This past August, the much-anticipated arrival of my Chicago Manual of Style v. 17 was overshadowed by the arrival of my first child. My due-in-September baby decided she was more Leo than Virgo, and made her appearance in the world a month early. Her little body wasn’t quite prepared for the outside world, and we were admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit.
I’m a longtime fan of medical dramas, but I was immediately uncomfortable starring in our own hospital story. While the care we received was excellent, our 12 days were punctuated by checkups from medical staff whose visits blurred any distinction between night and day. Painfully early one morning, a new doctor and nurse team streamed in and announced a decision to introduce intravenous antibiotics. One nurse made the first of seven attempts to insert the IV into my daughter’s tiny foot; two others argued spiritedly about our baby in poorly masked whispers, using medical terms I didn’t understand. As someone who is usually at home with words, I fumed at the lack of plain language in their comments and the way we were talked about as if invisible.
I shared my experience with a dietitian friend the next day. While acknowledging my frustration, she admitted, “We all do it;” the nurses were simply talking shop at work. I realized I’d been guilty of the same thing in my own workplace. How often had I expressed frustration about clients who struggled to wrap their heads around a style guide? Or shared my views on a tacky gloss report cover when a sophisticated matte was the obvious choice? Sure, I would always wait until the clients were out of the room and the stakes weren’t as high as with medical issues, but the principle was the same.
Thinking of my own indiscretions, I remembered a lovely nurse I’d once had as a client. She was confident talking about the aspects of hospital care that her project covered, using terms I had to fact check despite my familiarity with Grey’s Anatomy. When it came to writing and editing, however, she was deeply anxious and needed reassurance that things were actually going to be okay. Our clients are so frequently outside their comfort zones when we work together, just as I was outside mine in the hospital. While editing may not be a matter of life or death in the physical sense, writing can inspire fear, and it’s part of our job to guide clients who don’t feel at home in the world of words.
This client got in touch out of the blue while we were still in hospital. The tables had turned, and I was now squarely in her area of expertise: motherhood, hospitals, patient care. She let me know that children are challenging but rewarding — exactly how I’d explained aspects of the project we had worked on together. I’m keeping this in mind as I take on the challenges of making the world of motherhood my new comfort zone.
Do you have any tips on how to make clients feel comfortable throughout the editing process?
Previous post from Marianne Grier: Swapping Snacks From the Editor’s Lunch Box.
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