I had lunch last week with a former fellow graduate student who wanted to pick my brain about freelance medical writing. It just so happened that she caught me at the point in my career path when I had finally decided it was time to go completely freelance, after years of doing both freelance and salaried work (first in med ed and then in healthcare comm). As many medical writers and editors will tell you, there’s no single path toward a career in medical writing. For me, there was trial and error, fits and starts, plans and revamped plans, trying a bit of this, and then that — it wasn’t pretty, but eventually I landed where I wanted to be.
My journey to this point has been anything but smooth. There was always that 5-year plan in the background, but those 5 years were fraught with late nights, anxiety, self-doubt, interspersed with hopeful glimpses of what life could be like if I were to go completely freelance: long stretches of time to write, the ability to get up from the computer and go for a walk, the option to go grocery shopping at a reasonable hour. I knew I had to get there, but some days (and very late nights), it didn’t seem possible.
At first, my freelance writing gig was truly a hobby. A way to keep one foot in academia after graduate school, as I ventured out into the world of medical writing. Then my freelance client list started to grow, and I was working almost every night on freelance, after working all day in the office. I trademarked my company name and became an LLC. I tried working as a copyeditor for a journal and as an author’s editor for non-native English speakers, and bid for jobs on those online freelancing sites.
But the turning point came last year with my Web presence. First I put up my company Web site, then last summer, I added a blog, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account. I started getting clients from other states, inquiries based on my blog posts, traffic from my LinkedIn page. Soon my freelance hobby had become more than 50% of my income.
And then the epiphany that my particular background in bench science and academic writing, combined with my experience in med ed and promotional medical writing, made me particularly well suited to become a grantwriter/editor. Marketing science, linking science to health. Looking back, it was kind of a Duh! moment, but it really marked the point at which I could see my freelance career becoming a reality. Taking on my first contract client specifically for grantwriting earlier this year was the final test – if all went well, then it was time to strike out on my own. (Hint: it went well.)
As my freelance ramped up, my office work ramped down. It had to, there are not enough hours in the day or brain cells in my head. And I never wanted to get to that point were I was doing many things but not able to do any one thing particularly well. So first I went part-time at the office, and now I hope to keep my former employer as a client as I join their freelancer pool.
So here I am, about to embark on the next phase of my career path. I am certainly anxious, sad to leave my friends and co-workers (though I will see them from time to time, I hope), and freaked out that I am on my own and will succeed or fail based on my own decisions and abilities. But I am also excited, relieved, and just a tad proud that I have made it this far. I’ll keep everyone posted on my continued journey…