Writing is Hard— And Here’s Why You Should Do it

If you are in academia, you are likely familiar with the “publish or perish” mantra. Publishing in peer-reviewed journals is absolutely valuable, both for researchers and for clinicians. It’s a robust way to develop and share knowledge. It can help you get promoted. It can raise your profile in your field. But for people with competing demands (teaching, clinical practice, the rest of your life), it’s not always accessible.

Don’t worry— there are other reasons to write and other ways to publish. In navigating what kind of writing and publishing is valuable, it’s crucial to understand your goals. One size does not fit all. The best approach for you depends on your professional trajectory. If you have an academic appointment and you are pursuing tenure and promotion, then yes, data-based and peer-reviewed publications are your priority. But perhaps your role is different, or broader— maybe you see yourself as a public educator or advocate, a clinical expert, or a mentor. Writing is hugely valuable in these roles as well, but it doesn’t necessarily look the same. Or, to put it in other terms, writing is like medication admiration. You need to check the “5 rights”: What’s the right drug (topic), dose (length), route (venue), time (frequency), and patient (author)?

If you are not (or not solely) pursuing an academic career in the sciences, think outside the box, and consider:

  • Writing about science and medicine for a popular audience— think of influential physician and nurse authors like Theresa Brown, Atul Gawande, Lisa Sanders, or Jerome Groopman.
  • Write for a clinical audience— in my field, Journal for Nurse Practitioners or American Family Physician, for example, publish articles on clinical topics.
  • Writing creatively, in health humanities publications (or some medical journals publish poetry on occasion). Or write to nourish your life outside of science and medicine (the poet William Carlos Williams was a physician).
  • Writing for a blog. Blogging is a great way to share ideas and influence rapidly and less formally.
  • Writing as a personal practice. Many highly successful people practice some form of journaling as a way of working out ideas and thoughts that later serve as the basis of important work. A writing routine– even if it’s ten minutes a day– can be a catalyst for creative and productive work.

If you want to write more, no matter what the content and context, consider:

  • Never “just” give a talk— can it also be a paper? A poster? Explore it fully, and expand the potential audience for your work by considering different venues and angles. Get more mileage from each project you take on.
  • Say yes. . . and say no. Take on projects and accept invitations that allow you to develop an idea— but only ones that align with your goals and interests. Don’t say yes if you truly don’t have the bandwidth, or if the offer doesn’t advance your progress in some way. But DO say yes to things that are outside of your comfort zone. You might expand your expertise and influence in valuable ways.
  • Join (or start) writing groups: accountability & feedback are invaluable. Colleagues who will read your work and give you mock reviews are precious. Develop these relationships early in your career and they will serve you well.
  • Look at author guidelines for publications you read (whether these are high-impact journals or tiny blogs). Could you make a contribution?
  • Think about your unique skills and experiences. What is it that you have that no one else does? What do you have to say that you haven’t heard said before? You have a unique voice and you should use it. I have heard many writers say they created work they wanted to read but couldn’t find. The novelist Barbara Kingsolver says, “don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say.”This is great advice to produce writing with a strong point of view.

 How will you include more writing in your professional life?

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