A Guide to Writing a 500 Word Writing Sample

Michelle Mogilner

You start to panic. Is this what the career of a writer is going to be like? Hours of self-doubt interrupted by the occasional fleeting sensation of inspiration?

Dear Writer,

Congratulations! You have just been told that you’re being considered for a writing position at your desired company. You have opened your email and breathed a sigh of relief that your lackluster resume was accepted with open arms. But your journey is not finished yet! You pause at the words “writing sample” and your mind runs through a list of every essay and short story you wrote in the past year that might help you guarantee your position. You slowly come to realize that all your previous work will probably not help you here. Like an end-of-term exam, you must compress your skill set into a few paragraphs that will hopefully convey the fact that you know what you’re talking about. Suddenly, you find yourself staring at a blank word document. The cursor traces the white belly of the page and the blinking black line is reminiscent of the cross-armed high school teacher impatiently tapping their foot against the hard floor.

Minimize the document. You’re not about to let yourself be judged by a word processor. Get yourself a cup of water. After all, you can’t work when you’re dehydrated. Did you just get a text? Better check that. It might be important.

Okay, it isn’t.

Perhaps it is time to consider the question at hand: what subject should you focus on? This task is daunting for any writer. Consider tackling something political, something that will get people talking. This will show potential employers exactly how savvy you are with current events and that you won’t happily comply with writing fluff pieces.

When scouring the web for worthwhile news, it is important to remember that social media is your friend. You won’t find a better resource than the hub of mass hysteria that is the Facebook Trending News Feed. Click the first headline you see that has nothing to do with celebrity gossip (side note: this may take a while). “Oh boy,” you might think as you scroll through images best accompanied by the instrumental of Gary Jules’ “Mad World.” This is some heavy stuff. The comments aren’t exactly helping either, and it looks like Susan from Pennsylvania has just lost all her faith in humanity. You close the laptop. Maybe you should try something else.

Swivel around in your chair for a few seconds and stare blankly at the wall while incessantly chanting, “What to write, what to write, whattowritetowritewrite….”

You got it! Suddenly, the laptop opens and floods your dark bedroom with pixelated light. You will write about writing! How meta is that? You lean back in your chair, smiling as you picture a group of bespectacled academics nodding, impressed by your unique idea.

“Would you look at this!” They’ll exclaim in a cacophony of nasal voices. “Here is a real scholar of our time! A journalist like no other!”

Start typing. Delete. That was stupid. No one is going to read that. How many words do you have down? 400? Okay, you can do it. Just one word at a time.

You start to panic. Is this what the career of a writer is going to be like? Hours of self-doubt interrupted by the occasional fleeting sensation of inspiration? Maybe Dad was right. Maybe dropping out of science was an awful idea and from now on you will be spending your days eating piles of rejected manuscripts because food has become too expensive.

Wow, that got dark. On the other hand, it looks like all that self-agonizing drivel helped you reach your word count. So if I could do it, you can too. And with that, dear writer, I wish you luck on your writing sample!


An Employed Writer

About the writer

Michelle Mogilner is a Professional Writing major and a bagel enthusiast. When she’s not making up conspiracy theories, she is drawing pictures instead of taking notes.

Editor: Madelaine Pries


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