Have you ever found yourself feeling exhausted? Losing your motivation and passion? Feeling burned out? In Finding Heart in Art, Dr. Shawn Jones shares his experience with physician burnout in his medical practice and his journey of recovery through connecting with art. Here, Dr. Jones discusses writing about medicine, writing about art, and everything in between.
Getting Started: The First Steps of Writing a Book Tweet This
Charlotte: What inspired you to write Finding Heart in Art? Did you know you wanted to write it early on in your journey of recovery? Or did the inspiration come much later?
Shawn: About six months after I finished treatment the idea came to write about my experiences. I didn’t really act on the inspiration at first. It seemed like such a daunting task.
Charlotte: Lisa Tener mentioned that she met you in her writing workshop at Harvard Medical School’s CME publishing course. Where were you in the writing process when you attended the course?
Shawn: It was very early. I had been doing a lot of background reading and research, refining my ideas. I wrote a very early rudimentary piece on one of the paintings that became the nidus for one of the chapters. Lisa was very helpful not just in reviewing my writing but in helping me think about how to get the manuscript published.
Charlotte: What impact did the Harvard Medical School course have in your writing Finding Heart in Art? Are there any specific things—advice, experiences—from the course that had an especially strong impact? What were they?
Shawn: The course was instrumental in answering so many technical questions about agents, editors, pitches and how to navigate that space. Things I really had no practical experience about. I don’t think the book would be written today if I had not attended the course.
The Process: Writing Finding Heart in Art
Charlotte: What did your writing process look like? What did the day to day process look like and what did the long-term writing plan look like?
Shawn: It was very difficult for me to set aside time every day to write because I am on call frequently and the best laid plans would often get derailed. But I was very intentional about having a space to write in where I could leave all my work out. I had all six paintings available for review while writing. Getting an outline and sticking to it was key.
Charlotte: You used Lisa Tener’s Inspiration to Author in 8 Weeks Self-Study program, including Quick Start to Kick Start Your Book–the pre-work for getting clear on your book concept. Can you say a bit about how you used those and how they helped?
Shawn: I found ‘Inspiration to Author in 8 Weeks’ invaluable. I followed the ‘Quick Start to Kick Start Your Book’ portion of that course nearly perfectly. I found the recommendations regarding time management and the nudge to stay connected to your vision to be crucial. Every day I carried a copy of an index card with my working title and vision for the book on it. Looking at that vision statement every day helped to keep the book or at least my vision of the book in my mind. This made my mission easier to accomplish by setting my intention as the guide suggests.
Charlotte: While writing, did you find yourself reaching out for help or support from others or was this a more self-guided process? If you did find yourself reaching out, who did you reach out to and how did they affect or support your writing?
Shawn: I involved a lot of people. I have several friends who are ministers and I asked them to review chapters to make sure the biblical interpretation was sound. I had Advantage Media who provided copy editors and line editors who were invaluable.
Charlotte: Who did you envision as the audience for this book while you were writing it? Is that different from the audience you envision after writing it? Did you make any specific decisions in your writing to engage that audience – such as using a certain tone, language, style, etc?
Shawn: I felt like the audience would primarily be medical students, residents, physicians, and administrators of hospital and health care groups. I kept the language reflective of their expertise and vocabulary. I do think however, corporate burnout is also an issue and I have been getting some traction in those circles as well.
Finding Your Voice and Writing Style Tweet This
Charlotte: As a doctor, communication is a large part of your job – speaking with other doctors and nurses, with patients, with families, etc. Did you find yourself writing similarly to how you would speak? Was it notably different? Did you find already having a “speaking voice” helped you find your “writing voice” or did it hinder it?
Shawn: I wrote essentially like I speak. However, I found writing about issues of the heart a lot more emotional than I would have anticipated at times. For that reason there are probably times when my writing is more revealing.
Charlotte: I found the writing to be reflective of the art you use – very rich, poetic, and full of beautiful imagery. Did you experiment with writing styles or voices? Was this just your natural writing style?
Shawn: Thank you. That is a beautiful compliment. I had several false starts but kept writing until I felt I had happened about the tone and voice I was looking for.
Turning Your Book into Art: Framing and Narrative
Charlotte: You use descriptions and images of certain pieces of art to frame the narrative of your journey and specific stages of your recovery from physician burnout. How did you decide to frame the book this way? How do you think using the art – and including the images – affects the way readers engage with the story of your recovery from physician burnout?
Shawn: The idea actually came from The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming by theologian and philosopher Henri Nouwen. Picasso said, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” I find that to be true and I thought the paintings would be a kind of neutral third thing that would allow readers to identify with my story, but more importantly be able to find their story in it.
Charlotte: Did you already have specific pieces of art in mind to reflect each stage of your journey? Or did it take some reflection afterwards to find the right piece?
Shawn: I spent a lot of time looking at art to find the right pieces. Three or four of them were pretty easy, but the last couple took me a long time to find.
The Science of Writing: Using Personal Practice in Writing
Charlotte: People would often think the practice of science or medicine is very different from a creative practice, like writing. Do you think your experience with medicine informed or affected your writing at all? If so, how? Did you find yourself using similar habits or routines while writing that you use while practicing medicine?
Shawn: I think the discipline to stay at something is similar. I found it a struggle to get out in words and onto the page the exact idea in my mind. In many instances it was a journey, and I didn’t know where it would end. That part for me was a spiritual self-revelatory process.
Charlotte: How do you think medicine and art can coincide or share similarities? How do you think art can impact the practice of medicine and vice versa?
Shawn: Art helps you tolerate ambiguity and also hones your perceptive abilities. It also makes you more human…which is a great thing for a physician to be.
Getting Personal: Memoir Writing and Connecting with the Reader Tweet This
Charlotte: One aspect that’s particular to a memoir is sharing deeply personal and vulnerable experiences with the reader. And often, the most personal and difficult moments make for the most moving reading. Were there any parts of the book that were difficult to write about? If so, why were they hard to write about? How did you work through that challenge?
Shawn: Certain passages were very emotional for me and occasionally I would find myself weeping in a place that took me by surprise…almost as if I had not acknowledged the power of that part of my story to myself.
Charlotte: How do you imagine readers can use Finding Heart in Art in their own journey of recovery from physician burnout? What lessons or insight do you want readers to take away from this book?
Shawn: I would like it to be a message of hope for someone suffering. Perhaps a push that will inspire someone to talk to a friend or a professional or reach out for help in some way. Beauty is a powerful healer.
The Postscript: What Comes After Writing a Book Tweet This
Charlotte: Did writing this book give you any new insight into the way you practice medicine or change the way you think about medicine? If so, how?
Shawn: I think by being more in touch with my own emotions, it has made me a more caring and compassionate surgeon.
Charlotte: Circling back to Harvard Medical School’s publishing course, do you plan to attend again this year, with your published book in hand? If so, what do you hope to get out of the course this time around, as a published author?
Shawn: I am planning on attending. I don’t think for one that I am finished writing and being there with a published title will be a sort of victory lap for me.
Charlotte: How can our readers reach you?
Dr. Shawn C. Jones is an ear, nose and throat physician and head and neck surgeon. He is the founder of his specialty group, Purchase ENT. In Finding Heart in Art, Dr. Jones shares his story of physician burnout and recovery to inspire the medical students, residents, and physicians who are at risk of neglecting their own hearts as they follow their calling in medicine.
Readers, do you have any questions or comments about writing? Share them here! If you enjoyed this interview, you may enjoy this author interview on Healing, Faith and Writing with Bob Sawvelle or Lisa Tener’s article on how to start writing your own book.
Find out more about the Harvard Medical School CME publishing course that got Dr. Jones started on his book writing and publishing journey.