The Proof is in the Portfolio

by | Mar 18, 2024 | write club

l used to be an English teacher. I made my students write multiple drafts of essays, workshop them, and keep them organized. You’d think I would’ve picked up some of those techniques myself, but sadly, I have not.

Instead, I’ve been writing like a banshee for a couple decades with the assumption that one day I’ll go back and put all of this work into a portfolio, which is some high-level procrastinating.

I wrote and published nonstop without keeping a record. Now I’m trying to put together a portfolio, one of those things that should “only takes 5 minutes” in principle, but really takes 6000 years when an over-thinker manages the process.

Why is it so difficult to build a portfolio?

Where do I start?

No, literally. Like where do I start? There is so much!

I’ve lived by the rule that it’s always better to be creating than any other part of the process, which is ridiculous because Stephen King, Patron Saint of Writing taught us otherwise.

“To write is human, to edit is divine.”

Stephen King, Patron Saint of Writing

Even though I know better, I still tend to view inspiration and creative flow as a sort of magic alchemy I need to savor and hold onto when it graces me with its presence.

If like me, you’ve been a tad lackadaisical about putting together a portfolio and organizing your writing in general, here is what I’ve learned along the way about how to get it done.

 

Buy some cool stationery.

Hard work gets easier if you have the right tools. For a while there, perhaps because I came of age in the anti-everything 90s, I eschewed all niceties for writers in favor of minimalism. I began to think that favorite pens, elaborate writing rituals, and, well pretty much anything aside from pen and paper, and later a laptop, were just procrastination in disguise.

I was all, “Quit being a pansy, and write the damn story,” but I’ve since retired drill sergeant Marie. She no longer works here. The head down, don’t think, just work mindset has run its course.

New Marie thinks everything in life should be as enjoyable as possible. If writing with pink gel pens in a bougie Moleskine notebook gets your dopamine flowing, you do you.

Lisa Frank stationery set and text "you do you"

 

Search up your name.

Duh, right? But go down far. I’m talking multiple Google pages. You’ll probably find some stuff you forgot about.

For instance, I wrote so many passages and question sets for educational publishers in the 2000s, that I’m sure a percentage of you were likely forced to read something I wrote when you were in school.

I forgot I wrote this thing years ago and now someone (not me!) is selling it on Teachers Pay Teachers.

screen shot from TPT website

People are out there peddling my writing and making money off of it. As a writer-at-large, I’m used to that. Work-for-hire writing isn’t mine. I don’t get to keep it. Even if I pour my soul into it, The Man keeps the rights. The Man = whoever hired me to write the material. That’s fine. I’ve learned not to pour so much of my soul into that sort of thing. I give it only the amount of soul it needs.

While The Man I wrote this for could be the entity selling it on TPT, I highly doubt it. The company posted an excerpt on their site as a sample of what they offer. It’s THEIR portfolio, and do you see what some fool did with it? This is why I’ve been hesitant to make a public portfolio. Scrapers gonna scrape. But I’m not about to let scrapers stop me.

 

Check yourself.

If you’re a married person who changed your name (or anyone who’s changed their name), don’t forget to search for your prior name. I found some surprises here. Like this turtle book I wrote under my maiden name.

Cover of Book Turtles: Our Best Friends

Speaking of turtles…

 

Pace yourself.

You didn’t make this mess in a day, and it will take some time to clean it up, but it can be done if you don’t let the perfectionist inside tell you it’s not good enough. I have this weird OCD that wants things to be done from beginning to end all in one go. It’s infuriating.

I constantly restart because of some anxiety that I’m missing something. (On the flip side, this need to see the big picture makes me a fantabulous developmental editor!)

Release the illusion of perfectionism. Stop starting over. Just keep moving forward.

 

Designate file-naming conventions.

When you create lots and lots of documents, organizing is easier if you create rules for  file names. For instance, back before AI took everyone’s jobs, I wrote a lot of blogs and I invoiced a lot of blogs. To keep it all straight, I used this file-naming convention:

Client.Year.Mo.Date.Topic.Title

Ferriss.2024.4.1.Edit.I_Wish

All of my blogs sorted themselves into chronological order by client. This made everything from writing to repurposing to invoicing easier.

 

Use tags to make connections.

Use a spreadsheet or database to organize all works, topics, ideas, etc. in a way that allows sorting and tagging. There are some obvious tags we all share, but every writer’s system will be different.

General Tags

  • genre
  • word count
  • topic
  • where published
  • date of publication
  • link to sample

 

Following these tips will help you organize your work so you don’t need to go back and do forensic analysis like me. I’d like to think if I had to do it all again, I’d be a much better record keeper, but probably not.

Kids, make your portfolio in real time. But if you have been like me, share with me your tips for pulling it all together.

 

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