How to get started as a nurse-writer

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    Wondering how to break into freelance writing? Here are my tips to help you get started.

    How to get started as a nurse-writer

    I field a lot of questions from nurses about how to break into freelance writing. I always enjoy interacting with my fellow nurses and helping them get started in a new career as a writer. I thought I'd share my best tips and advice here. Here is a post for anyone who is in the "thinking about it" stage of the decision-making process.

    1. Clarify why you want to become a writer

    Is it because you want to share your personal journey with others? Is it to report on breaking health news? Is it to help pharmaceutical companies navigate the regulatory path? Is it to write patient engagement materials?

    These are important questions to ask because the path to success looks somewhat different for each of these different types of writing. For instance, I do healthcare content marketing which has a relatively low barrier to entry and a prescribed path for finding work. Regulatory writing can be very lucrative but also requires a high degree of technical skill and is less easy to break into. If your goal is to share your personal journey, then maybe essay writing is your path. It's not necessarily lucrative, but surely it's rewarding.

    2. Start reading about how to write

    Unless you're that person who got straight-As in English composition class, it's worth your while to brush up on your writing skills: grammar, punctuation -- all that stuff you might have hated studying in school. And by the way, if you hated studying that stuff in school then you might not be a good fit as a writer. You absolutely, positively must have a good grasp of composition before you plunge into writing as a career, just as you had to have a good grasp of anatomy before you ever performed a venipuncture.

    3. Read blogs on how to freelance

    There are a lot of excellent resources on the web for how to get started as a freelance writer. I won't mention any by name in case it's against the rules.

    One caveat: Maintain a healthy sense of skepticism when perusing these sites. If you run into one of those "get-rich-quick" as a writer sites, avoid it at all cost. No matter what anyone says, success as a writer takes time to achieve. Yes, it is possible to make excellent money in this business (I'm living proof of that), but you cannot develop your skills, marketing and contacts overnight.

    4. Understand freelance writing is a business

    This tip is for the people who really want to earn their living as a writer, as opposed to those who just want a creative outlet.

    I see many nurses wash out of freelancing because they wanted to be 99% artist and 1% businessperson. It doesn't work like that.

    I estimate I spend 60-75% of my time on administration/marketing/accounting activities and 25-30% actually writing something. That's the game, folks. If you can't see yourself as a businessperson, then maybe freelancing isn't for you.

    5. Enjoy the process and savor the success

    I can't even begin to express how you will feel when you make that first sale. And then that same joy will wash over you again when that first check arrives in the mail. To put something "out there" that you wrote and have it valued in a tangible sense, well, it's difficult to describe. Savor every moment because freelancing can be a bumpy process. You need to celebrate all those little victories.

    I'll be back again with other posts that delve into more of the practical "how do I get started" stuff. Meanwhile, feel free to ask questions.
    Last edit by tnbutterfly on May 4, '16
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  2. Visit Elizabeth Hanes profile page

    About Elizabeth Hanes, BSN

    Elizabeth Hanes has '5' year(s) of experience and specializes in 'PACU, perioperative'. From 'Houston, TX, USA'; Joined Nov '05; Posts: 246; Likes: 123.

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    22 Comments

  3. by   JimmyDurham9
    I'd like to clarify if it is against the rules to mention resources you consider useful by name. If there's something that has helped you out and you have vetted as a resource that isn't a waste of time or a scam, then that would be amazingly helpful for nurse-writers starting out. I don't see it any different than another blogger here name dropping Wordpress as their choice of blogging software.

    These types of resources are tools in the tool box of getting started. Just so long as our innovators don't directly profit from referring people to the resources or let some conflict of interest bias the recommendation, it doesn't seem like it would do any harm.

    I only say this because I have wasted countless hours reading the near infinite number of "tools" and "resources" and researching sites dedicated to freelancers, and come away only knowing that there are near infinite number of people looking to take advantage of anyone they can. These freelancer sites- most of them are scams. They want membership fees, and then you compete with millions of other freelance writers for jobs that demand outrageous production levels for peanuts. Or the employer wants someone with a doctorate in some obscure field to write a book length technical manual a week for $50 a month. It's bananas.
  4. by   synaptic
    Unfortunately there are a lot of people who like to write. So, even if you are an excellent writer, the odds are against you. Also, I'm pretty sure I've never found anything useful on a nursing blog. Its just chicks venting their emotions.
  5. by   flying_ace2
    Thank you for this article! It is especially relevant to me today as I was thinking (again) about transitioning into medical writing on the way into work!
  6. by   OCNRN63
    I used to be a compensated writer for an oncology website (Not chicks venting their emotions). I had to stop for personal issues, but it was wonderful to be paid to write about an area of nursing I really enjoyed.

    Write about what you know...that's one of the most important mantras I can think of for someone looking to break into becoming a nurse writer.
  7. by   Elizabeth Hanes
    I agree there are a number of freelancer websites out there that simply look to capitalize on the naive. However, not every membership site is a scam. I'm referring to websites that help people learn how to become freelancers, like Jennifer Goforth Gregory's (free) blog and Carol Tice's (free and paid) site. My own site (which I'm no longer updating) contains a wealth of information for nurses looking to transition to freelance writing. It's all free.

    In terms of "the odds are against you" in becoming a successful writer, well, I have to say I think you're mistaken. Maybe when I say the word "writer" you think of "novelist." In that case, you may well be right. It's difficult to break in to fiction, and it can take years to become successful at it.

    But I truly believe the time has never been better to make a living as a working (non-fiction) writer. Personally, I do a little reporting on health topics, write about health conditions for healthcare organizations, craft service line micro websites for systems-- and much, much more. I have all the work I can handle, and then some. I am well paid. In fact, I make more money as a writer than I ever did as a nurse in clinical practice.

    So, on the whole, I have to disagree that it's difficult to break in or make a living as a writer today. It's true a person needs a solid foundation of grammar, punctuation and usage. Obviously. But those things can be learned.

    I'm enjoying these comments. Let's keep them rolling!

    ~Beth
  8. by   inava
    Thanks for mentioning that you need to treat writing as a business. The administrative part of it can certainly take up half your time. The fun part is the creation, but that alone does not bring home the bacon. (I'm probably dating myself with that reference.)
  9. by   Natkat
    I would appreciate learning how to get started. I love writing but not creative writing. I have no urge to write a novel. At all. I enjoy writing processes and instructions. I enjoy writing research papers. Weird, I know. I was a medical transcriptionist for 15 years to my spelling and grammar are on point. I have been in school for most of the last 10 years or so and haven't really looked into how to make it as a medical writer. I am just now starting work on my master's degree, so maybe I should revisit this when I'm through with that. Who knows? By that time, the picture will have changed and the process for making it happen will be different.
  10. by   rxrunner
    Beth,

    This is a timely post, I'm a pharmacist who teaches at a nursing school. I'm at AWP in Los Angeles this weekend (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) with 12,000 other writers and I'll share my own writing path as a reply to those who are thinking about it.

    I always battled the wanting to write vs. wanting to have a job, so my undergraduate major started as chemistry, then finished pharmacy school (we don't need a bachelor's) then went back and graduated with my English degree 21 years after I started college, but there were fits and starts where I wrote for Arizona State University's newspaper The State Press, I was always helping other people with their writing, then I got a job where I could take free undergrad classes and just finally finished that humanities degree. It wasn't until my daughters (triplets) were born, that I needed to write, it was touch and go so often with their 13 week early premature birthsday, that writing allowed me to really express how I felt in the NICU.

    I think Lee Gutkind is here at around noon tomorrow who will be presenting some health care writers, I think he edited the I wasn't strong like this when I started out anthology.Anyway, I wanted to clarify the types of writing. A post already mentioned fiction, but creative non-fiction is writing nonfiction, but in an engaging way, but the freelance writing you seem to be talking about is the kind of stuff freelancers on Upwork do and the specialized medical knowledge you have as nurses really commands a bit of a premium.

    Anyway, long story short, instead of freelance writing, I do DIY writing and employ freelance editors like you guys to make sure my work has as few a mistakes as possible.

    It has allowed me to put my own book Memorizing Pharmacology together for my students, it's free for anyone who has Amazon Kindle unlimited or Amazon prime without having to deal with hoping an agent will like me / my work , etc. It's kind of unfair to have pharm without organic chem in many ways and my book takes a humane approach to the topic.

    I'm working on finishing the free videos for it, I'm TonyPharmD on YouTube, but I think if you're going to be a paid writer, as some have posted, you just go to go into the core of what it means to be a health professional, to be of service to others and as Beth said, you'll find plenty of people who want that service.

    I paid $900 to the freelancers who edited and proofed my book and the voice talent who will record and master the audiobook will get $400 pfh. So, it's a good gig, I think.
  11. by   cecebrad
    I appreciate you sharing...There are so many avenues that you can take in Nursing! I LOVE seeing nurses being successful! I too am interested in Freelance. I will check out the the resources you have posted. Thanks :-)
  12. by   mlonge
    We've all written papers for school, maybe tried our hand at a poem or had a great idea for the next Twilight. My experience is the only way to write, is to write. Ambition to be a Best Selling Author is great, but we just have to write to get there. I found free classes at the local library, and fee-based classes at park districts, high school community education and journal writing through support groups (offered at hospitals). There are prompt groups, where you are given a first line and you write for ten minutes and read it aloud and get feed back on positive phrases. You can find Meet-ups and credit classes for short stories, novels, poetry and screen plays. The point is to write and write and share, get "workshopped" - meaning find a group of writers to give feedback. You don't need to follow it, just listen to it to decide if it fits your intent. For five years I've used a week (July) of vacation to attend the University of NM Summer Writers Conference in Santa Fe where they bring in the best of writers. While I've loved every class, the one that jettisoned my writing was called the Art of the Sentence with Pricilla Long. It was basic, back to basics and hugely confidence building. Want to be a writer? Write.
  13. by   TeaCea
    Great information!
  14. by   Proverbs16:24
    Thank you!

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