On Writing: Marking the Anniversary of a Blog

“I admire anyone who has the guts to write anything at all.” – E. B. White

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” – Ernest Hemingway

“Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.” – Mark Twain

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” – Maya Angelou

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” – Ernest Hemingway

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Dr. Kathy Hughes, Behind the Mask

This is the anniversary of my very first blog post, that day a year ago when I summoned up my courage, took a deep breath and clicked on the “publish” button that first time. I crossed a threshold of sorts in that moment, the start of my transformation into a writer.

A great deal has happened since with my writing and blogging, and my world has changed as a result. I have many people to thank for the support and encouragement, the help and the teaching. When I am asked about blogging and writing I have focused on the who — who helped me, challenged me, inspired me.  I have also spoken about the how — how to do it, getting started, learning the platform or the medium. In my focus on the who, what, where, when, and how, I neglected the why. The why is the most interesting and important part, both the easiest and hardest story to tell.

I was talking with Chris Porter from On Surg a couple of months ago. At the end of an interview, he asked me about blogging and how I got into it. The camera was still on, and I launched in to my usual description of the how and the who. Later I realized that the question was really about the why. That prompted an email, which I expanded for this post. The anniversary of the blog seems the perfect time to share what that conversation inspired.

The truth is, I have always wanted to write. In 6th grade my class was given an assignment, to imagine what we would do/be when we were older.  My answer was, “a veterinarian, or writer, or lawyer” (thinking that lawyers wrote a lot and were masters of language and debate). I remember my Yiayia (Greek Grandmother) in Sacramento, Calif., going out and getting me a T-shirt from University of California, Davis, home of the state’s veterinary school. That shirt became my favorite, the coolest shirt I owned (even cooler than the Peter Frampton one), especially for a kid in the DC suburbs. I wore it out.  I ultimately veered just a little from those goals, ending up in (human) medicine and surgery.

I admire people who write and write well. I love to read, and to read what good writers have written. To me, writing carries importance and immortality. We still read and discuss the works and the writers who are long gone. Writing to me is the Biggest Most Amazing Thing Ever. To aspire to be a writer, to actually be a writer, is a long-cherished dream.

I started writing daily for myself.  I took a creative writing workshop (interestingly, taught/directed by a surgeon) through the Massachusetts Medical Society. The workshop showed me I could create something that moved others, that they responded to favorably. I found that the workshop also broadened my narrow view of what “creative writing” really means. The experience motivated me to keep up with my writing, and to think about writing more than just for myself, planting a seed. When I started this blog, that seed germinated, and has grown.

In considering writing, I didn’t think I had a voice. I wasn’t sure what I could or would or should say, or who would really care what I had to say. After all, I am a surgeon who has spent the majority of her career in private practice in mid-to-small sized hospitals, serving communities of modest (even challenged) means. The prominent and predominant voices and writers around me were big important surgeons from big important academic centers and their large urban hospitals. I was not sure where I fit in. It felt important for me to write exactly because I could not find another voice like mine.

I blog because I do have a voice, and I do have something to say. Sometimes it is fresh, even unique, sometimes I wish it were more original. But no matter what, in this blog I am adding to the discussion. I am sharing my thoughts and stories, sharing a piece of who I am. Yet there is a paradox in this writing approach. I crave to write that perfectly crystallized, novel piece that will capture and immortalize a nugget of truth. But it turns out that writing about the commonly shared experiences is the most gratifying. The revelation that my experiences, struggles, and observations are mirrored in others brings a wonderful sense of belonging. This blog helped identify for me not just other physician writers, but a community who can share in these stories and experiences. I am able to express these thoughts and stories, and to give voice to all of us. I thought I was speaking for myself, but soon felt the rush of realizing that I am speaking for others, too. I felt the rush of the power those words, my words, could convey.

I confess a sense of pride that I can express myself in writing, that people enjoy and appreciate my words, that I am a good writer. I am still learning though, very much. I have many teachers all around me, in the writers I read, the friends who help scan for typos and grammatical faux pas, the mentors who help me hone the skills of the craft itself. Writing mirrors medicine in that regard, in the concept and experience of lifelong learning. We practice medicine. Writers constantly evolve too, and the best would assert that they are still trying attain mastery themselves (there is another Hemingway quote about that somewhere…).

For me, the act of turning thoughts into something tangible is both healing and sustaining. The world of medicine and surgery is exhausting physically and emotionally. We know the calling to care for others is and has always been special and all-consuming. More recently it has become increasingly frustrating as the pace of change accelerates and sometimes overwhelms. Change, both positive and negative, is stressful. Sometimes the negative seems to accelerate faster than the positive. Turning to writing, and the connection and community this has nurtured, has helped me navigate and mitigate these effects. Writing feeds a part of me I hadn’t realized was starving, exercising skills I had let atrophy. I am healing as I am writing.

I want to thank you who are reading this, whether new to my writing or along for the ride over the past year (or more). I don’t think you are really a writer or a blogger until and unless your words are read. So thank you for reading, for sharing, and making me a writer.

“Let me live, love, and say it well in good sentences.” – Sylvia Plath

“A word after a word after a word is power.” – Margaret Atwood

“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.” – Jack Kerouac

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” – Benjamin Franklin

“I was a late bloomer. But anyone who blooms at all, ever, is very lucky.” – Sharon Olds

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Dr. Kathy Hughes, out from behind the mask

Addendum:  It has been a tradition in this blog to start each entry with a quote (from a song/song title, saying, famous person) — or two or three. I went overboard today, because each of these quotes spoke to me and my writing, and in some way reinforce my story and feelings in this piece. And I couldn’t find a good rock-n-roll song to quote. Thank you for indulging me, this time.

The Convert: The Doctor Embraces Social Media

“Waaaah-Hoo!!” – Slim Pickins as Maj. ‘King’ Kong, riding the bomb in “Dr. Strangelove”

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St. Louis Cathedral, Jackson Square, New Orleans

I am converted. Like many doctors, I was very leary of social media, wary about using it, skeptical of its professional value. Especially Twitter, but really all of the platforms. No longer: I have embraced social media, and it has embraced me.

I feel a little bit like Dr. Strangelove, only the subtitle is now “How I Learned To  Stop Worrying and Love Social Media.”

Like most converts, I find myself an enthusiastic proselyte, spreading the good word to friends and colleagues, regaling them with my new-found experiences using Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and the like. Discovering more sites and platforms, like Sermo, Doximity, Docphin, and Medstro, to name a few. (Disclosure: I have no financial or other arrangement with any of these, but have written for both Sermo and Medstro, and am a discussion panelist later this month on Medstro). The list goes on and on, and keeps growing. Websites and apps abound; they all go mobile, so much content to explore. So much time to waste!

“Waste of time” is the most common and scathing criticism leveled at social media by my physician friends and colleagues who have not yet seen the light. Continue reading