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Writers on Writing: What to Do When Everyone Rejects Your Articles
John Kruse, a psychiatrist, explains how rejections led to writing a book and then a weekly writing habit
Welcome to the inaugural installment of Writers on Writing, in which I interview writers about their craft, to inform and inspire all of us on our writing journeys.
John Kruse, MD, PhD, is a practicing psychiatrist and author of the book Recognizing Adult ADHD: What Donald Trump Can Teach Us About Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Kruse writes regularly about mental health. You can find his articles on Medium and on his blog, and learn more about him at drjohnkruse.com, or watch his mental health videos on YouTube. (Full disclosure: I edit articles by Kruse that are published in Wise & Well).
Robert Roy Britt: How did you get into non-fiction article writing?
John Kruse: During my years in medical school and graduate school in neuroscience I entered and won several academic writing contests. After moving to San Francisco and finding an LGBT running club, I became an officer and editor for the newsletter for a decade. And with a volunteer organization like that, newsletter editor meant writing a good chunk of the articles for each monthly newsletter. All of that writing felt like a side excursion.
But during the 2016 presidential election I heard many adults with ADHD express their fear, disgust, and surprise that one of the major party candidates seemed to be splashing their very own ADHD symptoms across the news each day. So I seriously considered the issue. I decided that he did meet full ADHD criteria, and that it was ethically appropriate to be publicly discussing this, so I started writing Op-Eds to papers, which were uniformly rejected. In exploring the nuances of the topic I expanded to magazine-length articles. All of which were rejected. A friend who was a published author recommended either going back to Op-Ed-length pieces or writing a book, so I went the latter route.
After the book was published, since I had absolutely no social media presence, I joined Medium and started writing an article a week on a different aspect of adult ADHD, as exemplified by Mr. Trump’s behavior.. From there I expanded into writing about other mental health topics, as well as delving a little into politics and running.
RRB: What motivates you to write?
JK: I like teaching, and I think lots of people want to understand more about the world, rather than just know things about the world. If you toss someone a nugget of knowledge, they’re likely to lose it. If you furnish a framework for them to incorporate that idea, they’ll routinely retain it.
RRB: How does your professional experience inform your writing?
JK: My graduate school training taught me to ask good questions, and my clinical experience helped me refine making complicated and nuanced mental health topics clear to people without extensive biomedical backgrounds.
RRB: How do you decide when to insert yourself in the story or let other experts or citations do the heavy lifting?
JK: When I think that the experts, or the popular consensus has something wrong, then I feel very motivated to jump in with my own take, and the rationale (scientific and personal) for why I think I have a more accurate comprehension of a topic.
RRB: What’s your worst writing habit, flaw or weak spot?
JK: I want my audience to understand things, rather than just know things, so I tend to provide an exuberance of background information. Which is more than many readers want. I’ve borrowed a term for this style, from a patient whose colleagues accused him of using a “dawn of time explanation” to justify his workplace decisions.
RRB: Where do your story ideas come from?
JK: I think I’m often thinking about how to make the world better, and how to help others see the world in either a clearer, or more nuanced way, or both.
RRB: How does writing complement your life and/or your day job?
JK: For now, it still helps that I am seeing patients for three very full days a week (and dealing with phone calls, pharmacies, and billing work on other days). I am more focused and productive in the time I set aside for writing on those days, compared to trying to write on “off days” when it is easier to procrastinate and meander.
RRB: When and where do you do most of your writing?
JK: I used to love running first thing in the morning, particularly during the 30 years I lived in San Francisco, when I could run through the streets at 5 a.m. and not even have to worry about interacting with cars. But I also learned that the early hours were when my mind was most focused and articulate and adept at writing. So increasingly, I write first thing in the morning (usually 4:30 a.m. Hawaii time) and go running or walking closer to sunup, even though the temperatures often encourage me to run in the dark.
RRB: Do you think of yourself as creative, and how does that play into your writing?
JK: I think parts of my skill set include thinking about things differently than the mainstream, combining disparate ideas, and often using silly wordplay, and since that’s how my brain works, these features usually show up in my writing.
RRB: How much time and effort do you put into a typical article?
JK: I can remember the high school and college years when I could sit down and write a logical, flowing, compelling essay on class tests in an hour or two. With neat handwriting too! Now I find that most of my writing is much slower, bogged down with finding the right words and phrases, so I often take 10-12 hours for a 2,000-word essay. I couldn’t even define how much of this is “writing” and how much is “editing.”
RRB: Your favorite self-editing tip?
John Kruse: I’ll voice two here. Putting your work aside for at least 24 hours to look at it again with fresh eyes, and reading it out loud to hear the flow and catch as many errors as possible.
I’m excited to announce that Writers on Writing will be a regular feature of the Writing Guide, in addition to weekly guides and essays. Paid subscribers also get additional, exclusive writing guides each month plus a complimentary editing and coaching session (learn more here).