Everyone understands the need to publish. Yet, as with many other things in life, the more we are told to do something and the more we tell others to do that same thing (while we are not doing much of it), the worse we feel. Extreme busyness, inertia, guilt, and escalating terror may ensue. But that feeling does not need to happen. During the last few years, it has been my honor to make numerous presentations for clinical nurse specialists (CNSs) and nurse practitioners on mentoring in writing for publication, based on the fact that I have published extensively while mentoring others and practicing as a clinician. However, like others, I had to start somewhere. Over the years, after receiving a CNS master's degree, I published a little here and there. Then, a director of nursing spoke with me after I published a substantial article on diabetes patient education, which is my field. This conversation altered my professional life. She said, "Now that you've published as a CNS, it's time to work with staff nurses to help them do this." My first thoughts were not gratitude-because I felt I was making it up as I went, and I had not amassed a large body of work. My thoughts were more like "you've got to be kidding." My employer, although supportive of the outcomes, did not have resources in place to make any of this easy. The most important thing about my director's professional challenge was that it was not presented as an onerous assignment. She did not make it her project to make me mentor new staff nurse authors. She gave me the support she could. As it turned out, she was a great mentor, and I made sure to tell her.
During the next 3 years, I wrote 7 manuscripts with staff nurses that were published, and Elizabeth Tornquist and I summarized this process in 1995 in "Writing Partnerships: A Clinical Nurse Specialist and Staff Nurses Write for Publication."1 All these collaborative endeavors with staff nurses, including the summary article, were a great professional learning adventure, as well as personal fun. I learned while doing, a well-known part of nursing. What followed has been collegial mentoring and comentoring with nurses of every stripe and with many other professionals.
In the years that followed, episodic mentors showed up. Even though I was not in academia, the dean of the school of nursing where I held a clinical appointment sent a note when something was published. High civility is always effective. People in the diabetes world asked me to serve on expert panels and editorial boards, where more learning took place.
Through reading and attending small workshops on writing for publication, one thing became perfectly clear: too much information on rules and regulations without accessible support is often paralyzing. Just as in diabetes patient education, too much information even provided with empathy, can bring about improved scores on knowledge posttests, but it does not correlate with mid- to long-term glycemic and quality-of-life outcomes. More rules do not help; help helps. I learned this for myself and used it in helping others to write.
Recently, while working on a literature review, I found 2 extremely useful resources: Oermann and Hays'2Writing for Publication in Nursing and Tornquist's3 "Introduction to Scholarly Writing." The first is an encyclopedia of everything you ever would need to look up. The second is chocked full of the how's of getting started and staying with the task of writing.
Now, for the advice I give for successful writing for publication: First, read, read, read. Then, keep files of ideas. Unless you write down your thoughts, they become vague generalities. While keeping a formal journal works for some, many of us pop onto our computers and write ideas that were generated from patients we just saw, a meeting about graduate students' ideas or health system issues. In this beginning phase, do not worry about a venue, although that becomes paramount later. Keep your critical self at bay; foster creativity; write in short conversational bursts in any format that works for you. Corral ideas before new issues pile on top, and you only remember that you were excited for a while, that it felt good, and that the feeling and the thoughts are gone. After adding on to your notes, one day when there is available time, fill in the holes and put them together in a logical sequence.
Many experts say that the worst mistake people make is to take something, like a graduate school paper, and look for a venue for publication, without refocusing it to meet a particular readership's needs. You write for one audience. How to decide on a venue? You read and read.
During these early phases, you are thinking all the time, even when you are not. One morning, a thorny aspect just seems to become clear while you are typing, or so it seems. In reality, since you first had that thought, you have been mentally adapting it many times. Since our minds consolidate information during sleep, we might just go with that explanation! Also, while preparing a document, you are thinking, growing, and changing your mind. Another thing we hear from inexperienced writers is the assumption that all ideas must be in place before fingers hit the keyboard; they think it is just a matter of putting them down. It is the just putting them down that is daunting. Expecting that everything is ready to be written before you start is not productive and does not provide the creativity and endurance needed. Writers develop ideas while writing. A graduate student once asked me how long it took me to write a chapter we were looking at, and not receiving a quick answer, she then asked how many drafts I had written. There was no simple answer to either question unless I gave an outrageously discouraging estimate. Writing that chapter with 2 others had been a labor of love that helped us develop new ways of examining the topic. The final product was not what we envisioned at the beginning.
Mentors are out there. They are not the people who toss this comment at you when you do something noteworthy: You should publish that. They are people who will stay with you and provide real help. Just as we have all learned that you do not say to someone with a family crisis, "Is there anything I can do?" You say, "May I bring supper over to your house tomorrow? May I bring it at 5 or at 6?" With writing, you want to hear something akin to "You can do this and I will help in these particular ways," and that is how you help others.
People sometimes think they should wait until they have the perfect manuscript all ready to go before starting to write. That kind of thinking is a trap for never moving on to achieve goals. To be sure, when reviewing the evidence, planning and conducting a study of appropriate size, and reporting results, things may flow smoothly. Still, at each step, pitfalls can occur, and strategies are a must for maintaining progress. One pitfall is lack of time. Using small chunks of time is helpful, along with setting realistic goals.
Often we criticize ourselves for engaging in diversionary tactics, like shopping or reading a novel, instead of using our time wisely and writing. Phoning your sister and walking the dog are wise preparatory phases of writing. After those things are completed, you can commence writing, or you can watch a little TV next. Be kind to yourself.
In addition to the 2 references mentioned above, unexpected jewels will come your way. For example, during a study I did for recent presentations, I found the Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing Writing Mentorship Program, where novice fellows are paired with experienced mentors, and manuscripts are submitted within 6 months,4 and Fulton's editorial addressing the importance of titles.5 In this short article contrasting titles for abstracts for conferences and those for manuscripts, much is learned including information about the general peer-review process. Again, I learned that while you are mentoring others, you are growing. Then, you turn around, and a former graduate student and you are at a new level of comentoring.
Lastly, you will hear of writer's euphoria and the excitement of writing for publication. When a group works together in a spirit of camaraderie, in the morning it is fun to find that something you said that sounded just right the night before seems now quite odd. Of course, it is an especially fine feeling when you hear that your manuscript is accepted.
1. Davis EDD, Tornquist E. Writing partnerships: a CNS and staff nurses write for publication. Clin Nurse Spec. 1995; 9 (4): 215-220. [Context Link]
2. Oermann MH, Hays JC. Writing for Publication in Nursing. 2nd ed. New York: Springer; 2011. [Context Link]
3. Tornquist E. Introduction to scholarly writing. In: Phillips JM, King CR, eds. Advancing Oncology Nursing Science. Pittsburgh, PA: Oncology Nursing Society; 2009. [Context Link]
4. Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing Writing Mentorship Program. http://www.ons.org/publications/CJON/AuthorInfo/MentorFellow. Accessed September 8, 2012. [Context Link]
5. Fulton JS. What's in a title? Clin Nurse Spec. 2012; 26 (2): 64-65. [Context Link]