I’ve been freelancing for 9 years now, and a medical writer for 21 years. When I did my PhD 25 years ago, I’d assumed that I’d have a research career, so moved into doing a couple of post-docs. I stumbled across medical writing by chance. I was fed up due to an experiment that was continually failing to give a decent answer and so went to the pub with a friend. I wasn’t in a great place in some ways: my boss was moving, the work was being a pain and to add to the mix I’d just met my future husband who lived 140 miles away. That conversation was truly life changing, and after the suggestion I consider medical writing, I secured my first agency job, staying there for almost 10 years and learning a huge amount.
Freelancing was always something I had at the back of my mind, particularly after we moved to rural North Wales. Eventually, due to the need for extra flexibility, I took the plunge. I always say it was like jumping out of an aeroplane, knowing you had a parachute and just hoping it would open before you hit the ground.
I’ve been extremely fortunate over the past 9 years to work with both friends and former colleagues, and to make new friends in the process. I’ve also been lucky that apart from one short period I’ve always been able to find sufficient work and I’ve formed some very good working relationships, working with one agency over the whole of the time that I’ve been freelance.
It does have its stresses, and at times it can feel a bit feast or famine, but it usually balances out in the end. Every day is different, and I’ve gained experience of a range of interesting therapy areas and materials. Working on so many different diseases and materials really suits my butterfly brain, and there’s never time to get bored. Plus, I can easily get out at lunchtime and walk across the fields with the dogs – what’s not to love?
For anyone thinking of becoming a freelancer, I’d recommend finding yourself a really good accountant who can help to guide you through the minefield of things that you have to do and think about. You also need to be fairly sure that you can motivate yourself without the small interactions that you gain when you’re in an office every day, and that you can cope if you have days where you may not speak to anyone that you’re working with. Networking is also key, I’ve gained a lot of business from people I know, and don’t be afraid to say no if you really don’t want to do something, or you’ve already got enough work to occupy you.
This personal profile first appeared in the FirstMedCommsJob careers guide, Making it my own business: a guide to being a freelance writer in MedComms, published April 2022