In what job can you serve people in as profound a way as nurses do every day?
My son was in the hospital for three days prior to his cancer diagnosis. The doctors performed many tests on him to try and discover the cause of his declining health. On the third day, they finally decided to take a biopsy of his bone marrow, which required a procedure to be done under general anesthesia. My little Matthew was terrified. We took him into a huge, sterile room, laid his head on a donut-shaped pillow, and then the anesthesiologist slowly began injecting a medicine called propofol into his IV. The medicine stung, which scared him, and he flipped out. We all quickly went from apprehensive to panicked, and the anesthesiologist quickly put my son the rest of the way under to regain control of the situation. We were firmly ushered out of the room.
Back in the exam room, where we waited, my husband and I held onto each other sobbing in fear. Our son was about to be diagnosed with cancer, and we both knew it. The only thing we really knew about cancer is that it kills. These were the darkest moments of our lives. During those horrible moments and in the days to come, the nurses were there, comforting us. They cried with us. They taught us how to advocate for our son. When we no longer felt qualified to care for him, they instructed us. Hours upon hours were spent giving us the knowledge to feel comfortable enough to take our son home again. Their charity, empathy, and caring nature is hard to describe and is unrivaled in any other memory I have.
At the end of the week, when we were preparing to go home, I asked one of the main nurses who cared for us how he does it without giving up too much of himself, and he told me he gets more out of his job than he gives. It was a statement I’ll never forget.
Nursing is a service to others. Service is beneficial both to the one giving and the one receiving. In hindsight, my previous job seems so pointless. It helped no one. It was over a decade and a half of busywork. As a nurse, I will have the ability to help people every single day, and sometimes that help will come during the darkest moments of their lives. After what I’ve seen, how could I possibly choose to do anything different with the rest of my life?
I write. This is what I do. I’ve been writing since I was a little girl and I’ll keep writing until I’m an old lady. I should get an A in my English class because I already know how to write.
I don’t want to sound self-important, but I’ve been teaching myself this stuff for years. I’ve spent massive amounts of time researching and practicing the finer details of the English language. Just because I’ve never studied it in a formal setting doesn’t mean I don’t know how to do it properly. I write mostly on instinct and my instinct is good. It’s a part of my soul. Part of who I am. So why should I spend time studying the nitty gritty details? You can ask anyone who has read any of the drafts of my novel, they would all tell you that I should get an A in English because I already know how to write.
We spend a lot of time in class working on peer editing. This is another thing that is not a new concept to me. Rather, it’s something I have worked hard to cultivate in my real life. I have relationships with a few good writers who give me honest feedback on my work in exchange for my honest feedback on theirs. If I can do this on novels that are being published, why do I need to do this for one-page papers?
In short, I should get an A in this class because I’ve already shown that I am capable of teaching myself how to write.
Hasty Generalization, Red Herring, Bandwagon Appeal, Argument ad Hominem, Begging the Question
This is your world. Shape it or someone else will.
~ Gary Lew
I’m 35, and finally going to college. I spent 18 years of my life working in a profession that I fell into out of necessity at a very young age. I progressed within that profession as far as one can, and when I reached the very peak, financially speaking, I was laid off. The problem with forgoing formal education and taking jobs that will pay you the most for the experience you have is that you are often left with very few options. You have no choice but to take the jobs that fit your experience in lieu of credentials. It becomes nearly impossible to make any kind of a meaningful change unless you’re willing to go back to entry level pay.
I often joke that I speak in quotes, so excuse me if I wax philosophical. They say if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life. Well, I’ll tell you something. I worked for my money. But last week, I did my first 12 hour clinical nursing rotation, and I loved every second of it. I was exhausted, and it took me a full 24 hours to recover, but I can’t stop thinking about it. If I even see a scene on TV of people working in a hospital, I can’t help but think of how excited I am to work in a hospital.
In contrast, there is a quote from the movie Serenity. “I am a leaf on the wind.” I felt like this for much of my career before. Blowing from one place to another, with little control of my destination.
My education is going to give me that control. Ultimately, I plan to work in pediatric oncology because of my own life experiences. But if I find that pediatric oncology is not for me, I can easily move to home healthcare, or labor and delivery, or a doctor’s office. I can seek out what will truly make me happy and fulfilled. Never again will I have to sell my heart and soul to the highest bidder, because that’s what I put into my work no matter what work I do.
This is my world. I will no longer let other people shape it for me.
Kummerspeck, I read today on Facebook, translates directly to English from German as grief-bacon. It refers to the excess weight gained from emotional overeating. The word is pretty appropriate, actually. Grief-bacon sums it up nicely, if we’re talking about the weight I gained during the first months of my son’s cancer treatments. Well, maybe grief-chocolate. Close enough. Someone else who read this little nugget of wisdom looked it up on Google Translate and was gifted with chagrin lard as their search result. Who needs Larry, Curly and Moe when you have chagrin lard?
I love words to excess. It’s such a weird facet of my personality, but I find it completely entertaining to add strange new words to my vocabulary and put them to use. More importantly, I think it’s crucial for a good writer to know how to use words skillfully, and especially how to incorporate the really special ones into prose. The absolute most important place to use excellent word choice is in the narrative hook.
I wrote a novel and I’m working on another one. My book is a little over 75,000 words long, as is the blog I have kept about my son’s cancer. I can sit down at a computer and write 3,000 words without coming up for air. I seriously may not even take a drink of water during that time, especially if I’m writing a first draft. But a narrative hook is a whole different thing. I have written 5 or 6 blurbs, as they call them, about my book—all of varying lengths. Blurb is just another way to say narrative hook, really. You might find them on the back cover of a book, or on a poster used for advertisement. I use them to try and entice agents and publishers to read more. Those darn blurbs take me all day long—maybe multiple days. To take what I expressed in 75,000 words and distill it to 300 or less is painstaking work. There’s no question that it’s all about word choice, and the smaller the blurb or hook is, the better my words need to be. I simply can’t be too liberal with my words when I’m writing a blurb. I have to choose only the very best ones. Interesting words like kummerspeck. Words that I hope will draw a reader in and leave them wanting more. I have to choose words that will simultaneously interest them, entertain them, and express my thoughts clearly and concisely, because people lose interest fast. In this age of information overload, you have about one sentence to draw someone in, so the first one better be the best one you have to offer and it cannot be cliché or overworked. Word choice is the key.
But now that you have them, what will you do with them? You must ensure that the rest of your writing is up to par. If you have a beautiful, polished hook, and the rest of your piece is clunky and difficult to understand, your readers’ minds will wander and eventually they will put the book down or click the little red X. From the perspective of a novelist, that means the end of a career. At best, you’d have a one-hit wonder. For a blogger, that means that readers will not be drawn back to your blog. But what about in a corporate environment? Do we need a narrative hook in emails to our boss? Not exactly, but we do need to get to the point, and be concise. In my opinion, there is nothing worse in my office inbox than to open a 2,000 word email. I might read 2 sentences, and if they haven’t gotten to the point by then, I typically don’t read on. Two sentences. That’s how much time they have to hook me in a corporate email. But beyond that, if I keep reading, I need them to get to the point, and stay on point. If they wander, ramble, or jump around, I still may stop reading. I don’t have all day to decode emails. It’s vital that they make sense from beginning to end.
Choose your words carefully. Otherwise, you may agonize over writing that doesn’t even get read, and then you could find yourself emotionally eating in the afternoon.
“Let’s eat Grandma!
Let’s eat, Grandma!
Punctuation saves lives.”
This is one of the silliest lessons social media has taught me. But just look at the difference that one little comma makes. The entire message of that sentence has changed.
When you are conveying a message through the written word, punctuation and grammar are vital because they can completely make, or break, your point for you. When I’m reading through a message someone else has written, if I have to stop and think about the intent of their message it’s typically because of bad punctuation or grammar. If I’m reading in a place like Facebook or a blog, I roll my eyes. The same type of errors found in a news article or a novel blow me away because when you write words for a living, they should be written correctly. But when I find errors that confuse me in places like printed medical instructions or studies, it can be a really big deal. It truly can save lives. It’s not so silly anymore.
When you are instructing a person on what to do with their medications, for example, there is no room for error. If a client reads what you’ve written and misinterprets it because you were ambiguous or unclear, it can have grave consequences. When my son’s cancer was first diagnosed, nurses spent hours and hours teaching me the new rules about caring for my child. All of their teaching was accompanied by written materials. With a medical condition so severe, a parent can no longer rely on instinct or parenting books. They must be taught how to change central line dressing, access a port, flush an IV line, or many other unexpected things. There were piles of paper to read through and life-altering decisions to make — like whether or not to put him into a clinical study. If those things had not been written well, it would have made the worst moments of my life unimaginably harder. I needed to rely on the absolute professionalism of the hospital staff, as well as the researchers who put the paperwork together for the study and the nurses who taught me. When I got home with all those papers and I was in my own environment with the world on my shoulders, I relied on those papers many times a day for months. Their accuracy was a lifeline to me.
Does punctuation save lives? Yes, I truly believe it does. In the medical field, proper use of punctuation and grammar are paramount.
I enjoy writing. I have enjoyed it since I learned how to do it. When I was in elementary school and my uncle was writing a book on a word processor I regularly used coveted memory space to write little stories which he always deleted to make room for his own story. Writing is just something my family does. Something that feels like its in my blood. Totally natural. So I have always done it on instinct.
I always follow all the rules in every other area of my life. I never cook without a recipe and I always follow the speed limit but I write from my heart. Punctuation goes where it feels right and I can’t often explain it although most of the time I have it right. Just look at my placement tests. For me the very most difficult part is defining the bits and pieces. Also I’m really wordy. I know Its a problem. I have always wanted to take a writing class so I could learn the rules properly. Im really excited to dig in.