When I was in medical school, I had the good fortune of attending a program with a strong medical humanities focus. This is a relatively new part of the medical curriculum, one that has a strong focus on trying to understand the experiences of our patients, and our response to them through the use of artistic expression. Many used poetry, visual art, or narrative storytelling, and quite a few wrote, though very few wrote fiction, preferring creative non-fictional work. As a fiction writer, I therefore had an opportunity to stand out from the rest of the crowd – and so when the medical humanities program launched a writing contest, I was quick to jump in. I wrote two short stories for the award in two separate years, and won the prize twice, in 2005 and in 2007. Each came with a monetary prize, so I could honestly say that I followed Stephen King’s dictum that a professional writer is someone who gets paid for something they’ve written and uses the proceeds to pay the light bill. Not bad.
This led further – that year, I was approached by a friend who was developing a work with a small, local press top collect stories written by medical students. I edited one of my stories for publication and was collected in an anthology. I don’t now how many copies it has sold – probably not many – but it is something, and if all else fails, I can at least look back on that and say that my fiction has been published. I wouldn’t have had the opportunity had it not been through my line of work. I’m hoping for more successes in the future but if all else fails I will have that one.
Since then much of my attention has been captured by other types of writing – scientific, mostly, with some non-fiction on the side. I have made some attempts to submit poems and short works to medical journals that have a humanities section within them – the very definition of a niche-within-a-niche market – but I am very lucky to have those opportunities available to me, and have had some minor success with that.
And yet, I wonder if there are other opportunities for other professions out there – room for creative outlets, places to let one’s writing take hold. It may not be on the bestseller list of the Times, but it would be a way to get started and to build one’s body of work. That way, when you do send off your submission to a publisher, or when you have self-published and need to have more to point to for publicity and marketing purposes, it will be there, ready for use.
So if you’re looking for unconventional platforms for publishing, one opportunity may be the venues provided by your career. Not every line of work may have them, but some, especially the professions might. Even using them as venues for non-fiction writing may be an idea, in trade publications and the like. After all, every chance you can take to get your words read is a worthwhile one.
Good thoughts, Dylan. There are probably lots of opportunities sitting right in front of us that we don’t notice because we’re so focused on getting somewhere in particular. But, as you point out, they’re all stepping stones.