Writing tips

So you think you might want to write too?

When I shared my book with my friends, several said, “I could write a book with the stories I have too!”

All nurses are filled with stories like mine.  But getting these stories from our heads to paper to publisher is a lengthy process.

My suggestions for writing non-fiction nursing stories:


  1.  It is important to write things down as soon as you can.  Memories feel immutable to us, but in fact science has proven that they not only fade, they morph over time.
    I wrote many of my experiences down within days, weeks, or within a few months.
    This allowed me access to these memories thirty years later.  Access is the key if you want to remain “non”-fiction.
  2. Write and review, then repeat, then repeat.  A well written story is like making a silk-screen print.  Paint is laid down layer by layer, letting it dry and cure in between.  When you are writing, it is imperative that you walk away and come back later — sometimes months later — so that you will be able to look at what you’ve written with a more critical, less familiar eye.   If you are not enjoying reading what you wrote when you return, no one else will like it either!
  3. Get honest feedback.  If you are a perfectionist like me and many of my borderline OCD nursing friends, you will probably put your best effort into your work right from the first draft.  But unless you are a spectacular writer, if they even exist, it is unlikely that you will nail it the first time.   So you MUST come to expect critique and “dis”approval for all or part of your work.  This can be hard to hear, especially if you are not prepared for it.  If you are looking for confidence to go on, select your editor appropriately, like get your mom to read it.   When you are seriously looking to publish, get honest editors, like fellow writers or english majors.
  4. Get specific feedback.  Too often we ask our friends, “Did you like it?”  By not focusing on specifics, this gives them the power to destroy your confidence with a single, lukewarm or hesitant response that is likely to create a huge dose of inertia or writer’s block.  I can remember tossing my book into the closet for years at a time!   The key is to ask for your editors to tell you what you need to do that will make this manuscript better for the reader.  Ask your editor(s) to:
    * Check for spelling and grammar.
    * Evaluate the manuscript for logical flow and sequence.
    * Identify colloquial words or phrases layman will not understand.
    * Identify sections that the storyline was not clear or easy to follow.
    * Specify which sections were slow or uninteresting.
    * Specify which sections were the most engaging, page turners that need to stay.
    * Edit other writer’s work to help you see the flaws in your own work.
  5. Let your editor tell you what is missing from your book.  Every supporting factoid to your story sits somewhere in your brain, unseen by the reader.  What the room looked and smelled like.  What you were hearing in the background.  Why you made the decisions you made.  Why you were there.  History with other co-workers in your story.   Prior experiences.  What you were thinking.  The question is not just what you should include, since telling everything is boring, the question is what is missing that will make the reader understand you better.  What part of the story did you inadvertently leave off?  What did your reader walk away wondering?
  6. Enjoy the creative process.  Remember, writing for fun is not your job and unlike your paid job, you will not kill someone if you make a little mistake!
  7. Don’t give up.  Getting the final manuscript ready for publishing takes an enormous amount of time and patience.  There is a steep learning curve to the publishing guidelines that are inflexible.   But as a nurse — you can do anything you set your mind to!
  8. Read other nursing stories to get an idea what a finished book looks like.  Check out “Nursing Chose Me:  Called to an Art of Compassion” by Dr. Karen Reichel Smith, DNP.