Sometimes I receive emails from nurses who sincerely want to buy in to the idea that freelance writing is an insanely glamorous career. For instance, one nurse who wrote to me recently said, “I am very interested in exploring this career, but I need to make sure it doesn’t mean I’ll be writing about ‘what does the color of my mucus mean’ or something.”
And that comment made me chuckle, because that is exactly the kind of thing I write about. That is exactly the type of topic that pays my bills. In fact, I have recently written about such scintillating subjects as what various types of stomach sounds mean and how to make a saline rinse for your nose or mouth. And one of my friends, the great nurse-writer Jennifer L.W. Fink, recently wrote about what the color of your period blood means.
So, no, being a professional writer is not very glamorous. That is, until you look for the glamor outside the work.
What it’s Really Like to Make a Living as a Freelance Writer
I won’t deny there’s a real mystique that surrounds writing for a living. Introducing yourself at parties by saying, “I’m a writer,” does get everyone’s attention and promotes a certain glamorous aura about oneself.
But “mystique” and “glamor” don’t pay the bills – and being a freelance writer is all about making a living at it.
Here’s a harsh reality: Making a living as a freelance writer means writing about what you’re asked to write about when you’re asked to write about it.
Sometimes, yes, that means you get to write exciting, interesting assignments that involve interviewing brilliant researchers or patients whose stories tug at your heart strings. Sometimes being a professional writer means you get to produce a long, in-depth piece about a topic close to your heart – an article that fires your passion and makes you proud to share it on social media.
But those situations represent the “few and far between” assignments of freelance writing. In reality, making money as a writer often involves writing about boring topics. For example, I once wrote a white paper about how to finance mergers and acquisitions in healthcare. Boring? Tremendously. Any chance of livening it up to make it interesting for me or the reader? None.
BUT…I earned several thousand dollars from that boring white paper. That boring white paper paid my mortgage that month.
And this is what being a working writer is all about: paying your mortgage. Paying for your kids’ sports activities. Buying piano lessons. Taking a nice vacation. Giving yourself time off.
In this Respect, Writing is No Different from Nursing
Is nursing a glamorous profession?
Gosh, I sure thought so as a kid, growing up devouring the Cherry Ames novels. I wanted nothing more than to enjoy the same exciting, adventurous career that Cherry had, traveling the world saving lives and becoming embroiled in romantic entanglements. Oh, the glamorous lifestyle I would lead as a nurse!
My first day on the floor as a newly licensed RN, a patient threw up all over me. A veteran nurse glanced toward my PACU bay and laughed. “Welcome to nursing,” she said as she tossed me a towel.
That said, nursing has its glamorous aspects, too. Some days, you get to make a true difference in someone’s life. I mean, some days you get to literally save someone’s life. There’s nothing more dramatic or fulfilling than that.
But most of the time, nursing is not very glamorous. It’s about managing Code Browns and making sure the catheter bag got emptied. Days are often filled with nothing beyond mundane tasks and too little time to accomplish them.
In this respect, professional writing is the same as nursing: Mostly filled with the same tasks day after day, occasionally interspersed with an event (or assignment) that’s truly interesting and meaningful.
Here’s Where the Glamorous Side of Freelance Writing Really Is
I’m telling you all this not to put you off from freelance writing. Heck, my business depends on nurses signing up for my courses and coaching.
But if you know anything at all about me, you know I’m all about transparency. I will never sell you the sizzle without mentioning the steak.
Still, just because making a living as a writer often means writing uninspiring assignments, it doesn’t mean there’s no glamor at all to the writing life. Quite to the contrary, you can find the glamor in freelancing by looking outside the assignments.
The glamor of freelance writing comes not from the work but from the lifestyle it affords you.
As you ramp up your career, you’ll discover the glamor of freelancing lies in being your own boss, paying yourself a handsome salary, and being able to do the things you want to do that your peers cannot because they’re stuck in the paycheck-to-paycheck, 9-to-5 lifestyle. You may find yourself feeling glamorous when you decide to take three weeks off to travel to Europe. Or when you fill your house with antiques – or fine wines. Or maybe you’ll feel glamorous when you’re able to provide a lavish wedding for your child. Or when you’re able to retire early.
Hell, I often feel glamorous just by knocking off work early to enjoy a Cosmopolitan with my lunch on the patio of a chi-chi local restaurant.
The actual “job” of being a freelance writer may not hold the mystique and glamor you’d hoped it might, but you can find the glamor in the end by writing the boring assignments – and enjoying the beauty of the lifestyle, instead.
Did you first become interested in becoming a writer because of the perceived glamor of the profession? Share your experiences in the comments!