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Seeking Good Nurses with a Story to Tell

Mysko, Madeleine MA, RN

AJN The American Journal of Nursing: December 2018 - Volume 118 - Issue 12 - p 65
doi: 10.1097/01.NAJ.0000549695.63951.0e
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Updated several times a week with posts by a wide variety of authors, AJN's blog Off the Charts allows us to provide more timely—and often more personal—perspectives on professional, policy, and clinical issues. Best of the Blog will be a regular column to draw the attention of AJN readers to posts we think deserve a wider audience. To read more, please visit: www.ajnoffthecharts.com.

Madeleine Mysko coordinates AJN’s monthly Reflections column and is a poet, novelist, essayist, and graduate of the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars who has taught creative writing in Baltimore, MD, for many years. Off the Charts is coordinated by Jacob Molyneux, senior editor: jacob.molyneux@wolterskluwer.com.

Whenever I meet someone new who happens to be a nurse—in both clinical and social settings—I wait for the right moment to mention my work on AJN’s Reflections column.

It's not only that I'm proud of the column. It's also that I'm forever on the lookout for that next submission—for a fresh, compelling story I just know is destined to shine (accompanied by a fabulous illustration) on the inside back page of AJN.

“I imagine you have a story or two to tell,” I'll say to a nurse I've just met—which is the same thing I say, whenever I have the chance, to nurses I've known for years. I mean it sincerely; given the vantage point on humanity that our profession affords, I actually do believe that every nurse is carrying around material for a terrific story.

The response I usually get (along with a wry smile, the raising of eyebrows, or a short laugh) is, “Oh yes. I have stories.”

But then—even as I'm mentioning the Reflections author guidelines, even as I say warmly that we're eager to read—I can sense the backing away.

“Sure,” the nurse will say. “I'll check it out… but the thing is, I'm not exactly a writer.”

How to explain it? How to explain that we aren't looking for nurses who are good writers so much as we're looking for essays that are well written by good nurses.

If you're still with me in this scenario (and especially if you're not exactly inclined to sit down before breakfast on your day off and pen an essay), maybe you could let me know what you think of this pitch:

I want to encourage more nurses (and, sometimes, former patients, or family members of nurses, or other health care workers who are not nurses, since many but not all Reflections essays are by nurses) to do what I know to be hard work—to sit down and actually reflect, to put into words that unforgettable encounter with an otherwise ordinary patient, or that conflict with a coworker that had a surprising resolution, or that lingering ambivalence about a nursing decision made months ago that keeps coming to mind.

So what do we mean by good writing? I won't pretend that our standards at AJN aren't high, as we make plain in our guidelines (“Good writing is the main requirement”). But what does that really mean—“good writing”? For our purposes in this column, I'd say the writing is good if

  • it isn't satisfied to merely tell “about” an experience but rather tries to reenter that experience.
  • it describes a real place and the real people in it, maybe even letting these people talk to each other a bit, so the reader can overhear who they are and what they're about.
  • it isn't intent on expressing an opinion or teaching a lesson, but rather allows a reader to watch things happen and draw her or his own conclusions.
  • it's clear, by the end, why the author has taken the time to write it all down.

Most good submissions aren't immediately ready for publication. There may be problems with structure or focus. Sentences may need trimming and polishing. Sometimes there's something one feels is missing from the story, something an editorial query might help the author put into words. Fortunately, at AJN we have excellent editors who can help with that.

Author guidelines and example essays. If you have a story you think you might like to write and submit, please read the short Reflections guidelines (available at www.editorialmanager.com/ajn/default.aspx under “Author Guidelines”), where you will also find links to essays we've published and instructions on how to submit an essay for consideration.

Do you have a nursing story in you?

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