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, 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 you’ve seen or experienced that you want to share with others, something that you’re passionate about or knowledgeable about and want to get others interested in and involved. It’s 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. Don’t 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 don’t 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 can’t 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 doesn’t 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 article’s 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 devil’s advocate, and I like to read aloud what I have written. Sometimes the sentences don’t 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 manuscript’s 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 journal’s 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. It’s 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 you’ve 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.

By | 2014-01-13T00:00:00-05:00 January 13th, 2014|Categories: New York/New Jersey Metro, Regional|1 Comment

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    Rhonda Webster February 19, 2017 at 8:34 pm - Reply

    I am an old nurse, but not an “old school” clinical nurse in most senses of the word. Am I implying that all “old school” clinical instructors (CI’s) have no redeeming qualities? No, I most certainly am not. I personally know some old school clinical instructors that are kind and have a gift for imparting practical nursing skills in ways that student never forget. They are “tough but fair” and one cannot help but admire how they are able to take a “wet-behind-the ears student” and turn him or her into a great nurse. But many “old school” clinical instructors are unwittingly cruel, perceived by students as a “bully” and do little to build up the confidence of fragile nursing students. In fact, their constant harping on how a student can kill a patient…. a fact that all students already know… is far more successful at creating stress than it is at creating a student that practices safely. Stress by itself, is often a precursor to mistakes. Come on, just how many studies do we need, in order for it to sink in that stress impairs both learning and memory?
    I realize that many of us are merely “passing on” the same methods of teaching that we were taught, but since nursing is a dynamic and ever changing profession, I believe we need to change our teaching practices along with it.
    Many years ago, one of my particularly good CI’s told us that she was not going to dwell on how to make the world’s best bed with the perfect hospital corner because this was not a priority. Indeed. Priority setting is exactly what we want students to learn, and learn well. Those who severely dwell on the length of pants, scuffs on a shoe, etc. probably fail to realize that nursing research indicates most patients really only see nurses from the waist up. And yes, a student should always come prepared, but forgetting a pen is not the end of the world (a pen can often be borrowed, but in some cases, a stethoscope cannot, so let us prioritize).
    I used to marvel at the difference between the manner in which different physicians ran a code. To be fair, doctors, being human, are sometimes in over their head, and they too, get stressed out. But, I could not help but notice that the more doctors barked at nurses during a code, the more often nurses fumbled with and dropped emergency medications. You see, we very much want to do the best job we are capable of, but a harsh tone of voice can make this impossible for many of us.
    Then, there was Dr. Worley. Whenever I was involved in a code, I hoped to God that he was the one running it, because Dr. Worley took control like a smooth master. He moved to the foot of the patient’s bed, backed himself against the wall, assumed an “at ease” position, and began giving orders in a very calm but authoritative voice. We knew he was not going to yell at us and he seemed to know we would do our very best, and because of this mutual understanding, Dr. Worley’s codes ran as smooth as possible.
    Isn’t this the same scenario with most nursing students? I believe it is. Most want to do their very best and all they need from us is self-assured and calm guidance.
    Unfortunately, many CI’s are not aware when they are being perceived as a bully, so I am going to point out some specific examples:
    The performance of student querying should be aimed at ending on a positive note. If, for example, when an instructor’s goal is to find out if the student understands the pathophysiology of an illness and whether or not the student knows the medications their patient is taking, there should be a limit in mind before the querying begins. If, for example, the student is able to answer two or three questions correctly, the querying should end and the student should be complimented. Unfortunately, what tends to happen instead, is that the instructor gets carried away, and continues their questioning until the student always fails. This erodes the progress a student has made. Many students state that clinical instructors who back them into a corner and ask one question after another until the student is finally unable to produce the correct answer (always ending on a negative note) are a bully. The student’s typical reaction to a bully is to do everything possible in the future to avoid that instructor, at which point we have created a problem, because all instructors in clinical sites need to recognize the importance of being approachable. This is the cornerstone both of learning, and of patient safety.
    Inordinately excessive assignments are another form of student abuse. There are other ways to impart knowledge without making students lose so much sleep and short-change their other nursing classes. We consistently tell students with a home, a spouse, children, and even other jobs, to learn to better manage their time. We are also famous for telling students to “Go look it up.” But what about us? Shouldn’t we make certain students actively utilize every moment of “down time” at clinical sites and shouldn’t we instructors do what instructors are supposed to do, which is to utilize every opportunity to step up to the plate and teach?
    I have heard old school clinical instructors state that their intention is to “toughen up” their students. Please… the service men and women of our country may need “toughened up” so that, if necessary, they can kill in order to protect our country (bless them for protecting us), but today’s patients seldom, if ever, need nurses who have been “toughened up”! Sensitivity and compassion are the hallmark of a good nurse, and I for one, do not want our profession to do anything to take that away.
    Old School Clinical nurses are often the first ones to want to take away student’s cell phones, failing to realize that when used appropriately, cell phones are a wonderful resource… a virtual library at their fingertips. It is important to understand that we are dealing with the “electronic generation” of students–who no longer lug around the heavy PDR’s of our generation. In fact, in many instances, today’s student can access information more efficiently than we can. To these means, I must admit that the information I have learned from my students is a constant reminder that learning often goes both ways.
    Another feeling that tends to flow both ways is respect. I respect and appreciate my students. I truly believe that nursing students are some of the best people on this planet, and I am grateful to be in the position to teach and influence them. With respectful guidance, I am grateful for the opportunity to help produce capable and confident nurses. Someday, I hope that all clinical instructors will come to realize that this attitude will accomplish much more than bullying ever will.

    Rhonda E. Webster, R.N., B.S.N., M.S.N, Clinical Scholar

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