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Another Perspective on Medical Writing

A letter from a reader:

I’ve been a working medical/science writer for almost 40 years now and it isn’t for the weak at heart or anyone who has to earn a reliable income. Deadlines are tough and until that check is in your hand you usually don’t know if you’ll actually get paid. And the most interesting writing, at the [name of old, high-profile professional society–not AAAS–expunged by the editor/blogger] for example, pays little or nothing. Staff is certainly more reliable but in truth all writing is freelance; the med ed companies don’t last all that long, and the client who loves you invariably leaves and when his or her successor moves the account someplace else and there goes your job. Advertising is much more fun and pays better, but consumer copy writers are your competition so anyone coming from a lab had better be exceptionally creative (an advanced degree is usually a handicap in medical advertising, not an advantage).

As far as science journalism goes–I’ve had three editors in less than 5 months at one place; two liked my last pitch which died in committee last week. Martha Graham used to say that if you have to ask "should I dance? Don’t." The same is true for science and medical writing. Unless you really love to write and are obsessively curious about science, don’t. And doing the bread-and-butter stuff, ghost-writing papers and company-sponsored CMEs [continuing medial education units] is so boring it could make your teeth fall out.

I still love it.

Marcy Stone