Is one of your 2014 resolutions to spend time writing about nursing practice, research, or patient and academic experiences and sharing them with nursing colleagues, other professional groups or community members?
At Nurse.com, we contacted experienced nurse writers who have published nursing books and journal articles and asked them to share tips and suggestions about the writing process.
I love to write, said Elaine L. Smith, RN, EdD, MSN, MBA, NEA-BC, ANEF, vice president, nursing education, North Shore LIJ Health System, Institute for Nursing, New Hyde Park, N.Y. There is something about language that I just find so exciting. It is like being able to paint a picture with words.
Q: What do you say to new writers about getting started?
Smith: Having a topic that really interests you and you think will interest others is a great starting point. Often it is about narrowing down a broad topic into something more manageable. The best advice is to simply put something down on paper, and then, through the iterative process, refine your work. One way is to write with others, whether for a joint publication or simply getting together with other nurses who want to write. Another method requires immersion, which is taking a day off and dedicating that time to writing. In contrast to immersion, there is something to be said for dividing an article up into manageable chunks, where there is a sense of accomplishment when smaller goals are met.
Q: What are the best story ideas?
Connie Vance, RN, EdD, FAAN, professor, College of New Rochelle, N.Y.: The best story ideas are those that come from something youve seen or experienced that you want to share with others, something that youre passionate about or knowledgeable about and want to get others interested in and involved. Its helpful to talk with a colleague or friend about your ideas to clarify them, to get motivated and perhaps even receive other thoughts and suggestions. Getting launched is a team effort, drawing in others with you who can cheerlead, encourage and check up on you to see how you are progressing.
Q: How do you help new writers overcome obstacles that are preventing them from sitting down and writing?
Theresa M. Campo, RN, DNP, APN, NP-C, CEN, assistant professor, Felician College, Lodi, N.J.: Start with reasonable short-term goals. For example, set aside 30 minutes a day for a week and see if you can stick with that schedule. Once you do, then you can expand it to an hour a day. Try to be realistic. Dont plan your time in the middle of chaos, and perhaps find some time in the morning or before you go to bed. Have a realistic time schedule of accomplishments, such as, week one for the outline; week two for the research; week three for the introduction; week four for the body; week five for the ending; week six for review. Do something that puts you at ease so your mind is relaxed when you return to writing.
Carl Kirton, RN, DNP, MBA, CNE and deputy executive director, Lincoln Hospital, Bronx, N.Y.: Most nurse authors have a process they go through when they write. Rarely do any of us have the luxury of writing as a full-time job. Start with creating an outline of what it is you want to write. When time permits, begin to fill in the outline with content. Remember, you dont have to stick to any sequential order when assembling your thoughts. When you have sufficient content and time permits, you can organize all of your ideas into a narrative for preparation as a first draft. Try to keep your focus narrow and on something that is different or interesting about a particular topic.
Q: What suggestions would you give to new writers who say they cant seem to get their thoughts on paper?
Marcia R. Gardner, RN, PhD, CPNP, CPN, associate professor, department of undergraduate nursing, College of Nursing, Seton Hall University, South Orange, N.J.: Pose a clear question and use the manuscript to answer it. The more specific the question, the clearer the purpose of the article will be to you and your readers. Write down a few headings and use them to organize your thoughts. Under each heading, write down ideas, words, phrases without attention to grammar, spelling or other factors. Focus on only one area at a time. Once the ideas, phrases and words are there, then flesh out that portion of the paper. Write the part that is easiest for you first, which might be a clinically related aspect, a patient exemplar or a case study, challenges to the healthcare provider or the results. And, be sure to read lots of articles in nursing and healthcare journals, making note of those that are the most interesting or more useful.
Angela Edwards, RN, MA, CNE, patient care services, North Brooklyn (N.Y.) Health Network, Brooklyn, N.Y.: I always use the technique I call dump your brain. With paper in hand, jot down key words and thoughts you may have under those words. This technique gets your thinking process started. Of course, just like you must manage your time every day in whatever you do, finding time to write is no different. Working in small increments helps in those beginning stages of writing. And always go to the literature, researching what others have to say about your topic.
Q: What other best practices would you give to new writers?
Smith: Think about the journal you are considering submitting your work. You can review the submission guidelines, evaluate the types of published articles and get a handle on the readership. It doesnt hurt to run your ideas past the editor for some feedback. It also is important to know that it is not uncommon to have several revisions of the article before it is ready to print. Enlist other nurses, whether it be a faculty person or staff development instructor, to serve as a first reviewer. Resources for spelling, grammar, punctuation and sentence construction are invaluable before you submit an article for publication. The first few sentences or opening paragraph are crucial. Many readers and editors skim those opening words and make a decision about whether to keep reading or not. Try to capture the essence of your articles purpose and alert the reader as to why the story is worth reading.
Campo: After you have written a portion of your story, read what you have and then walk away and do something else. Carry a tape recorder or notebook with you so when a worthwhile thought comes to your head, you can capture it and run with it at a later time. Try to think of other angles or aspects that you did not cover. I try to play devils advocate, and I like to read aloud what I have written. Sometimes the sentences dont flow as well when you say it out loud versus reading silently. I also pick up mistakes in grammar, spelling and punctuation when I am doing this.
Q: What recommendations would you give to new writers about other resources that can help them in the writing process?
Vance: A writing mentor or someone more experienced in the writing and publishing process is invaluable. These mentors can be your teachers, colleagues, peers, bosses, experienced writers and editors. Specialty nursing and educational journals, hospital and school newsletters, community newspapers, union reports, blogs and online and print magazines are good sources to get started since these venues are always looking for material and will guide new authors. Joining writing clubs and groups to help develop ideas is another possibility. Team writing spurs everyone on with keeping to deadlines and serves as a great source of motivation, stimulation, encouragement and support. Good writing also entails reading good writers … and then writing, writing and writing yourself. The more you write, the better you become and the more self-confidence you gain.
Kirton: Writing is not an individual activity. Seek the advice of others. A mentor is probably not too far away. It could be a nursing colleague who has been published before. Having a subject matter expert provide comment on your manuscript before it is submitted is invaluable. They will notice your manuscripts strengths as well as the areas that need development, clarification or revision. If you are lucky, they even will check your work for spelling and grammar. There are countless books and articles available as resources for writing style and grammar. Journal editors and staff often serve as great resources once your manuscript has been accepted. They will assist you with editing the article to the journals specific style of writing.
Q: What is the most rewarding part of writing? What are the challenges?
Gardner: It is thrilling when someone contacts me about an article because I know the outcome of my work has had an impact on someone. It is exciting to see your work in a book or journal and know that others will benefit from your experiences, thoughts and hard work. The most discouraging part of writing for me is finding out that a journal has rejected my manuscript after I have put in much time and heart into its development. It does happen to everyone, and the feedback that you receive from the peer reviewers or the editor can result in a better article in the long run.
Vance: You gain a voice about something you want to talk about. It is gratifying to write and be published, to have people tell you they learned something, that they enjoyed your message or that you helped them with a problem or question. Writing is hard work, but putting words together that make sense, that are clear and to the point is a puzzle. Its challenging and a lot of fun. I like to imagine my particular audience when I sit down to write, and give them something worth reading, that would interest them, instruct them and grab their imagination. There are few disadvantages and they are trumped by the privilege of writing. However, it does take time and it is often solitary. You have to be willing to commit time to your writing and challenge yourself to think, draft and edit. You have to keep thinking and rewriting until your words ring clear and true and youve said what you really want to say. It requires you to reflect and face up to the insecurity of exposing your words to the public. There is nothing like writing honest sentences that say something you truly want to express.
Janice Petrella Lynch, RN, MSN, is nurse editor/nurse executive.