Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Second Act - My Move from Nursing to Writing

What made you go from nursing to writing?

How did you make the transition to writing?

Don't you miss nursing?

When did you decide to leave nursing and become a writer?

These are just a few of the questions I've been asked over the past few years when people learn that I changed professions when I was in my forties, taking a chance on a new life. I'm not unique in this position. All you have to do is have a look at to learn about many women who have done the same and some in a much more dramatic manner. My writing seems rather tame compared to stand-up paddle boarding or becoming a model.

So, what happened to me and why? Or, "How I decided to be what I wanted to be when I grew up."

First, writing has always been something that I did well. In school, I prayed for essay exams, because even if I didn't know the subject completely, I was good at writing my answers in a way that often made it sound like I did.

This didn't always work, but I had a better chance skirting the questions this way than with multiple choice exam questions. Thinking back though, it might have been easier if I had just done the homework and studied a bit more...

All kidding aside, writing was something I liked to do and I knew I could do it. But, writing as a career never really seemed to be an option. I wasn't an outstanding writer and other than newspaper reporting or writing books, there didn't seem to be a viable way to earn a living using words. So, I did the next best thing. I chose a profession where I knew there would be work.

Although I enjoyed working as a nurse, I was frequently exhausted or not feeling well. Working shifts really didn't help matters either. Little did I know at that time that I was living with fibromyalgia. That diagnosis wasn't made until I was just shy of my fiftieth birthday.

In the mid 1990s, while I was head nurse at a summer camp for physically handicapped children, I saw a small ad in the Montreal Gazette. Someone was looking for a nurse with good communication skills and who knew how to use the Internet.

Hey! That was me! And I got the job.

It was a virtual job - the company had no offices. This is where I got my first taste of telecommuting. My children were in elementary school and I was working - full time - from home. Things couldn't get much better than that in my book.

Time passed, jobs changed. I continued to work as a nurse at various times to both keep my license and because I couldn't yet give up that part of my life. And then, the time came. When I was in my early forties, a set of circumstances occurred that pushed me into what I'd been wanting to do but dared not do: work full time as a writer.

Could I do it? 

Was I good enough? 

Would I find enough clients and jobs? 

What if I failed?

What's that expression: the proof is in the pudding? The first year I worked full-time from my home office, self-employed, hustling for work, I made more money than I did working full-time as an RN. Of course, in Quebec, that's not hard (sorry, still a bit bitter about nursing salaries here!).

Over the years, I cultivated some great, well-paying clients, said good-bye to some that didn't pay as well as I needed/wanted, and I've built myself a rather successful one-woman show. I've got some great clients and I have fun. I speak to incredibly interesting people, both fellow writers and people I interview for articles or projects.
I go to workshops and conferences where I meet other writers and editors, and I learn more about my craft. Lately, I have been given the opportunity to teach others too.

Last month, I was in New York City attending the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) conference, where I spoke on a panel about writing for trade magazines. Next month, I'll be in Toronto at the MagNet convention, participating on another panel about taking your writing career to the next level.

So, could I do it? 

You bet I could! And I did.

Was I good enough? 

My clients sure think so. And I don't often seek out work anymore. Many times, clients will come to me.

Would I find enough clients and jobs? 

While sometimes I worry, because I think all self-employed people do, I have yet to find myself in a situation where I don't have enough work. Of course, self-employed people always have to market themselves, so that's what I do. And it's not as hard as I thought it was.

What if I failed? 

Well, I didn't. But if I had, would it have been so terrible? I always used to tell my children, "Don't tell me you can't do something unless you have tried to do it and you failed. Only then can you say that you can't."

So, am I a grown up now?


Jen @ My Morning Chocolate said...

Marijke, this is such an inspirational story. That's great that your very first year of freelancing pulled in more money than your nursing job. I imagine with your health care and writing background, you have a strong skill set to offer to your clients. Thanks so much for sharing your story!

Jennifer Fink said...

Your story is almost exactly like mine. I was a good nurse, but I never miss nursing. (Though I do still dream about it from time to time. Do you?) Writing suits me so much better!

Marijke Vroomen-Durning said...

Thank you Jen. I really love what I do now.

Jenny, I *do* dream about it sometimes, but they're often bad dreams. I've deliberately neglected patients and it's shift end. I have to find a way to chart that I've done everything I didn't do... Not fun!

Unknown said...

I've known several women who were nurses who became writers. What do you think is the reason for that? What characteristics in nursing can be expressed also in writing? Helping others, I'm thinking. Of course, you have a built-in niche. But what else? I find this interesting.

Marijke Vroomen-Durning said...

That's a good question Jackie. I never met any writers who were nurses before I became one myself. My flip answer would be that since we had to write so much in our paper work, we may as well try to earn some money from it. ;-)

Seriously, it could come from the expressive part of nursing. Teaching is a huge part of nursing as is communication. Maybe nursing draws people who are natural communicators. I'll have to think about this.

Jan said...

This discussion about nurses and writing is very interesting: you have to be bright academically for both careers.

This is also a very good discussion for young college graduates to help them see that you're not locked into any subject.


Victoria Musgrave said...

Thanks for sharing your story - it is very inspiring! I'm just getting started as a freelance health care communications consultant and writer, after working "in house" for many years. I'll be at MagNet next month - perhaps our paths will cross.

Nancy said...

I really enjoyed your post. Too many women want to venture into something new but the fear factor wins out. You did it and look at the great results.

Jane N Rollins said...

Marijke, I love this thread. I, too, made a career change in my late 40s, in my case from being an epidemiologist to being a medical writer like you. Then, 3 years later, with 2 kids in college, I left the corporate world and went freelance, even though I was terrified! Also the best thing I ever did,

Marijke Vroomen-Durning said...

Victoria, I hope so. I'm on a panel on the last day, about taking your career to the next level.

Jan, I like to think that my work history gave my kids a good example of how you can reinvent yourself if you want or if circumstances force it. Heck, if I can do it, *anyone* can do it.

Nancy and Jane, thanks. I think that too many people, including myself sometimes, hold back because of that fear, but truly, there is nothing wrong with failing. It's not fun, but there's nothing wrong with it. We can't do everything and there is so much satisfaction in trying that I wish we would all give ourselves a bit of a break when we want to try new things in life.