What is your story?

Ramesh Nyberg

Five Reasons Why You Should Write (Yes, You)

Photo by Etienne Girardet/Unsplash

It’s no secret: Most of us cops hate to write. We hate it because we have to do it and the majority of us have little or no training – let alone interest – in the writing process.

This installment hopes to change your mind or, at the very least, present you with options which might benefit you in ways you never considered. If I come across as a bit biased on the subject, well, guilty as charged, your honor. I’ve been writing since I was nine years old and I just published my second book, Badge, Tie, and Gun – Life and Death Journeys of a Miami Detective. Not everyone has writing in their blood. I honestly don’t know how it got there, but it’s something which has just happened naturally for me. If it doesn’t happen naturally for you, no worries, it is something you can learn, practice and get better at. Now, let’s get on to the five reasons.

Reason #1 – You have stories to tell. Every one of us in the law enforcement profession does and there is a raging demand for police stories in every form of media. Just look at the top ten Netflix dramas and tick off the ones which have a police/crime theme. The last time I did this, it was seven out of ten. If the series or movie descriptions don’t involve the word “murder,” they likely say something about “police detective,” “missing person” or something of a criminal nature. The same goes for books – whether fiction, nonfiction, full-length, or short stories, people love to read or watch things about crime, whether it’s a true crime story about Mafia figures or a fictional series like Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch investigations. I should mention that Connelly was never a cop. You can tell stories as an insider. I can tell you from the reactions I’m getting that people devour police stories told with the voice of authenticity – your voice.  

Reason #2 – Writing in this day and age is a lot easier than it was forty or so years ago. There used to be these things called typewriters and, when you made a mistake, you had to use correction tape or fluid (Wite-Out®). Even when the first word processor computers came along in the 1980s, you had to print everything out before the geniuses figured out how to create digital files and E-mail. Another technology plus are spell checker and grammar programs. These early AI creations allow the computer to walk you through your work and show you misspelled or duplicated words, capitalization and word usage errors, and grammar suggestions. It’s like having a proofreading editor sitting next to you.

Reason #3 – You can make money writing. Notice I didn’t say how much money, because that varies greatly on a number of factors. Those factors include what you are writing – magazine articles; books; poems; how-to guides; or a memoir about your time in law enforcement – who is buying it, and how much time and effort you spend marketing yourself and your work. If your primary goal is to make money, then you need to treat it like any other business. Note to user: Results vary. You could end up getting peanuts for a lot of hard work. There is no guarantee your work will be picked up and bought by anyone. You could – no, you will – get rejections from time to time. But, remember things like this: An author once sent his Navy-based thriller to several major publishers like Random House and they all rejected him, telling him there was no market for his work. He finally found a small publisher called Naval Institute Press which was willing to take a chance on him. The writer was Tom Clancy and the book was The Hunt for Red October.

Reason #4 – As a “side hustle” or extra income stream, writing has virtually zero overhead cost. All of us already possess either a desktop computer, a laptop, or both. All you need is time and fingertips to type. Hell, you don’t even need those. You can even dictate using Microsoft® Word on your phone as you drive. You can write literally anywhere, at the time of your choosing, and you don’t have to dress up or see anyone. When I work on this column, I’m usually on my sofa with my feet up, in my sweatpants. You already have all of the tools you need to start writing.

Reason #5 (and this is my favorite) – We cops go through experiences no one in any other profession or endeavor in life does. We have our own special brand of PTSD with stresses and emotional struggles. Writing is therapeutic. Writing down your experiences can ease stress and it can purge a lot of the internal challenges we grapple with on an ongoing basis. It’s like having your own private therapist to talk to (and who doesn’t charge you $150 an hour).

As I mentioned before, I started writing way before law enforcement was anywhere on my radar. Once I got into the job in 1979, I knew right away I would be writing about my experiences. I took down notes; I made copies of police reports and kept them at home; and, later, slowly started compiling them into what is now a published memoir. There is a second level to the “writing as therapy” idea – when someone tells you they read what you wrote and enjoyed it. Someone who read my book recently told me, “It was so interesting! I learned things about police work I never knew.” That’s a bonus paycheck.

Another thing you should know about writing is that there is a universe of resources out there to help you become a better writer. Editors and marketing gurus are all over YouTube with free, very useful information to assist new writers. Writing involves work. Serious writers – those who want to sell their work – know that good writing involves rewriting, honing, editing, and listening to the valuable advice of others who know the craft. No one sat down and wrote the great novel in one sitting.

When I first started, I had no idea whether I would ever see my work in print. I actually started with magazines – this one in fact. That was in 1998 and here we are 26 years and some 156 columns later (thank you, Al Menear!) still going strong. In 1986, I attended a writer’s conference in Key West and got a chance to speak to an author named Carl Hiaasen. For those of you who don’t recognize his name, he’s a wonderful writer whose books are Florida-based. He has a love for the environment and a masterful sense of humor. (I strongly suggest Tourist Season and Double Whammy, Carl’s first two novels; they are outstanding.) Carl signed a copy of Double Whammy for me and, in it, he wrote, “Keep writing – good things will happen. I am living proof.”

I remember that advice whenever I feel tired or get tempted to do something else with my spare time. You have stories to tell, that we all know. We also know that there are audiences out there hungry for police-related stories. How do you start? Open up a new page on your laptop and just start telling them. If you decide to give writing a try, I’m always open to giving advice and guidance for anyone starting out – really, I’m happy to hear from you. Once you start, you’re likely to run up against hurdles like time and energy. But, I’ll tell you the same thing Carl told me, keep writing – good things will happen.

Ramesh Nyberg retired from law enforcement in November 2006 after 27 years of police work. He lives in Miami and teaches criminal justice at a local high school. He also teaches regional law enforcement courses through Training Force, USA. He enjoys getting feedback from readers and can be reached at ramesh.nyberg@gmail.com. Also, Ram has written a new book, Badge, Tie and Gun: Life and Death Journeys of a Miami Detective, which is available on Amazon in both Kindle eBook and paperback.