The Write Stuff--Part 1: Introduction

Welcome to the first installment of The Write Stuff, a tutorial for those of you who'd like to try writing for EMS. Opportunities for content providers have never been better. Today's target-rich environment includes not only EMS World Magazine and, but many other industry-specific media hungry for fresh material.

Not sure you want to write? That's understandable. Getting published isn't easy. Neither is managing unstable patients--something many of you do daily. If you're looking for a new challenge and have something to say (I've never met an EMS provider who didn't), perhaps the progressive guidance we'll offer during the next 12 months will give you the confidence and capability to conceive, propose, plan, produce and submit manuscripts that are both entertaining and enlightening. That's the key, really. Our objective as writers isn't simply to write; we also want people to enjoy what we've written.

Writing for an audience is hard. If you speak with practitioners of other art forms--drawing, singing or sculpting, for example--they'll likely admit to many failures while learning their craft. It's important to have realistic expectations and, even in the absence of success, enjoy the ride.

Forty years ago I wanted to be a professional hockey player. I knew that was unlikely, but hockey was in my blood. I was tutored by some of the most skillful players on the planet, practiced almost every day and got game experience several times a week. After a few years I realized I didn't have enough talent to get to the next level. I let it go, stuck to amateur hockey and never regretted trying to do better. It would have been much harder for me not to know if I might have made it.

I like the goal suggested by novelist Stephen King in On Writing, a must-read for anyone serious about getting published. King acknowledges a hierarchy of bad, competent, good and great writers, then theorizes it isn't possible to make a bad writer competent or a good one great. The best he can do, he says, is help a competent writer get better. We'll try to do the same while limiting our scope to non-fiction. Here's a preliminary agenda:

  • Part 1: Introduction--goals, philosophy, agenda.
  • Part 2: Getting started--generating ideas, choosing topics and planning content.
  • Part 3: Developing publishing contacts; submitting queries and proposals to editors.
  • Part 4: Language, structure, essential elements of composition.
  • Part 5: Using protected material--references, citations, quotations, graphics.
  • Part 6: Grammar--common mistakes.
  • Part 7: Establishing your style.
  • Part 8: Self-critique--reviewing, rewriting, polishing.
  • Part 9: Editors and editing.
  • Part 10: Summary.
  • Part 11: Case study--development of the December 2011 Life Support column for EMS World.

Why write about EMS? Not for the money. There aren't enough of us in the audience to justify the premium rates advertisers pay to appear in popular publications like Time and People. Modest compensation for print submissions--less for online content--is a reality of EMS-oriented media. Even the most talented writers in our business need multiple sources of income.

Once you accept that writing about EMS is even less lucrative than doing EMS, there are still plenty of reasons to give it a try:

  • Share what you know. You can help our industry mature by offering fresh points of view for colleagues to consider. Subjects aren't limited to prehospital procedures, vehicles and equipment. Quality improvement, productivity measurement, inventory control, systems design, employee management, finance and planning are areas where EMS agencies often lack expertise. Relevant research is almost always valuable, but even an anecdote or two can be appealing.
  • Learn by communicating. Whether I'm teaching, writing or presenting, I always learn more about my topic during the creative process. Preparation of timely, thought-provoking material is some of the most effective continuing education you'll ever encounter.
  • Create something unique. Earlier I compared writing to other art forms. Each of them is an opportunity to differentiate yourself, to leave a legacy more lasting than conversation. People may debate what writers meant, but not what writers wrote.
  • Network. Getting published places you in the public arena. If you create a positive experience for your readers, you'll hear from some of them. Developing contacts usually is a win-win situation for you and your correspondents.
  • Vent. Writing can be cathartic. It's okay to be passionate about your work if your audience feels as good reading it as you did writing it.

Let us know if you have questions or comments along the way. Your participation can only enhance our efforts.

Mike Rubin, BS, NREMT-P, is a paramedic in Nashville, TN, and a member of EMS World's editorial advisory board. Contact him at