When I first sat down to write this blog post on my first year as a health writer, I had two thoughts; firstly, I couldn’t believe how fast time had flown and that I had been working for a year as a health writer, and secondly, what could I possibly write about?
As I thought back to the first day I knew I wanted to take the plunge and work freelance in health writing to give me an opportunity be at home with my two young sons before they started school, I realised there were many lessons, mistakes and rewards I had encountered in one year that could be helpful for other health writers.
Taking the first step and bump into the right people
I didn’t work as a health writer prior to having children. I had worked in the medical industry for nearly ten years, with the latter years working as a content editor for a medical education program for doctors and had considered medical writing a possible career move. However I remained uncertain if I needed a PhD or agency experience.
Luckily for me, the Australasian Medical Writers’ Association (AMWA) had a mentoring program for new writers who sought a career advice. I was linked up with a lovely and highly experienced medical writer in Singapore, who gave me every confidence in my skills and ability to forge ahead and set up a freelance writing business.
Finding work was the next step, and again through a fortuitous meeting with the now President of AMWA, Michelle Guillemard, at an AMWA Sydney networking event. She remembered me when she put the call-out for a new health writer and I landed the awesome gig working for her. Gaining confidence, I found a few more regular clients, including my former employer.
One year on, making connections and networking helped me in my first year. However I have experienced a few trials and tribulations that have taught me some lessons, which I hope by sharing, may lessen your nerves if you’re in your first year as a health writer.
My top five lessons learnt during my first year as a health writer
1. It’s okay to say no
In your first year, you may feel like you need to say yes to everything to build your experience, client list or portfolio. However I have learnt that it’s okay to say no.
Take baby steps with your client list or your workload. I learnt the hard way by not having enough available hours to work for the amount of work coming in. And yes that sounds like a dream for health writers who are just starting out, however taking on too much work can impact the quality of work you deliver, ultimately affecting your reputation.
2. Set your self long and short term goals
Knowing your five year plan can really help you understand how much you need to work, what type of health writing you would like to take on and who to work for. I found writing a business and marketing plan really helpful.
If business planning isn’t your strength, there are plenty of online courses that can help you – including our own freelance health writing course.
3. Go to networking events
Networking events are really important for freelancers and employed health writers. Not only can you find like-minded colleagues to swap ‘war stories’, you can meet professional contacts for work, keep abreast of industry changes before news announcements and broaden your knowledge of the health writing industry.
By attending networking events, I have found work, met industry experts and learnt new skills, such as health blogging and writing for medical news websites. I would suggest joining your local medical writers organisation, and other writing groups who have regular networking social events.
4. Complete projects before deadlines
I have found having projects completed the day before the deadline takes the pressure off to complete projects on time. Being new, I take longer to complete projects than seasoned health writers. So the forward planning can be handy if you’re find the work is taking longer than anticipated.
Having time away from my writing also gives me perspective and allows me to look at the content with fresh eyes to double check references, spelling mistakes and sentence structure.
5. Attend workshops and conferences
If you’re new to the industry, reading and trying to learn the about health and medicine can make you feel like you’re learning a new language! If it’s any comfort, you’re not alone and I found even with a science background learning about the health industry is still challenging.
The good news is there are many industry organisations that run online courses to improve your knowledge. Many are self paced, which takes the pressure off trying complete weekly topics. Talk to colleagues or ask your professional associations for recommendations.
In my first year, I have attended workshops and attended conferences on health blogging, statistics and consumer health writing. My advice would be to take advantage of the available information on health writing to set the foundation for a rewarding and challenging career!
What did you learn during your first year as a health writer? Share your comments below.