The only way to improve, the internet keeps telling us, is to push yourself past your comfort zone so that you’re always learning new things. Writing day in and day out, however, can mean you start to churn out documents on semi-automatic, settling for your current skill level and never improving. In fact, some of your skills, like editing, may deteriorate from lax use.
Luckily, there is a simple concept in writing that can keep you focused: the writing sample. Your writing sample is always your most impressive piece of writing, showing off your skills and your newest tricks without a single typo or misplaced comma. So if you treat every document you write as your next writing sample you’ll never auto-write, never stall in your skills development and never lose existing skills.
Now, obviously not every project you work on will really be portfolio-worthy. Sometimes there are considerations above and beyond good writing, for example you may be given only two days to work on a large document and will have no time to worry about your quality. That’s obviously fine – there’s no way around it and anyway speed-work is in itself a skill. But when you have the time and tools to put on a great show, do it. Stay sharp.
And one final point: if you’re not writing to writing-sample level, you’re not giving your customer what they’re paying for.