Getting published clips when you’re first starting out as a writer is an age-old problem. It’s that proverbial Catch-22 of, “How can I get clips if I can’t get published” and “How can I get published if I don’t have clips?” Here are five ways to quickly stack the clips file in your favor:

1) Burst on the Scene with a Blog

What you’re reading right now is the quickest do-it-yourself clip builder available today: a blog. Open a free blog account on any number of sites (WordPress, Blogger, Weebly, Tumblr, etc.) and start babbling away about your interests, your life, or your career. It’s easy to get started in a matter of minutes, you don’t have to be a techie to design a website, and you can immediately use your blog posts as legitimate published clips. No editor’s permission required!

TIP: Remember that, if you use your blog entries as clips, they have to be well-written and organized. Let your personality and voice shine through, but be sure it demonstrates your writing skills and talents.

2) Get Big Clips from Small Markets

One recurring mistake made by many new writers is trying to break into national magazines and high profile publications before they’ve proven themselves elsewhere. Sure, the money you can make writing for a publication on the “A” list is great, but the odds of getting published are stacked against you. Local, regional, association, and trade publications will be far less insistent that you provide clips before they’ll consider your submission. My first published article was for a trade publication and it opened many doors for me.

TIP: If you belong to an association, approach the editor about writing a piece for the next issue. If you need to start smaller, submit an article to a local or community newspaper.

3) Take a Chance with “On Spec” Assignments

“On Spec” assignments are not uncommon in the publishing world. All it means is that, since you are an unproven writer, the publication’s editor is willing to take a risk and gives you an assignment. If they use your piece, you get paid. If they don’t, you won’t. While it might be hard to reconcile the amount of time you spend writing an article to the possibility of having it rejected, the opportunity for you to strut your stuff for publication is worth the risk.

TIP: Make sure that any “on spec” assignment you take is from a legitimate company or publication. I’ve seen too many “writer wanted” ads online from anonymous posters asking people to send articles “on spec.” These poachers are never heard from again because they just want free content for their own sites–don’t let them get their hands on yours!

4) Pay It Forward for a Near-and-Dear Cause

While you may not be too keen on the idea of giving your writing away for free in exchange for a byline, the sting isn’t quite as painful if you are doing it for a cause you believe in. Do you volunteer your time to help a charity or nonprofit organization? Write an Op-Ed piece to the local newspaper on its behalf. Are you passionate about renewable energy? Post a comment on the pages of a prominent renewable energies website. Heck, you can even ask to write a story about your shitzu, Gladys, for your veterinarian’s customer newsletter!

TIP: As you write your Op-Ed, website comment, or shitzu story, be mindful of publications that might be interested in similar content and target your information to fit those outlets so the clip will be relevant to the audience.

5) Fill in the Blanks

The ultimate dream of freelance writing for magazines and print publications is to score that full color feature article complete with byline, bio and photo. The reality is that we need to start by taking anything we can get. Just about any publication, regardless of size, looks for filler pieces to plug into pages that have a little extra space—and they pay for them, too. These are short items like tips lists, quizzes, and Did You Know? information bits. You don’t always get a byline, but other editors rarely question that you’ve written these fillers if you include them in your clips.

TIP: Writing fillers is a great door opener at any publication, big or small, and you don’t have to write a query letter to ask for permission to send them. They are typically quick to write so your time investment is minimal with the potential for establishing a writer-editor relationship that can lead to a more lucrative—and visible—assignment.

Final Thoughts: As you build your clips file, remember why editors ask for them. They need to know that you can coherently string sentences together in a way that shows off your skills, knowledge and style. Everything you write should be written with the utmost professionalism and the expectation that it WILL be published. Sooner or later, your diligence will pay off. Now, get out there and write something!