What Skills Does a Nurse Need to Become a Writer?

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Very often, when I exchange emails or chat with a nurse who aspires to become a freelance writer, she expresses great concern about whether she “has what it takes” to become a successful writer. I think it’s natural to feel this way when you’re contemplating entering a profession that requires no formal training or education whatsoever. Imposter syndrome is real, and we nurses largely came up through a system in which we had to demonstrate knowledge and competence at every stage through formal measurement tools and criteria.

But freelance writing doesn’t work like that. Any old person can hang a shingle claiming to be a writer. So, just how skilled at writing do you really need to be to call yourself “a writer”? And what other skills do you need before you seriously pursue this career?

How much writing skill does a nurse need to become a writer?

While writing ability represents only one skill a nurse needs to become a successful freelancer, it’s an important one, so let’s tackle it first.

I always tell nurses they need “a good basic grasp of English composition.” But that doesn’t tell you much, does it? I mean, that’s my own highly subjective criterion. Let me elaborate more about how I define this.

When it comes to English grammar, punctuation, and composition, I think any nurse who wants to become a writer needs to understand:

  • Basic spelling (but you do not have to be a perfect speller, by any means!)
  • Subject/verb agreement
  • Basic punctuation
  • Capitalization
  • Simple sentence construction
  • Common composition mistakes, such as comma splices
  • How to flow from idea to idea in a logical sequence of paragraphs

Honestly, I think this rudimentary grasp of writing fundamentals offers an excellent starting point for any nurse who wants to become a writer – because your writing will improve over time, thanks to working with editors. I think this is sort of a “secret” aspect of freelance writing that many nurses don’t understand: Throughout your career, you’ll almost always be working with an editor. You don’t have to have a perfect command of English composition because your editor is going to work with you to improve everything you write. I mean, even at my stage of my career I always work with an editor – or a client who edits my work. 

I hope this knowledge gives you a sense of relief. You won’t be shouldering the burden of being an expert grammarian on every project. Clients and editors won’t expect that of you. What they will expect is…a basic grasp of English composition. That’s pretty much it.

What business skills does a nurse need to become a successful freelance writer?

Here’s how I see it: Half of finding success as a freelance writer lies in your writing skill. The other half? In your ability to run a business.

But, fear not. Just as you need not be an expert grammarian to be a successful writer, neither do you need to be Warren Buffett to be a successful freelancer.

Even if you’ve never run a business before, you can still make it as a freelancer. This is a learn-as-you-go venture, and, believe me, you’ll make plenty of mistakes. (Actually, that’s why I began offering workshops and coaching: to help you avoid some of the hundreds of mistakes I made when I was starting up!)

Still, you’ll find success faster, I think, if you have a fundamental grasp of business management skills, including:

  • Basic budgeting principles
  • Basic time management
  • Organization skills
  • Basic grasp of tax management/payment
  • Basic marketing knowledge
  • Good customer service skills

Trust me, you do not need an MBA to run a one-woman freelance writing business. I think the most important things to know about the business aspects of freelancing are these:

  1. Your business relationship with the taxing authorities is different from your personal relationship with them
  2. You need to acquire various certificates and licenses to do business in most locales
  3. Possibly the best investment you’ll ever make in your business is in a relationship with an accountant

Aside from those few things, everything else about managing a freelance business falls under “marketing” and “customer service.” And even those don’t have to be complicated.

Compare Your Skills to the Low Bar, Not the High One

I think the biggest mistake nurses make when self-assessing their writing and business abilities is comparing them to some perfect standard instead of to the more realistic “low bar.” That’s why I say you don’t have to be Warren Buffett to be successful. You only have to be as good as the girl selling scout cookies outside Walmart. I’m not joking.

Your writing skills don’t have to be Hemingway-esque. The only need to be as good as a sophomore in a local English class.

When you think about what skills and talents you bring to the table as an aspiring writer, remember this: Your skills only have to be adequate. Not perfect. Not stellar. Adequate.

That makes things feel more manageable, doesn’t it?

Do you think you have what it takes to be a freelance writer? Tell me why or why not in the comments!

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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