Written by: Carrie Alani, MA, RN
How many times have you picked up a book, magazine or journal, read a few sentences and thought, “Oh, my God, I could do that…”?
You probably can.
Don’t hold back the urge.
My 82-year-old mom confirmed this for me recently. She was sitting shotgun as I flew up I-90 out of Chicago and pointed to a chubby, mirrored office building I’d never noticed before.
“After I got divorced from your dad, I met a man in a bar and we made love on his desk in that office building,” she burped up. “It was amazing.”
“Mom! Why are you telling me this?” I begged, horrified, swerving lanes and cutting off a truck.
“I want you to know – I don’t want to die with that story inside me,” she admitted. She went silent the rest of the trip.
Ah-ha! The lightbulb triggered. This is why we write.
The Storyteller Within Each of Us
Storytelling is as intrinsic to being human as speaking. Proven by ancient scribblings on cave walls and the tombs in Egypt. We are hard-wired to communicate, tell our stories, inform others, and express ourselves. We want others to know our experiences; unburden our souls, and, selfishly, steal a moment of attention in a world where the span of such is shorter each day.
Can you do it? Unequivocally, yes.
Here’s the deal: Even if you bombed language arts or hated vocab, it’s doable. Writing is something you can love and even profit from. With a little planning, a decent computer (something with spellcheck and grammar fixer), and a few basic resources, you can join the world of the proud and published.
My Journey Into Storytelling
For me, writing came naturally. As soon as I could read, I made little books for my friends. In middle school, I wrote a gossip rag (and got caught copying it in the teachers lounge) filled with my classmates’ dirt. In college, I double-majored in nursing and journalism, eventually getting my masters (not an MBA or MSN!), in creative writing/healthcare communications. It was a deliberate choice, and this became the best way to use my gifts to help my profession.
More than just a career move, writing has been a refuge throughout my turbulent career. When I am angry, I take that emotion and write about it (in BIG, BOLD fonts, if needed!). When a favorite patient dies, I write about it; and mostly, when I feel helpless to unburden others, I write about it.
Ninety-nine percent of my writing never sees the light of day, but getting it out makes it real, clears my heart and soul, and helps me go back to work the next day. It’s a cheap, natural, and proven tool to support my mental health. Best of all, if it’s a message that can help others, publishing it makes you feel that much better.
So, here is a simple roadmap to get your name on that byline:
Step One – What are You Passionate About?
Think about your hobbies, interests, and obsessions. Are you dying to tell the world about Pickleball? Is climate change driving you crazy? Steamed about politics? Just nuts about nursing? Whatever your jam, there is a place to let loose. Grab some paper and a pen, go somewhere quiet and just start listing ideas you’d like to share. Do you want to change peoples’ minds or tug at their hearts? Do you want to lecture readers or enlighten them? What is your message? Don’t judge or critique your answers. There will be plenty of time for that later. Jot down your inner thoughts and let them flow naturally. Over time, you’ll get better at this.
Step Two – Where is the Best Place to Publish?
Think about your audience. Who will be reading your work?
Trade magazines are often hungry for articles. Check out their editorial submission guidelines, then follow them to the letter. Your favorite websites may also be open to accepting submissions. For either, you’ll need to craft an enticing query letter outlining your idea, why they should print it, and why you are the best to write it. Send it off and wait.
Many publications won’t accept unsolicited manuscripts and will just toss your idea in the trash or hit the ‘delete’ key. Sometimes, the work can pay off. Having a publication agree to accept your work is exciting! Many will pay either a flat fee or a per-word rate. It may not be much, but heck, it could buy you some street cred, opening the door to a second or third gig. And it looks good on your resume…
Just want to keep things personal? You can launch your own WordPress blog in minutes and be the master of your own writing world. Easy and inexpensive, you can purchase a domain name from a website hosting company (I use BlueHost) and your writing portal will be up and running in no time!
If you are intent on publishing a book of any kind, you’re no longer expected to beg an agent to take you on or suck-up to a puffed-up publisher. Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) is an easy and painless way to get your book printed on demand. Similarly, private publishing companies will create your book for a fee, often throwing in some marketing support. I launched my children’s book, Stranger in the Manger (Tate), that way. It was not wildly successful in sales, but I learned a ton about the book business and that’s priceless.
In either of these routes, the marketing and publicity is up to you. If you can, hire a publicist who believes in your work (I have a goddess of a publicist, just sayin’). He/she has puppet strings in all corners of the writing world and can connect your work to a friend of a friend of a friend who might be able to slip a copy of your book to Reese or Oprah.
Step Three – Get Ready for Rejection
Even if you’ve done everything right, even if your friends and family love your work, brace yourself for failure. The publishing business is just that – a business. If an editor or publisher doesn’t see a place for your work, don’t take it personally.
Before I had my first work published, I could have wallpapered my bathroom with rejection letters. At first, I was sad, but then I got shrewd. I wrote back to those folks and asked them for advice. Some wrote back. I took that advice, honed my skills, and moved on. I do the same today. My first novel, Healed, will be out soon, but more than 200 agents turned me down. I just moved on…you can too. At the end of the day, just write, whether it’s published or not. Get the words out, keep going and don’t stop.
Don’t die with the story in you.
About Carrie Alani, MA, RN
Award-winning writer and medical reporter, Carrie Alani has published hundreds of articles and Op-Ed pieces for NursingSpectrum Magazine/Nurse.Com; NBC-TV and ABC-TV, Chicago. She is the honored recipient of several writing honors, including two prestigious Jane Pauley Media Awards for healthcare journalism and multiple accolades for her work in pediatric hospice and palliative care.
Her first fictional work, Healed, will be published later this summer.
Edited by: Claire Lang, RN-BSN