I am a freelance technical writer, and I work in the health and legal fields. I have over ten years of experience working in these areas. I write medical documentation for physicians and medical organizations. I often write about specific illnesses or conditions, such as infertility, or I write about treatments and surgeries. This information is either printed and then distributed to patients or it is posted on a physician’s or organization’s website. I also write legal information for lawyers and websites that offer basic legal information, such as how to negotiate on a lease for an apartment.
Many people imagine that technical writers always work in an office or work for a large corporation. I typically work at home, and I work for myself. I have several regular clients that I write for, and I also write medical and nutritional information on a freelance basis for some large, well-known medical websites.
I love my job. If I had to rate it on a scale from 1 to 10, I would give it a 9.5. I feel immense satisfaction from my work because I know I am helping other people make important decisions about their health or about their legal choices. I know that this is the right job for me. The only thing that I might change about my work is to make it more consistent. Sometimes it feels as if I either have far more work than I could possibly complete, or I don’t have enough to do. I have learned to budget money carefully to set some aside when I have a lot of work so that I can weather weeks where I have less work.
I am unique as a freelance technical writer because I have a Ph.D. in technical communication, and I am a professor at a state university. I also have a great deal of medical expertise because I concentrated on medical information during graduate school. This has opened a lot of doors for me because clients feel more confident that I can do the job well.
I got started writing on a freelance basis as a way to help pay for my student loans, as well as to earn spending money for family vacations. I count this as one of the best career decisions I have ever made, because it more than doubles my salary as a professor, and it helps keep my abreast of the latest skills and trends in technical writing. This, in turn, helps me teach my students more effectively.
I have learned a few hard lessons on this job. For one thing, I have learned that although clients may be in a hurry to get the finished article or website copy, they are not in a hurry to pay. I know now to always have a pay agreement or contract in place before you complete the work. Unfortunately, clients do sometimes not pay on time, and some will skip out without paying if they are not held accountable. Working with clients and arranging contracts in one real-world skill that I was never taught in school, yet it is vital for operating as a freelance technical writer. As a result, I always include this information when I teach a course.
Because I write about medical information, I am sometimes asked to write about some unusual procedures or strange conditions. For example, I write for one plastic surgeon who specializes in sex changes. I have learned to write about any medical or legal topic objectively and with sensitivity.
I love writing and I feel motivated every morning to get going. As I mentioned previously, I know that I am helping people. Some days I feel genuine excitement when I see the assignments my clients have asked me to complete. I love learning new things, and when I can learn a useful fact of piece of information, I feel rewarded for my efforts. I am proud of so many things I have done, but most of all, I am proud to write information or advice that really works for people. For example, through my research on diet and nutrition, I have finally been successful in my own quest to lose weight. To date, I have lost 44 pounds and it is still coming off.
My job is usually low-stress, and I appreciate that, especially since my teaching position is often very stressful. However, some clients want very fast turn-around times for very complicated medical or legal information, and it can be difficult to manage when that happens. Alternatively, some new clients can be indecisive and request several rounds of editing, changing the focus as they go. That can be frustrating and I have had to cancel orders from clients on occasion as a result.
The salary range for a freelance technical writer caries wildly on the client and the industry. In health and legal writing, a full time technical writer can expect to earn anywhere from $2,000 to $6,000 a month on average. I make my own hours and decide when I will take days off based on client work as well as when I need money. It works well for me.
To succeed in this field, you need a specialization as well as some education to back it up. For example, you used to be able to become a technical writer with no experience or no college degree. That is no longer the case. You need at least a bachelor’s degree in technical writing, English, or journalism, and if you want to specialize, such as in medical or legal writing, you should have a minor or significant job experience. Clients demand more than just good writers; they want experts in their fields.
In five years, I will have tenure at my university. I do not plan to scale back my freelance career, however. If anything, I’d like to expand my private client base and get longer and higher-paying assignments. I have them now, but I have to write some less lucrative articles to fill in when I do not have enough contract work.