you won't write a word that will end up in the magazine (unless it's COTH or something local).

So in a nutshell, I say go for it, and use your academic paper over "creative writing." Good luck!

Nov. 26, 2009, 09:34 AM
I interned at Harper's magazine, and I used an academic paper as one of my writing samples. I also had journalism experience, however.

I'm not sure when you had your internship, but things have really changed in the last three or so years. The economic downturn has gutted the profession, but undergraduate programs continue to churn out kids with degrees and actual experience. It's a tough sell out there.

I had kids who were doing everything, and I do mean everything, right. One of the top 10 j-schools in the country, incredible writing samples, incredible references, incredible previous internships with top-flight papers, magazines and online media entities, and by fall 2008, they were having trouble getting internships and other experiences. It's a supply/demand issue right now.

The OP should try for it, but she shouldn't be surprised if nothing comes of it. If she's lucky enough to score an internship on an academic paper, she'll be just that...lucky.

Nov. 26, 2009, 09:51 AM
I agree that you need some experience — get an AP stylebook. I'd have never considered hiring a freelancer if they made even the slightest style mistake in an introductory letter or sample article.

With the state of the industry as it is, you can contact area papers and see about writing some articles — for free. Say you're looking to start a career, but are hoping to build some clips and would be happy to write some for free. Include some of your shorter literary papers, some of your creative writing too — to show that you can write. Acknowledge that you'll study the AP stylebook and submit in proper style. It IS different from MLA and my biggest pet peeve was having to fix the smallest ap style issues when I had enough other things to do.

Even pitch some local newspaper magazines (but only if you're familiar with what they include). And be willing to do the stuff no one else WANTS. I edited a women's magazine for awhile, and could barely afford to pay my long-term freelancers, but whenever I'd get a pitch, it usually included that the writer wanted to do beauty, fashion and travel articles. The three most desired among my existing writers. Legals ones? Financial? Health? I'd have taken that person in a heartbeat, as they're the "boring" articles that no one ever wanted to write.

You should be able to get a handful of clips that way, and that would greatly help the process. Also, sometimes sites like MetroMix (if there's one in your area) don't pay well but need content. Our company bought that a couple years ago and I got stuck editing some really, really bad content for it. Or, go through a local nonprofit (a horsey one?) and volunteer to write PRs — again, AP Style. With any luck you'd get one published. But even if not you'd have a more appropriate sample to use. Remember, a PR is NOT an ad, and should not read like one. Write it as an article.

Classic Melody
Nov. 26, 2009, 03:29 PM
I interned in 2007 just before everything tanked. Of course the writing had been on the wall for the magazine industry for quite some time.

I don't doubt that it's close to impossible to get a NYC internship. Always has been, worse now. But without knowing the OP's actual career goals I'm not going to tell her there's no way. There is a way. In fact I'll bet mags are using more interns than ever - well the ones that are still publishing at least. :)

Nov. 26, 2009, 03:58 PM
Yeah, I realize that it's going to be incredibly difficult and that the print industry is not doing too well and might never recover.

Basically I am applying to internships (paid and unpaid) for horsey magazines both locally and all over the country. I'm not really expecting to get anything due to my lack of experience. I'm 21 and I just graduated with a BA in English (Lit) and History. I am considering going back to school to get an MFA in Creative Writing or get an MA in Writing and Publishing, but I would like to get some experience at an actual magazine/publishing company before I commit to spending more money on school.

I will look into the AP style book and see about writing articles for local papers.

Thanks for all the advice!

Nov. 26, 2009, 10:07 PM
I am considering going back to school to get an MFA in Creative Writing or get an MA in Writing and Publishing, but I would like to get some experience at an actual magazine/publishing company before I commit to spending more money on school.

You are smart to wait before applying for MFA programs. Having real-world experience will, on some level, make you a more desirable candidate, although the writing sample will be the most important part of the process. The best piece of advice I got about getting an MFA was "don't pay for it," by which I mean, lots of programs have full funding. Make those your first priority. An MFA in creative writing will allow you to teach (hence my ability to teach writing and journalism after a long career in journalism), but it's not a surefire way to get a job.

There are some wonderful programs out there that are offering their students fellowships and teaching assistantships, so be sure to look at those first when you do apply.