Photo of an academic paper with pen and red inkYou can’t be a good nurse — a successful nurse — without developing certain skills. Empathy, sure. And technical skills, too, such as being able to figure out how to work that new IV pump with no training.

The same philosophy goes for freelance writers. The most successful freelancers know how to market themselves and how to set up their businesses for success.

But what is the ONE attribute a writer needs, absolutely requires, to be successful as a freelancer?

In case it’s not obvious, a writer must know how to write.

Good writing versus bad writing

Read this story. And this one. Now read this web page. Read this medical marketing copy (PDF).

What do all of these examples have in common? They each represent an example of good writing. Every one of these samples is written with proper grammar, punctuation and spelling. None of these samples looks like a Facebook status posting or a text message:

Hey, u. Sup? i goin to store u need anythinz?

None of these samples contain misplaced commas:

The store’s owner, Nancy Smith led investigators, to believe, she did not commit the crime, herself.

They do not exhibit apostrophe abuse:

When its time to take medicine, who know’s the right way to administer the dosage’s?

The good writing examples do not contain misspellings or incorrect word usage:

Go over their and pick up there duffle bag, witch has they’re cloths in it.

The writing samples above (examples of bad writing) do not contain Random Capitalization of words we Do not Capitalize in English.

The samples use complete sentences, not fragments:

He played the violin well. Because of years of practice.

The examples do not contain comma splices:

When choosing a medical provider, you should consider many factors such as the clinic’s hours of operation and proximity to your home, you also should think about whether you have genuine rapport with your provider.

Can you spot the errors?

When you peruse the examples of bad writing I just provided, do you notice the errors? Can you point them out? More importantly, can you fix them?

If you cannot see why my examples are wrong, you need to work on your writing skills. Editors will not work with writers whose work requires major revision. That’s a fact of freelance life.

How to improve your basic writing skills

In the future, I’m going to offer some Writing 101 courses for nurses. These will help you improve your writing skills. (If you’d like to be notified of these courses, sign up for the RN2Writer newsletter.) Meanwhile, you should start studying the craft of writing.

Many people believe writing is a ‘talent.’ Merriam-Webster defines ‘talent’ as “the natural endowments of a person … a special often athletic, creative or artistic aptitude.”

I believe writing is a combination of talent and skill. I do believe the best writers possess a natural ability to string words together. But the mechanics of writing definitely can be learned.

Study the craft of writing

The best writers — like the best nurses — devote themselves to continuing education. You should begin now to engage in the meaningful study of writing. Read books about how to write. Take courses to refresh your basic writing skills. And don’t forget to read great writing. Reading great writing is a reward unto itself, but beyond that you will pick up a feel for rhythm, word choice and structure to use in your own writing.

These resources will help you:


Why am I shouting? Because the most important thing you can do to improve your writing is to write every day. Get up, sit down at the computer and write 500 to 1,000 words. Not only will daily writing help you hone your skills, but this practice helps you develop a writerly discipline.

In this exercise, you may write anything that springs to mind: a short fiction piece, a short news story, the beginning of a feature article. The topic doesn’t matter. Sit down. Write. Every day.

If you notice deficiencies in your writing skills, take heart. You can learn how to write well. It just takes a little investment of time and effort.

Play along

In the “bad writing” example of “apostrophe abuse” above, I wrote:

When its time to take medicine, who know’s the right way to administer the dosage’s?

Post your corrected version of this sentence in the comments thread! And then gloat if you get it all right.

Wishing you well,