Develop a Voice with Writing Tips from an OEP Alum

DRAKEDaniela2013 copyI’ve decided to start writing about medicine because health care is a mess and I felt the need to speak out. It’s crucial that real doctors (not celebrities) develop voices in the media. Without hearing from or considering the input of practicing physicians–it’s pitiful but doctors have very little say over the way medicine is practiced. But if we don’t, we will have the unhappy system we now have. I could never politic my way up to the top of any organization. But I do like to read and analyze and make sense of things for others.  I wrote a book a few years ago and that process was very helpful in honing my writing skills. I worked with someone who is an incredible editor. She still edits my stuff. I learned a lot about writing as cleanly as possible. I learned to write without editing. Then edit mercilessly–always confident that more good ideas will be coming.

Tips:

1. You always want to deliver the best best best piece of writing possible. Yes, a lot of crap is published–but we don’t have the luxury of pitching second-rate material as we are not established writers – hold yourself to a higher standard

2. A friend who is a great editor is priceless – find this person and use their skills. Take this friend to dinner. This person is priceless. Even the best writers need editors. A friend who writes for the HuffPo told me she pays a young journalist to edit for her. Dinner is more fun.

3. Regarding editing–the deputy editor of an important national publication once told me: you can only do ONE THING in a thousand words. So, you may have to cut the liver out of your piece, but keep the heart (It’s tough–I just took the liver out of a piece I wrote last night. I wanted to cry.)

4.  Re: self editing – ask yourself for EVERY SENTENCE – DO I NEED IT? Do I even need this paragraph? Sometimes you have to kill your best lines.

5. If you get lost, keep asking yourself: What am I trying to say? Sometimes you need to voice it out loud.

6. Use action verbs, but don’t be a slave to it.

7. If you are re-reading your stuff and it bores you–ax it. It will bore other people too. Find a way to say it conversationally. More bloated prose we don’t need.

8. Use a thesaurus. The right word can make a sentence go “iambic.” The right sentence can make the whole piece work.

9. Take a break. Go for a walk. Sleep on it. When you’re not working on it, you’re working on it. Your brain loves logic – and will eventually get it right.

10. The mentors are worth their weight in gold. We are very fortunate to have them. Both my first and last piece had great editorial suggestions (thanks, ladies) that made the pieces really work.

My op-eds:

How a Doctor Came to Believe in Medical Marijuana http://thebea.st/ZFAAs8

Nurse Practitioners Playing Doctor More Often http://thebea.st/Z8Sfbw

Why I’m Not Having a Preventive Mastectomy http://thebea.st/YY8WIP

Doctors Should Start Advocating Dietary Options to Treat Heart Disease http://thebea.st/130I3U8

My interview on The Story, NPR:

http://www.thestory.org/stories/2013-06/saying-no-surgery

Daniela Drake is a former McKinsey & Company consultant, now a board certified Internist in private practice in Los Angeles.

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