Friday, January 06, 2006

Complications (job-related, now)

It will not come as a surprise to some of y'all that I make my living as a writer. In fact, that's how I MET some of you (Hi PRV, Hi LJS!).

To some others of you, however, it might be a BIG shock. Let me assuage your fears/envy/flabbergastedness by saying that the term "writer" here is used verrrry loosely, because what I really AM is a "medical writer."

Ooooo, I can feel your jealousy wafting over me right now, and you know? it smells like popcorn.


Anyhow, for those of y'all who don't know what a "medical writer" does all day long, here's the synopsis - we sit on our asses on front of a computer for 8+ and try to make sense out of all kinds of disparate bits of information about medical stuff (investigational products, mostly, meant to cure disease or help symptoms or produce long-lasting erections), hoping against hope that SOMEWHERE in there we can separate the chaff from the wheat and bake ourselves a tasty little story about clinical development. I know, it's a thrill a minute.

Then, once we've poured heart and soul into the 100-page product that we've managed to craft from those thousands of pieces of info/wheat (still with the metaphor!), we send our babies off to the dreaded "review," and hope that some shred of our dignity will remain intact after the slaughter is over.

Because, y'all, we're writers, sensitive souls who take it PERSONALLY when someone doesn't like what we've done. We agonize and wordsmith and order and reorder and summarize and re-write until our fingers are numb (or hands, for those of us with carpal tunnel from years of keyboard abuse), and those daggone REVIEWERS have to step all over our efforts with their smarty-pantedness, those know-it-alls with their advanced degrees and areas of speciality and big ol' diplomas from those daggone medical schools on their walls. Hrmph! They should LIKE what we writers write, really they should, and be thankful THEY didn't have to do it!

But, sadly, they very infrequently do like what we write, and send back documents fairly dripping with comments, directing us to "change this" or "update that" or, my personal favorites, "tell more of a story here" and ""yes."

What kind of a comment is "YES," for Pete's sake?

Aggravation and disheartening as it might be, we, the beleaguered medical writers, must then gather up all the shards of our darlin' documents that are left and start re-integrating them into some thing better, stronger, and faster (cue the 6 million dollar man theme song, won't you please?). We talk to subject matter experts, and re-dig though thousand page data tables, and negotiate wording with important people, being careful not to step on any egos or leave anyone out, and re-weave the thing back together.

.........and then we send it to QUALITY CONTROL.

(sudden shrieking in the background is heard, as though someone's heart was being ripped out through their sternum)

I cannot even tell you of the horrors of the QC, except to say that very often it's far too painful to cogitate on for long. The people who do QC for a living are, at their very core, evil. Their job is to look for mistakes, and they exhibit a special glee, reflected in THEIR comments, when they can't verify something (a kitten dies every time this happens) or when the source doesn't match the text (puppies next), or when you forget and put 2 SPACES after a period or some godawful error against the very fabric of space and time (churches spontaneously ignite). They're regular Scrooges, those QC people, pinching every last drop of worth from their AMA style manuals and quoting guidances like Bible verses.

It's horrible, I tell you, and can make the strongest writer dread coming into work if the QC package is due back that day.

But wait, the fun's not over yet! Not only do we get to weep over the QC findings, we actually get to INCORPORATE all their comments, and maybe even add in a second round of review, and possibly, if our luck is truly and completely shitty, have a whole REVIEW MEETING! Really! It's fun! You should try it! 8 hours of experts picking over your dear document like buzzards at a 3-day old corpse; no morsel goes unnoticed, no bone is too dry to suck on. Why, I've known arguments about one paragraph's worth of content to rage for an HOUR! Jolly good fun!

By the time you're ready to send the flipping thing to be approved, it's no longer your darling. It's become the stone around your neck that seems to grow heavier every day, especially because all those people who freaking lollygagged their way through their review are now FROTHING AT THE MOUTH for you to have THEIR document DONE so they can GET ON WITH THEIR IMPORTANT WORK!

Which finds many a medical writer clacking away at their computer late into the evening or well into the morning or throughout the weekend, staring down a double-barreled deadline, because when the big dogs say "jump" all you can do is ask" how high?"

There you go - life as a medical writer. Whaddaya think of THEM apples?

Wait, the popcorn smell is gone. Ah well, it was good while it lasted.


Erica said...

I am so glad you have found this blogging outlet for your creativity, rather than stifling it for the fancy overpaid medical folks. I too am a writer at work (as well as an "Executive Assistant"). When I am not planning travel, meetings, whatever, I am transcribing letters and notes for my boss, and editing the crap out of them as I go. He's not grammatically poor. But he can take a three-word sentence and crank it up to a paragraph. So in a way, this job has been a tremendous blessing for my editing skills, and has helped me hone my own style. The good thing is, I don't get burned out on writing creatively by editing all day. So when I get home (or often at work), I can get my own writing done when inspired to do so. I always sort of regretted not finishing college and being some sort of professional writer (journalist, medical writer, technical writer, copy writer, whatever) but hearing you, and also my sister-in-law who writes copy for furniture catalogs - gag and die - makes me feel better. Not to say Ha Ha, Tiff, I'm so glad you are suffering daily and sharing it with me so I can feel superior. ;-)

Just to reiterate - I LOVE your blog and am glad you're doing it.

tiff said...

Well, shoot, thanks! :>

There's a HUGE difference between what I do for a living and anything that smacks of creativity....though at times we have to get a little creative in order to explain the data. Me and me fancy-pants Master's Degree still just crank out the work on a daily basis, and feel pretty glad to have the internets as an outlet.
It's a damned fine way to make friends, too! Rock on!

Salome's Mom said...

I came accross this blog tonight. I love it. Thank you for making me laugh.


tiff said...