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Develop the Writer in You

Friday June 1, 2012
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Recently, while having lunch with several nurses, one of them said, “I’d love to write, but I have no writing ability.” I chuckled to myself remembering that there was a time in my life when I was absolutely convinced I had no capacity to write. Then I learned that almost anyone can learn how to write. I’m not necessarily talking about writing a best-selling work of fiction, although that’s possible. I’m talking about learning to express yourself on paper whether for an article you wish to get published, a book you’d like to write, a family history you’d like to record, or an opinion piece you’d like to send to an editor.

The written word, when used well, is a powerful form of communication. Writing is an effective way to express yourself, influence others, inform or explain, persuade, entertain, and inspire.

Whether you’ve always had an interest in writing or avoided it like the plague, there are several steps you can take to develop your own writing ability.

Start writing. Whenever I’m asked how to begin writing, my advice is simple: Start writing. Keep a journal, write essays in a spiral notebook, draft an article, put a personal experience or opinion on paper or on computer. Writing is a discipline as much as an art form. It’s a habit you have to get into and make time for on a regular basis. You don’t have to write every day, but several times a week is advisable. If possible, designate a personal space for writing. You might also consider going to the library, a café, or other quiet place. Don’t wait for the mood to strike you. Create a time and space, and the ideas and inspiration will come.

Study the craft. Good writing takes experience and know-how. There is both an art and a science to it. The science is good grammar and the “rules” for articles, essays, and letters. The art is the colorful and effective phrasing that captures readers. Both can be learned by reading related books, taking courses and workshops on the subject, and speaking with experienced writers. Go to the public library and search for books on topics such as how to write an effective article, the art of persuading on paper, and rules of good grammar and composition writing. Consider taking a writing workshop where you’re required to share your work and receive feedback, critiques, and advice. Subscribe to writing journals. Join a writers’ group. Contact an author whose work you admire and ask for some tips and advice.

Study published works, especially those you particularly enjoy reading. Note how the article or chapter starts and ends, and how the material is organized. Notice how the author introduces, develops, and wraps up a topic. Pay attention to the author’s style and use of examples, stories, and analogies. Observe the descriptive language — specific words and phrases that create an image or convey an emotion — and the use of simple, clear language.

Look for opportunities. When going public with your work, start small and close to home. Consider writing a short article for your professional association or employee newsletter. It could be an opinion piece or something informational. Once you gain a little confidence and experience, you might even offer to write a regular column. That’s a great way to keep you writing, develop a unique style, and find your voice.

Create other avenues for practicing your writing by starting a blog, submitting guest posts to others’ blogs, microblogging on twitter and Facebook, writing letters to the editor, participating in online discussion forums and any other platform where you can express an opinion, give advice, or relay an experience. Express yourself on points that you are passionate about or that demonstrate your expertise.

Equip yourself with tools of the trade. In addition to books related to the craft of writing, be sure to have a good dictionary, thesaurus, and writing style guide. If word processing is your preferred method of writing, a basic PC or Mac and the latest software will do just fine. If you write in longhand, keep a supply of pens and notebooks or legal pads on hand. Always carry a pocket notebook so you can jot down ideas, thoughts, and phrases as they occur to you.

Good writing skills can take you in many directions. They can assist you in publishing a book or articles for professional recognition and development, and possibly even someday make a living from it. If your goal is simply to tap into your creative side or just to become a better communicator, good writing skills will take you there, too. Whatever your aim, developing the writer in you is a powerful means to that end.

Recommended reading

• "Anatomy of Writing for Publication for Nurses," by Cynthia Saver
• "Writing Down the Bones," by Natalie Goldberg
• "Chicken Soup for the Writer’s Soul," by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen and Bud Gardner
• Writer’s Digest magazine (www.writersdigest.com)
• "The Elements of Style," by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White


Donna Cardillo, RN, MA, well-known career guru, is Nurse.com’s “Dear Donna” and author of “Your First Year as a Nurse: Making the Transition from Total Novice to Successful Professional” and “The ULTIMATE Career Guide for Nurses: Practical Advice for Thriving at Every Stage of Your Career.” Information about the books is available at www.Nurse.com/CE/7010 and www.Nurse.com/CE/7250, respectively. To ask Donna your question, go to www.Nurse.com/Asktheexperts/Deardonna. Find a “Dear Donna” seminar near you: Call 800-866-0919 or visit http://Events.nursingspectrum.com/Seminar.