“Altogether I’ve been nursing for nearly 40 years and specialising in parenting, midwifery and child health for 3/4 of that time. I have always combined a clinical career with my writing and love the challenges of meshing the two. I can truly understand what parents are going through and what information they want and need to have – this greatly informs my writing. I always aim to be practical, empathetic, honest and conversational in my writing.
“I work from home when I write and need to be disciplined about how to use my time most effectively. Working either in or for my business is a balancing act, but that is the truth for all of us isn’t it?
“I try to be mindful of not becoming so absorbed in what I’m writing and then overlook the importance of invoicing, BAS and generating new clients.”
Why did you decide to become a health writer?
When I saw that there was a lot of information in the media about restaurants and hotels, wine appreciation and holiday accommodation but very little to support parents, that’s what inspired me.
Loathe as I am to say it, there was also an Oprah show which I watched and there were some very successful women who had developed home based businesses; making millions. The primary message was that to build a successful life and business you needed to do what you love and what you know. At that point I reflected on my own skills and decided that what I knew was parenting and what I loved was words so decided that just perhaps there could be a future in combining the two.
Parenting is so universal and although every parent and their child are individuals there are some great consistencies across the whole parenting sphere. To do a good job, raise healthy, happy kids, to do the best that anyone can and enjoy family life. If I can help parents achieve those goals then my days are well spent.
How did you get your ‘big break’ as a health writer?
I think what helped was sticking with it and a self belief that I could write. I don’t give up easily and can be quite tenacious. In the beginning I felt if I didn’t know what information parents are keen for, then who does?
Right at the start of my writing career I emailed the (then) editor of the Courier Mail and told him that he had a great newspaper but he needed a weekly parenting column in the paper and most importantly, he needed me to write it. And to his credit and my eternal gratitude he responded by saying yes and asked if he could he meet me. Then I ran around the house full of self doubt and wondering what possessed me to do such a thing. But that was short lived and from that small beginning I’ve built my copywriting business. DF – many thanks! I’ve never forgotten your kindness.
What’s your best piece of advice for those who are considering a career in health writing or who are just starting out?
Be patient, do one thing at a time and concentrate on doing it well. Then when it’s finished move onto the next thing.
No matter how many deadlines you have, just remember, one thing well at a time. Forget multi-tasking; it’s OK to have lots of things of your “to do list” and needing your attention but if you can quarantine and compartmentalise your time with specific jobs then you’ll do a more thorough job of each one.
One tip that helps me is to remember that it is a fundamental principle of business success to concentrate on what is important, not what is urgent.
I also try to write as I say something and I think that helps. Parents are tired, they just want the facts and they want it now. Remember your audience.
I did a week by week pregnancy diary once and that got a bit tedious. All that comparison of the foetal size with fruit; but of course mothers love that sort of information.
But nothing too much really, I think every writing job is a challenge and I really try to research as much as a I can and include the most up to date and comprehensive information.
What’s the hardest thing about being a health writer?
Sometimes explaining complex issues in a simple way is a challenge. And it can also be quite lonely working and writing on my own. I make a point of trying to walk each day and after a long day of writing this helps to clear my head.
Generating new clients and keeping the ones I have is always on my mind. Delivering quality work, nurturing my business relationships and being up front is key. If I’m not sure about something I’ll always ask and I will pick up the phone and ring, sometimes email just doesn’t have the personal touch which is needed.
I don’t underestimate the value of getting things right in terms of a brief right. Even if I have to clarify with “so this is what you want me to do, am I right”? queries, that’s saved me lots of times.
What do you love most about health writing and why?
Because it’s so important and necessary. There’s so much information in the public sphere which is not evidence or science based and just nonsense really. I think we have an obligation to provide clear and factual information to the public based on our professional expertise and qualifications. We’ve worked hard for them, no one handed any of us our years of experience or professional memberships. There’s a lot of hard work behind knowing what you’re talking and writing about.
I like the fact that I’ve needed to learn business skills, many of which did not come easily.
I’ve asked lots of questions and had some good advice-I can’t under estimate the importance of having a good accountant. Mine has been great because he understands what I do and has also been a great business mentor.
What inspires you in your career?
Parents I guess and their eternal optimism and love for their children. If I’m honest, trying to have a better income than clinical work alone brings me.
I really don’t want to be on struggle street so if this means working creatively with the skills I have then so be it.