Dean Martin's Wild Party slot machine photoWhen I tell friends I’m a freelance writer, they immediately sketch a mental image of what my life must be like. Usually, it takes one of two forms. Either they think I’m a starving artist, or they think my life is one wild party — not unlike a gathering of the Rat Pack in Las Vegas.

Neither of these is accurate.

I’m certainly not starving. I make more money as a freelance writer than I made as a nurse. Let’s clear up that misconception right away.

And my life isn’t one big party. That’s because I’m not a “hobbyist” writer. As my friend Alisa Bowman so eloquently put it in her recent column “I Lost My Balance. It Was the Best Thing I Ever Accidentally Did“:

I write for a living. By that, I don’t mean, as some erroneously assume, that I occasionally get a check here and there and use it to pay for splurge items like Italian ice. No, I write to pay the mortgage and for clothes and for food and, hopefully some day, for the kid’s college education and my eventual retirement.

Because some folks don’t quite understand what the freelance lifestyle looks like, I thought it might be instructive to share how my daily schedule goes. First, though, let’s examine how life looked when I was a nurse.

A day in the life of this nurse

When I worked as a PACU (recovery room) nurse at the hospital, my day went something like this:

  • Rise at 6:00 a.m.
  • Clock in at 7:00 a.m.
  • Prep my bays
  • Wait
  • Around 9:00 a.m., receive first patient
  • Spend the next three hours standing, walking and shouting (because the PACU is noisy, and most communication requires the vocal projection of a Broadway star)
  • Break around noon for a 15-minute lunch, eat standing up (and by “eat,” I mean “shovel food into your mouth as fast as possible”)
  • Spend several more hours walking, shouting, dealing with uncooperative technology, sharing laughs with co-workers, and providing personalized care to grateful and gracious patients
  • Clock out around 7:00 p.m.
  • Get home around 8:00 p.m.
  • Spend 24-48 hours recovering

Don’t get me wrong; I loved clinical nursing. I feel privileged to have helped so many patients and families cope with the early recovery phase of major surgeries.

But the noise level and physical demands of the PACU were almost unbearable. I’d go home hoarse and take ibuprofen to reduce the swelling of my vocal cords. When patients would start crashing, my adrenalin levels would rise — and not in a good way. Constant stress takes its toll. I felt physically and mentally spent after every shift.

Compare the list above with how my life looks today.

A day in the life of this freelance nurse writer

  • Rise at 7:30am
  • Get a cup of coffee, shuffle to my home office (or, sometimes, drink coffee on the patio)
  • Settle into a comfy chair to check email and social media
  • Admire the view from my office window
  • Around 8:00 a.m., give or take, clean up and get dressed in jeans and a t-shirt
  • 8:30-ish, review my weekly planner, grab a second cup of coffee
  • Spend the next three hours working on writing assignments, pitching editors or engaging in marketing activities
  • At 11:30 a.m., break for lunch with my mom (who lives with me); enjoy food, conversation and a TV show for at least half an hour
  • Around noon, return to my desk and finish up any assignments; submit them
  • Reply to email
  • About 1:30 p.m., head to the gym
  • Get back home around 2:30 p.m., shower
  • After shower, take a half-hour nap
  • Head downstairs around 4:00 p.m., watch Gunsmoke with Mom, start dinner (she likes to eat around 5)
  • After dinner, return to my office and work for another two hours or so (I always quit by 8:00 p.m.)
  • Spend the evening with my husband, watching TV or puttering around in the yard

A long day of wrestling words into meaningful prose does make me feel mentally spent, let me tell you. While I’m no longer on my feet, running around on a hard floor all day, the mental fatigue caused by writing shouldn’t be underestimated. Freelance writing can be a demanding job, but it’s not demanding the same way clinical nursing is.

During my freelance day, I may get fan mail. Here’s an email I received recently:

I read your explanation [at WebMD Answers] of Novolog 70/30 as opposed to Novolin  70/30…

After three hours of reading and searching for info on the net, your answer is the first answer that I could comprehend !

THANK YOU for such a logically straight forward answer without so many disclaimers of responsibility.

These little notes make my day. I always knew I could make an impact on patients’ lives as a writer. It’s nice to hear directly from them that I do.

Sometimes I get fan mail from editors. That makes my day, too. As do the words, “Do you have the bandwidth to take on another project for us?” Why, yes, dear client. I will always have time for you.

In my current life as a freelance nurse writer, I never get yelled at by anyone. I don’t have to shout. Nobody goes into cardiac arrest. My office remains silent, except when I play smooth jazz on Pandora — it’s my favorite writing music. But mainly I revel in the quietude. I savor the time with Mom. I love the schedule flexibility that allows me to drive her to doctor appointments and enables us to enjoy lunch out twice a week.

If you can imagine yourself living this freelance lifestyle, I heartily encourage you to investigate becoming a nurse writer. Subscribing to this blog and my newsletter make great first steps. I can help you forge a career that allows you to help large numbers of patients but doesn’t take a toll on your back.

Wishing you well!