Gimme something to write on
January 6, 2012 9:14 AM   Subscribe

I need a writing sample immediately. Problem: I've been editing other people's writing exclusively, and I don't have any long writing samples.

I'm applying for a great job. They suddenly asked me for a writing sample. The most I've written recently is the cover letter for this job application. Fortunately, I can write well and quickly. But I won't have time to do any research, so I don't want to blather on without even minimal substance. I'd like to turn something in Monday. Should I fess up or cobble something together? Help! I could use topic suggestions, but not "review your favorite movie," etc. (I'm always very honest in dealing with potential employers, but I don't want to jeopardize my chances for this position, so I'm leaning toward writing something this weekend.)
posted by theredpen to Work & Money (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
What is the job and industry?
posted by slmorri at 9:24 AM on January 6, 2012

Why does it have to be fresh? Don't you have anything old laying around your hard drive?
posted by etc. at 9:32 AM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

What etc. said. Anything even quasi-recent (last several years?) should be perfectly fine. You're probably better off finding something old and spending the weekend editing/freshening it up than you are writing something brand new.
posted by griseus at 9:34 AM on January 6, 2012

Best answer: In the "write what you know" vein, why not write an article about editing?

- "Write an article to hand to people whose work you will edit"
- "The pros and cons of using an actual red pen, just like teachers in grade school"
- "The day I knew I had moved from a good editor to a great editor"
- "When writing informally to an editor: You can relax, I'm not editing your IMs"
- "On the popularity of Eats, Shoots and Leaves"
posted by Houstonian at 9:36 AM on January 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I'm afraid to out myself by revealing a lot of details. Publishing industry.

I haven't written anything significant since grad school, which was many years ago, and (a) I don't have those papers any more and (b) they wouldn't reflect my current abilities. I'd definitely take this advice if I did.

I'm a good writer and I've always wished for a chance to prove this, but my past jobs haven't ever required this of me.
posted by theredpen at 9:37 AM on January 6, 2012

Response by poster: Houstonian: " - "When writing informally to an editor: You can relax, I'm not editing your IMs""

I love this.
posted by theredpen at 9:39 AM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Writing something new will show both your enthusiasm for the new job and that your skills are still current.
posted by empatterson at 9:59 AM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

What about a well-written and thoughtful review of a local business, a la yelp's reviews of the day? You could choose something that wouldn't be too revealing of your personal life in the way that a book, movie, or other cultural product would be. The best ones are succinct, so it shouldn't take too long to write.
posted by Sara C. at 10:03 AM on January 6, 2012

Definitely do not "fess up." If your job is going to involve writing, you need to show you can handle impossible assignments and impossible deadlines.
posted by Wordwoman at 10:09 AM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

How long does it have to be? There's no reason you shouldn't be able to write a 2000 word piece over the weekend. Besides, I always find panic a powerful motivator when it comes to writing stuff fast.
posted by rhymer at 10:31 AM on January 6, 2012

Response by poster: It's not supposed to be an impossible assignment -- I'm sure they assume I have something appropriate on hand.

rhymer, I agree: I can easily write 2000+ words over the weekend and you are completely right about the panic motivation -- on what, though? Not enough time to do proper research on anything, which is how I'd usually handle an assignment.
posted by theredpen at 10:34 AM on January 6, 2012

Anything you've written on Metafilter that you could use? Even if it is not 2000 words, maybe there is something you can expand on.

Also, if you do have something old lying around on your hard drive, you don't have to submit it in "as is". When I needed writing samples quickly, I grabbed two papers from college that I felt had the best potential to highlight the writing qualities I wanted to exhibit, and then edited the shit out of them, taking out anything potentially off-putting, re-working sentences to read better, etc. They turned out really nice and I felt that they represented my current abilities very well.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 10:45 AM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

theredpen Can you give us an area? Without that it's a bit hard to suggest anything. FWIW, I reckon you can do good enough research for this sort of piece - assuming it's going to be vaguely journalistic.
posted by rhymer at 11:17 AM on January 6, 2012

Best answer: If it's the book publishing industry, it definitely depends on what kind of work you'll be doing for the company.

If they're requiring you to write author profiles, for example, you might want to do a 'creative interview' with a book or character you already know well. For example, if you love Delillo you could write a faux profile on his prose style as a distinct or recurring character in your favourite of his books. This will obviously only work if you are obsessive about the book/authour in question.

If they're not a publishing house, but an association or something similar, they night be thinking about your ability to do newsletters and themed posts. So why not write a seasonal guide to reading? Or a personal write up of the best books or articles you read in 2011?

Writing about being an editor is probably good, too. It's something you clearly have direct experience with.

You could also write about an internet or lit meme, ala this piece on My Drunk Kitchen.

It's hard to make suggestions without knowing more about you, or the position, but these are a start. Good luck!
posted by emilycardigan at 11:38 AM on January 6, 2012

Response by poster: These were all excellent answers. Thank you all very much! (I resolved the issue with my contact to, I hope, our mutual satisfaction.) I will be saving up writing for any future writing sample requests from here on out, too.
posted by theredpen at 12:55 PM on January 6, 2012

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