All nurses should consider writing their own stories. Only in our own stories will nurses be creative, caring people instead of the mindless bimbos we are often portrayed as in the media. But how can you write when you still have all those negative demons placed in your brain from sixth grade creative writing assignments? Find out why you should give creative writing a try as well as some tips for how to go about it if it’s your first time.
Writing reduces your own dependence on stereotypes.
Stereotypes guide behavior. The phrase “You’re just a nurse” is based on all types of unconscious stereotypes. Writing can make these unconscious stereotypes conscious.
Every form of writing has a point of view. Two of them are 3rd omniscient (also called Mr. Know-it-All) and 1st person. Most stereotypical thinking is 3rd person omniscient, as in this sentence:
That patient with abdominal pain looks like a drug seeker.
This is a quote from a nurse who made assumptions about this patient based solely on the diagnosis. But what if she treats the patient as a drug seeker and misses something? She needs to question her assumptions.
Writing in the 1st person does this. Let’s rewrite the above sentence in the 1st person:
I was in so much pain after the car accident, but if I miss another day of work they’ll fire me. I grabbed my stomach and stumbled into the ED.
Changes the story a little, doesn’t it?
Writing in the first person made me aware of my own stereotypical thinking. My main character was a woman of a different race who was younger and pregnant. The effort I made to understand this character’s point of view enabled me to be more understanding of the young pregnant women in my practice.
How to write hint #1
Read this sentence assuming the “she” is your boss:
She threw her pager and stormed out of the unit.
List the reasons why she would do that. Now, change the “she” to “I”:
I threw my pager and stormed out of the unit.
List the reasons why you would do this. If the lists are different you have just shifted the point of view—a key writing skill. You might try writing a 3-sentence story from each point of view. It is a good exercise in both tolerance and writing.
You can begin to imagine a different future.
Recall a chronic patient with a really whiney voice. Did you ever think, “Why should we even bother?” You begin to feel trapped like you are in a bad movie plot that repeats itself.
Writing fiction helps you to reimagine and can get you out of this bad movie.
If you have ever journaled, you have probably experienced the release of putting something to paper. Creative writing is nothing more than journaling with characters and plots you create. When a story is written the author can make anything happen. As you write creatively, the bonds that kept you thinking one way are loosened. This improves your ability to think about this patient differently. Like a good plot twist, you can imagine a different ending.
How to write hint #2
What would you think if someone told you to write a story about this repetitive patient? In a writing training class for nurses I lead we get reactions like, “I can’t write. No one will like it.” To deal with this we encourage people to write stories of about 50 words or less.
Once people have written this story, we ask people to imagine a completely different ending and write 50 words leading to that ending. The thought to create this new ending, no matter what the quality of the writing, was beneficial to all participants. Here is an example of the responses we would get:
I answered the phone and she was there. Mrs. Smith the whiner saying, “I am in pain. My meds ran out” I quickly told her, “We can’t renew them until the end of the month. “You never listen.” She told me. Say something I want to hear I thought.
Here is the different ending:
I answered the phone and it was Mrs. Smith asking for her meds early. “My meds ran out.” She intoned. Breathe deeply I told myself. When she paused, I reminded her of her pain contract and asked if she had used her relaxation exercises? She sighed.
Writing is one way to imagine different endings.