How Any Nurse Can Get Started as a Freelance Writer: Your 3-Step Plan

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The most common question I get from nurses on social media and by email is: How can I get started as a freelance writer?

Here’s a three-step plan to get you moving down the freelance path.

Step One: Learn All You Can About the Freelance Writing Industry

That’s right: Freelance writing is an industry. In fact, it’s a venerable industry that has existed for centuries. Some of the most famous authors in history started out as freelance writers (hello, Stephen King).

The freelance writing industry involves independent creators (like you) selling their services to publications, media outlets, brands, and corporations. Editors everywhere rely on freelance journalists to cover stories for them.

Did you know that most of the bylines (author names) you see attached to articles in magazines or online publications belong to freelance writers – not staff writers? Many nurses don’t realize this because they come from a background where most of their colleagues are employees. It’s quite the opposite in the freelance writing world. Most of the writers who create the stories you read in magazines like Self and Health are independent entrepreneurs: freelance writers. Even the New York Times uses freelance writers.

Corporations and marketing agencies also rely heavily on freelance writers because they cannot possibly employ enough staff people to produce the massive amount of content they need to effectively market their products or services. In fact, it would be way too expensive for corporations and agencies to employ hundreds of staff writers. It’s far more cost-effective for them to contract with freelance writers as needed to produce the work.

To get started as a freelance writer, nurses should first learn all they can about how freelance writing works (which I’ve written about on this blog, and you also can find examples all over the web). For a peek at exactly how freelance journalism (reporting) works, you can download for free the first lesson of my Health Journalism Basics for Nurses workshop – no registration or credit card required.

As you immerse yourself in learning about the industry you intend to enter, you’ll discover the world of freelance writing contains many specialties you can choose from – much like the nursing profession. That leads to some decision-making.

Step Two: Determine Your Initial Writing Specialty

After you graduated nursing school, you had a choice to make: Which unit did you want to seek employment on first?

Traditionally, new graduate nurses have served on med-surg floors for a period of time to develop their core nursing skills before venturing into other specialties, such as critical care nursing. But that path isn’t mandated. Indeed, I never worked one shift on a med-surg floor; I started my nursing career in PACU.

What’s important is this: You thought about which nursing specialties interested you before you even graduated from school and then mapped out a tentative path to take through the early part of your nursing career. You need to do the same thing with your freelance career.

The freelance industry contains many specialties. To name a few:

  • Health journalism
  • Content marketing writing
  • Regulatory writing
  • CME
  • Journal articles

And that’s just skimming the top. As you learn about how freelance writing works, you need to think about exactly which entry point makes sense for you.

Do you want to be a health reporter for WebMD? Do you want to create marketing materials for Cardinal Health? Do you hope to write CME? Or maybe you’re most intrigued about using your exceptional science skills to become a regulatory writer?

All of these represent viable paths to success as a freelance nurse-writer. But attempting to plunge into all of them simultaneously could be disastrous, because your energy will be scattered in too many diverse directions. I mean, any type of freelance writing involves a learning curve as you develop your skills in a particular type of writing. If you’re trying to learn several different types of writing at the same time, you may stress yourself out to the point you give up.

Personally, I believe the fastest path to success for a nurse who wants to become a writer is to enter the reporting profession. I think the easiest path to big dollars lies in becoming a content marketing writer. I think the longest but most lucrative path is what I call “high science” medical writing, such as regulatory writing.

No matter which specialty you choose, I recommend sticking to that specialty alone until you feel confident in it. After that, you can branch out into other types of writing. In fact, diversifying your skills base that way will help you achieve higher success.

Step Three: Get Educated

Nursing school doesn’t prepare you to run your own business, nor does it educate you about how to write consumer health articles (or drug applications, or…). You can muddle through the early part of your career by trial-and-error (as many of us – myself included – did), or you can avail yourself of the myriad educational programs that have cropped up over the past decade to help clinicians become professional writers.

Obviously I’m biased here, since I offer my own workshop on health journalism basics for nurses. But you also might want to check out the American Medical Writers Association courses on medical writing, or the Poynter Institute’s classes on journalism, or go over to LinkedIn Learning for some business courses.

I strongly recommend shortening your learning curve and eliminating as much frustrating trial-and-error as possible to achieve quicker success as a professional writer. One of the reasons I started RN2writer, in fact, was to create the resource I wished I’d had when I was transitioning from nurse to writer!

And that’s about it. These three steps can help any nurse answer the question, “How can I become freelance writer?”

What other questions do you have about getting started as a nurse-writer? Put ‘em in the comments!

And, hey, don’t forget to subscribe to the free weekly newsletter to get these blog posts delivered straight to your inbox once a week!

Elizabeth Hanes

Elizabeth Hanes

Elizabeth Hanes BSN RN is known professionally as "the nurse who knows content." By day, she uses her nursing knowledge and creative writing acumen to produce content that drives results for clients. By night, she teaches other nurses how to achieve their dreams of a professional writing career. In between, she takes frequent breaks to drink Cosmos and walk her dog, Mitzi. Elizabeth lives in Albuquerque, NM. She has never met Walter White or needed Saul Goodman.

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