“You’re Not Snappy Enough!”: Learning How to Write Through Nursing Clio

“You’re Not Snappy Enough!”: Learning How to Write Through Nursing Clio

Nursing Clio is a ‘collaborative blog project.’ What it means to collaborate, and who is doing the collaborating, to me at least, seems to mean something different depending on which side of the fence you’re on. It strikes me that to most readers the collaborators are the authors, those most actively ‘producing’ the content. To the regular contributors, however, the collaboration extends past the writing and editing process with one another to include you at home, at work, or on the bus.

To understand why I joined Nursing Clio, I need to go back into my own past (that sounds more ominous than it is, don’t worry). When I was an undergraduate I met a fellow student in a first-year history class. She has since become one of my closest friends and occasionally the poor soul I run ideas for posts, articles, or papers by. But at the same time, she was my greatest competition. When I say competition, I’m really giving myself far too much credit; she obliterated me in almost all of the assessments we both took part in. Obliterated. When I asked her to read my essays (yes, plural) to identify what it was that she could do that I couldn’t, she did the impossible: she articulated that intangible quality which makes writers enthralling. “Snappiness,” she said, “You’re not snappy enough.”


How did I go about doing “snappy”? Confusion flashed across my face and I continued to mull over this conundrum for years afterwards. It was a question that still haunted me when I joined Nursing Clio in August of last year.

I had heard nothing about it as a project, nor had I heard much (anything, really) about the people I was potentially working with. By the same token, they had no idea who I was, just another poverty-stricken graduate student, albeit from the southern hemisphere. The novelty of my location, however, throws a spanner into the works because I live slightly in the “future.” (I’m something like 12 hours ahead of America depending on which part you’re speaking of. For example, your Monday afternoon is likely my Tuesday morning… I’ve never really been able to wrap my head around the time difference, so take the number as a rough estimate saving me an array of stress-induced conditions but, as you can imagine, causing the editors of this site some concern.)

Anyway, I considered a number of scenarios, all of which led me to think that joining this team was a good idea, though mostly for incredibly selfish reasons (sorry guys!). I was looking for some way of improving my own work, finding a way of becoming “snappy.” In my mind, the most likely scenario was that Nursing Clio would go the route of so many other academically-inspired projects. This imagined trajectory had the site lasting perhaps a year or two, petering out and eventually falling into complete disarray as time got the better of us all and the impact of our work became increasingly negligible. This, however, wasn’t necessarily a deterrent; it meant that I could work anonymously on gaining that intangible quality I was still seeking.

I thought that repetition and deadlines, the same rote learning techniques used to teach the multiplication tables, for example, would qualitatively improve the way in which I was communicating the knowledge I was (supposed to be) absorbing as a postgrad. You see, my experience of being taught to write at an undergraduate and now at the postgraduate level involved a lot of osmosis: read this book and work out what has been done well and what, if anything, has been done poorly (and believe me, it’s always something with postgraduates). It was trial and error. Nursing Clio was to be my temporary laboratory within which I could work on this project safe in the knowledge that my most-likely failed attempts would someday disappear under the ever-rising tides of the internet.

Clearly, my cynically-minded prediction about the fate of Nursing Clio was misguided. Although my work may yet still disappear, the Nursing Clio project has been, and continues to be a success, and I have come closer to grasping one piece of the “snappy writing” puzzle: It is imperative to collaborate with the readers. I used to think that I was writing for the readers, not with them. I had no concept of the reciprocal nature of the endeavour. It’s kind of like one of those ridiculous proverbs that you are exposed to as a young adult, and which I am no doubt butchering now, about the distinction between hearing and listening: Anyone can hear but it takes a lifetime to learn to listen. In the same vein, it takes a lifetime (for some) to learn how to communicate.

All of that is to say that if you, the reader, have ever thought of yourself as a passive consumer of Nursing Clio, I’m here to tell you (in the nicest possible way) that you’re wrong. You’re as much an active producer of material as we are. You drive the content, engage in the discussion, and compel me to improve myself as a scholar. Without your input, Nursing Clio might have missed celebrating a 1st birthday. In addition, the very reasons why I became a member of the team and why I persist in inflicting my opinions upon you, would simply disappear.

Realising that there was someone on the other end of my work who most likely wanted to understand, or at least was open to the dialogue, has changed the way I think about words, sentences, ideas, and concepts. And it took Nursing Clio to do that, a far more interactive medium than your usual academic paper. Our collaboration, yours and mine, right now, forces me to think in new ways, to seek new means of communicating, and to clarify ideas that I might take for granted or unnecessarily over-complicate. It is you who often provides the impetus for the stories or challenges the very foundation of them, who motivates the writers, who fosters the discussions we want to take place, and who ultimately affect the changes we make. Together we challenge the notion that there is an (or any) ultimate authority, and produce conversations in which we begin to forge ourselves a society better for its members being more inquisitive.

This has been a long way of saying thanks to you all for being a part of this blog project and my personal Nursing Clio journey. A year on and our collaboration is actively aiding me in becoming a more accomplished scholar; every post, I’d like to think, moves me closer to becoming a “snappy” writer.

May we all enjoy many more years filled with new and exciting posts and the rich dialogue we’ve thus far been blessed with!


Some further thanks…

I also need to offer my thanks to the editors of Nursing Clio, and particularly to the very hard-working Jacqueline Antonovich with whom I correspond most frequently and without whom this whole project might very well fall into disarray.

And an apology…

In addition to my thanks, apologies must go to our American fans. As an Australian I’ve been learning that some idioms don’t translate well (at all? “She’ll be apples” anyone?) and that my spelling and punctuation can pose a problem too (who omits the ‘u’ from ‘colour’?! I’m looking at you, America.) I hope you all (editors, contributors, and readers alike) can bear with me and my idiosyncrasies as I continue this academic experiment.

Sean Cosgrove's research areas lie at the intersection of histories of medicine, science and technology, gender, and popular culture primarily in the late nineteenth century, united by an interest in the experiences of, and ideas surrounding, the human body. He is also committed to public engagement and actively interested in fostering greater inclusivity in higher education. He has previously conducted research focusing on patients, hermaphroditism, and sexual violence and criminality in the nineteenth century, but has also worked on projects outside of academia.