If you don’t have much – or any – health writing experience, it’s hard to know where to begin. Should you develop your health writing portfolio of published work, volunteer your services to grow your skills, start a health blog, take a health writing course, or even write for free so you can get your name out there?
Experienced writers will tell you that you should never write for free. But beginners without any experience might not feel comfortable charging for their work. Also, it’s difficult to get a paid job without experience. Many aspiring writers are keen to develop their skills and experience before they start applying for jobs with clients or pitching for freelance work.
How much health writing experience do you need before you can apply for a job?
Clients and employers who are thinking about hiring you will probably consider all of your previous experience, including any published or unpublished health writing work as well as the months or years you have spent working on projects in fields relevant to health writing. Relevant experience is important because it:
- Demonstrates that you can write well about health – it shows you have the ability to produce great health content.
- Builds your confidence – it helps you to become a better writer, gives you project management skills, gets you used to managing deadlines, and more.
If you’re just at the beginning of your journey and would like to get some experience before you start applying for paid jobs, here are some ways to get started.
Improving your skills
Write practice articles in your own time, for yourself. Set yourself writing tasks, and share them with family and friends. Don’t be afraid to ask other writers for feedback (the worst anyone can say is no). Practicing your writing will help you to improve your skills and give you confidence in your abilities.
Help out an experienced writer in exchange for feedback
If you want to identify areas for improvement and would like your work critiqued by a professional, find an experienced writer or mentor and offer to help on projects in exchange for valuable feedback. I don’t recommend writing for free for anyone for a long time – but it is definitely helpful in the beginning if you are looking for ways to grow your experience.
Volunteer for an organisation in need
Some organisations or charities may be willing to let you volunteer your time to help on their website and marketing materials. This could be a great way to improve your skills and experience while helping a needy cause. Potential downsides could be that you may not have anyone to offer you useful feedback to help you improve your skills. Also, you want to feel confident that you can provide a reasonable service for the organisation you’re helping.
Write for free in exchange for a byline
Writing for free for magazines, websites, blogs and publications is one way of getting published experience as a health writer. It’s appealing because you are given a byline and can also see what changes were made to your final piece – giving you the opportunity to learn and improve your skills. However, you can be taken advantage of if you write for free too often – and it’s always something that you need to make sure you do on your own terms. Be sure to read this post for our top tips on when we feel it’s appropriate to write for free.
“In kind” means payment in the form of goods or services instead of money. It can be a way for you to get some clients on your books and practice managing a project if you’re not comfortable charging yet. For example, you could offer to write an enewsletter for a massage therapist in exchange for the work experience and being able to list them as your first client (or in exchange for a free massage!).
Start a health blog
Starting a health blog will help you to practice your writing, get you used to meeting regular deadlines and teach you all about marketing, SEO, social media and more. Your blog is an important component of your health writing portfolio – and if you write great blogs there’s no reason why you can’t use them as examples of your writing experience when you’re applying for paid jobs.
How much experience is enough?
Ultimately, you have enough experience when you feel ready to apply for work. Don’t be concerned if you don’t have any published writing samples or completed client projects in your portfolio. What matters more is the quality of your work. While having a byline or using a client’s name on a project sounds impressive, practice articles will do just fine if you’re starting out and trying to find your first health writing jobs.
Remember, clients and editors just want reassurance that you have the ability and confidence to write well, and can manage a writing project from start to finish. Once you can demonstrate this, there’s no reason why you can’t start applying for paid work.
This post is an extract of lesson six of our 12-day email course, Breaking Into Health Writing.