One, Two, No-Three: How to Launch Your Writing Career in Two Easy Steps

Jan 20, 2021

Recently, I invited everyone to “Ask Me Anything” in a since-deleted comment thread at the old newsletter site. (Although the thread is defunct, you can still send me questions anytime.) I promised to answer those questions in future newsletters, and I’m tackling one today.

Eliza asked: “Do you have a primer of the steps to take for professional development? What must happen first to leap into this new arena, running a business?”

My response: I think there’s a fundamental misperception by aspiring nurse-writers about how the freelance writing world operates, relative to how the nursing world operates.

In nursing, you prove your competence through education and lifelong learning:

  • You obtain a nursing degree

  • You pass an extremely rigorous licensing exam

  • You obtain certifications

  • You maybe go on to obtain an advanced nursing degree

  • You complete continuing education modules regularly

  • You routinely take tests to prove your competencies

This is how you demonstrate to prospective employers that you know what you’re doing as a nurse.

But that’s not how it works in freelance writing.

I have never – not once – been asked by a prospective client if I have a college degree. Not even before I earned my nursing degree, when I was writing on the side.

I have never been asked by a prospective client if I hold any certifications, such as inbound marketing or SEO.

I have never been asked by a prospective client how I can prove my skills are up to date, such as by producing continuing education certificates.

In freelance writing, you don’t prove your competence through education; you prove your competence through doing.

To illustrate my point, let me ask you this:

  • Did Peyton Manning earn a college degree in quarterbacking? No, he just went out and did it.

  • Did Ina Garten earn a chef certificate from Le Cordon Bleu? No, she just went out and did it.

  • Did Ernest Hemingway earn a college degree in journalism or fiction? Nope, he just went out and did it.

That’s how freelance writing works.

So, back to Eliza’s questions about what steps she needs to take for professional development prior to launching her business.

Answer: None.

Your clients will expect these things of you:

  • Ability to write a grammatically correct sentence

  • Ability to put several grammatically correct sentences together into multiple paragraphs

Beyond these two things, your client will specify how they want you to handle all other aspects of the gig:

  • Which keywords to use, and how often

  • Whether or not to use the “serial comma”

  • How many sources to interview (if any)

  • How many bullet lists to include, and how many items (max) can be on each list

  • How to use subheadings

And so on and so on.

You don’t need to come into freelance writing with any of those types of skills at all, because every client wants something different. There literally is no standard, in terms of on-page SEO or writing style or any of those things.

And if the client doesn’t specify things like which keywords to use and how often to use them, you simply ask. Clients do not expect you to magically know this. You can’t read their minds.

Now to the second half of Eliza’s question: “What needs to happen first to leap into this new arena of running a business?”

Launching your writing business is as easy as one-two… I was going to say “three,” but, honestly, there’s only two steps to launching your business:

  1. Get some writing samples. I recommend volunteering your talents to a worthy local non-profit. They get excellent content, and you get professional writing samples (aka: clips).

  2. Start soliciting clients. Obviously this is a little more involved than I make it sound. Basically: locate prospective clients and send LOIs. Lots of them.

This is all that is required to hang a shingle as a freelance nurse writer. You simply jump in.

Trust me, the freelance police are not going to show up at your door demanding to review your college degree, writing license, and proof of CNE.

All of that said, you may still be thinking, “Yeah, but… I literally have no clue how to do any of this. I need a class or something to help me figure it out and get started.” If that sounds like you, consider taking my Health Journalism Basics for Nurses workshop. There are three versions to meet your learning and budget needs. If you have any questions, let me know!

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