How To Become a Health Writer With Jay Vera Summer

Freelance essay writer Jay Vera Summer talks about becoming a health writer, finding her first writing gigs, and a powerful writing mantra.

Jay Vera Summer is a full-time freelance writer. She writes personal essays, reported articles, and content. Her topic niches are health, food, and travel.

Jay also runs her web projects. At Chronically Lit, she edits stories, essays, and poetry by writers with chronic illnesses. At Jay Vera Summer, she writes advice for writers and those interested in freelance careers.

How Did You Become a Writer?

When I was a kid and teenager, people kept telling me that “writer” wasn’t a feasible career path. As a result, I didn’t pursue writing professionally at first, even though it was my dream.

When I was about 30 years old and dissatisfied with my career outlook, I decided to be bold, call myself a writer, and pursue writing as a career path.

I’m here to encourage anyone who wants to transition to writing later in life—go for it!

I learned quickly that if I acted confident in my writing abilities, people would pay me to write.

Then, once I had published writing samples under my belt, I could use them to get higher-paying and more interesting writing gigs.

When I first started freelancing, I feared I wouldn’t be able to find enough work or make enough money. Now, I receive unsolicited job offers regularly.

The biggest obstacle is me.

Procrastination and time management are the only problems I have with my current career. When you’re self-employed, you absolutely must master prioritization and time management.

How Did You Get Your First Writing Job?

Years ago, I landed multiple gigs that I didn’t realize counted as “real” writing jobs until years later. While working full-time in other positions, I’d occasionally scan Craigslist for writing work.

I figured these one-off gigs were a way to do something I enjoyed and make extra cash.

Later, I realized they planted seeds of confidence by showing me I could make money writing.

My early Craigslist-originated gigs were varied. When Yelp first came to Chicago (where I lived at the time), they paid me $5 per restaurant review.

A music site gave me free concert tickets in exchange for concert reviews. I even made $15 for an erotic poem I wrote under a pseudonym.

Now, I don’t usually use Craigslist for writing gigs.

Instead, I scan more reputable job boards, subscribe to writing newsletters (like Content Writing Jobs!), and follow editors on Twitter. There are so many ways to find writing gigs online.

What Skills Do You Need to Be a Good Writer?

To be a good writer, you must be consistent and persistent.

Yes, you need some basic writing skills, but I’m convinced raw talent is less important than your approach to writing. You can’t get frustrated easily and give up. You can’t be overly sensitive to criticism.

You must sit in front of the page daily and keep trying, regardless of what emotions arise.

Confidence and taking risks is also important, especially as a freelancer. The self-employed career path is very different from a traditional employee job.

You don’t just get hired and then do your job. You create your career day after day. You must be willing to imagine the opportunities you’d like, find them, and then put yourself out there to try and get them.

Finally, I must reiterate what an important role time management plays. I’m still learning this one.

It can be difficult to avoid distractions when you’re alone all day and have no prescribed schedule.

Sometimes I shut my phone in a box.

The Pomodoro technique also helps me stay on task.

What Influences Your Writing the Most?

Nearly all of my essay and article writing is inspired by my own lived experience. After taking road trips, I wrote about roadside attractions.

When struggling with chronic illness symptoms, I reflected on how I made it through grad school with chronic illness.

Being vegan is a big part of my life, so I often write about vegan philosophical quandaries.

My content writing greatly differs from my essay and article writing, so my life experiences don’t relate to it in the same way.

With content writing, I’m usually ghostwriting on behalf of a company rather than under my name. Also, I often write based on ideas given to me rather than those I came up with.

In these instances, I’m inspired by the knowledge that my writing will provide value to people who search for the information it contains

 I try to write in a clear, well-organized, straightforward manner in hopes that Googlers will quickly and easily find the answers to their questions in my work.

What Tools and Software Do You Use for Work?

I try to keep my costs low, so I opt for free and low-cost tools.

I have an iMac, which was a complete blessing because my mom was able to buy it used from her work for $200. The large screen makes a big difference because I can have a research window and document window viewable at once.

Before I got this computer, I used a small laptop, but now I don’t think I could go back.

As far as apps go, I have to thank Google. I save everything to Drive and do almost all my writing in Docs.

I track my pitches, submissions, applications, finances, etc., in Sheets. If Google Drive ever becomes inaccessible, I’m done. I’d have to start with nothing. Actually, this is a good reminder—I should back some things up!

Todoist is the tool I use for task management. I used the free version for years, but recently I upgraded, and now I pay a small amount for it.

Toggl is a free time-tracking app I use, and it easily integrates with Todoist. With these tools, I make sure I do my work on schedule.

Time tracking also allows me to calculate how much money I make per hour.

What Are Your Writing Habits?

I am absolutely a Pomodoro technique evangelist.

I adore the Pomodoro technique, in which you work for 25 minutes at a time, alternated with 5-minute breaks.

While still a professor, I encouraged all of my students to try the Pomodoro technique for studying and doing homework.

I’d play the Pomodoro technique video in my classroom each semester. It’s a godsend for procrastinators.

Every morning, I exercise, meditate, and eat breakfast before beginning my workday. I also often journal in the morning, writing by hand in a notebook.

This routine helps me feel centered and peaceful to begin my work without distraction. Unfortunately, I am easily distracted!

While writing, I often listen to the Lo-fi Hip-Hop Radio YouTube channel. I can’t listen to music with lyrics and write at the same time.

I also can’t listen to music I like because I’ll get too into it and become distracted. But “chillhop,” as they call it, works nicely as background music.

What’s the Best Investment You Made in Your Career?

An ergonomic desk setup is the best investment for people who work from home.

Please, don’t work from your bed, couch, or kitchen table! Also, save your receipts so you can report everything you buy at tax time.

I purchased a decent-sized desk and an office chair with an adjustable height. I also bought a computer monitor riser, so my screen is at eye level.

A physical therapist taught me that my arms should be at a 90-degree angle when I’m typing, and I should be looking straight ahead rather than up or down.

Note: you can’t use a laptop and sit in a body-friendly position unless you use an external keyboard with the laptop. I used a laptop for too long and paid for it with back and neck pain.

What Are the Most Influential Books in Your Life?

Each book I read influences me in some way. Lately, I’ve been reading more books about racism.

I’m currently in book discussion groups for:

Powerful and necessary stuff.

There’s one book I’ve reread a few times: Pain Woman Takes Your Keys and Other Essays from a Nervous System by Sonya Huber.

I came across Huber’s book shortly after founding Chronically Lit. She nails the chronic pain and illness experience, and her essays are precisely the type of work I’d like to publish on the site.

What Are Your Favorite Writing Quotes?

I’m not sure where this quote originated, but I love: “If you write, you’re a writer.”

It’s true. Many “aspiring” or “emerging” writers think they can’t call themselves writers until they’ve made a certain amount of money from writing or until writing is their full-time job. Not true!

I have no qualms about calling myself a writer, but throughout my teens and 20s, I was afraid to do so.

Calling myself a writer was the first step in breaking out of the paralyzing fears I had. I feared I was a bad writer, that I should be embarrassed of my desire to write, or that no one would ever pay me to write.

The reality is, virtually anyone can be a writer. Writing is accessible to everyone.

If you write, you’re a writer. Period.

If Someone Wants to Be Where You Are Now, How Can They Get There?

Start pitching, start submitting, and start applying.

It isn’t the type of career path that requires you to spend months or years prepping, and then when you’re ready, take action. It’s a career path that emerges out of action.

Create a website and LinkedIn profile, get going, and learn as you go. Professional development is an iterative process.

I probably revise text on my website and social profiles every month or two. It isn’t a path that’s set in stone.

As you take action, you’ll occasionally realize you’ve messed up, or you’re not where you want to be, then you can take other, new steps.

I wish I’d learned that much earlier. I tend to want to analyze and plan. I can be a perfectionist.

Let go of perfectionism to be a happy and successful freelance writer. It is a very “just do it” type of career path.

Also, I’ll put in a good word for HubSpot Academy. Their classes are free.

If you want to do content writing specifically, they will help you understand the world of inbound and content marketing.

I’ve had more than one client mention that they were happy to see HubSpot Academy on my resume.

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