Doctors and Writers: What They Have in Common

A comment by author Khaled Hosseini in a recent New York Times Book Review interview caught my eye. The reporter asked Hosseini, who is also a medical doctor, what his training as a doctor has brought to his work as a writer?
Here is Hosseini’s response:

“Qualities you need to get through medical school and residency: Discipline. Patience. Perseverance. A willingness to forgo sleep. A penchant for sado-masochism. Ability to weather crises of faith and self-confidence. Accept exhaustion as fact of life. Addiction to caffeine a definite plus. Unfailing optimism that the end is in sight. Qualities you need to be a novelist: Ditto.”

Let’s take a closer look at these parallels. Words like “discipline,” “patience,” and “perseverance” struck me as essential qualities of a successful writer. Writing, like medicine, is not something a person can dabble in or approach with anything less than full commitment. Sacrifice is implicit in “a willingness to forgo sleep” and a “penchant for sado-masochism.” There are many times when writing is not fun. Getting through that first draft is work. Revising that first draft is harder work (at least for me). Finding the energy to get into that deep, intense state of focus needed to write feels impossible on some days. But we writers do it. We persevere.

Of all of the qualities Hosseini listed, I believe the essential trait was the last one: “Unfailing optimism that the end is in sight.” The payoff is a completed novel that the writer is ready to let go—either through self-publication or submission to an agent. That’s what gives we writers that giddy feeling, that pride of accomplishment.

Hosseini has just released his third novel, “And the Mountains Echoed.” I enjoyed “The Kite Runner,” and I liked, “A Thousand Splendid Suns,” even more. I am looking forward to reading Hosseini’s latest work.

Read the complete interview with Khalid Hosseini.


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2 responses to “Doctors and Writers: What They Have in Common

  1. Chris you would probably enjoy Tengo Sed by Fleming, which is a fictionalized account of being an intern and young resident, based on his experiences. His techniques give you a great sense of the jumble that becomes a doctor’s life at that time and the perseverance and varied sources of inspiration you need to carry on.

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