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Marianne Grier

Comfort Zones

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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7 Comments on “Comfort Zones”

  • Marnie Schaetti


    Thanks for this good reminder. It’s particularly relevant for me since my son began his life with time in NICU. I hope you and your babe are both doing well.

    • Marianne Grier


      The NICU is a strange place to start life, isn’t it? I hope that your son’s time there was relatively short, and that he’s well.

  • Congratulations on your new baby. Thank you for a thoughtful and thought provoking post. I frequently use the analogy of birthing a book with clients: the process is initially painful, but rewarding when the book finally comes out; and, “trust me, I’m your doctor”.

  • Anita Jenkins


    And it’s such fun to trot out the shop talk (e.g. grammatical rule for x or y) when a client is getting too uppity and know-it-all.

  • Frances Peck


    Another beautifully written post, Marianne. And (not to bury the lead): a baby! Congratulations.

    Your article is a vivid reminder that we mustn’t assume writers feel comfortable in our world. For some, the first glimpse of an editor’s track changes may feel like a kind of gynecological invasion.

    My business partner Georgina Montgomery recently shared some concrete ways of setting a writer’s mind at ease about the possibly daunting author-editor partnership: I learned a lot from her splendid wording. Maybe other readers will too.

    • Rosemary Shipton


      Oh yes, those tracked pages bleeding red! That’s why I always ask my authors to read the clean edited version first. Thanks so much, Frances, for the link to Georgina’s article – and special thanks to Marianne for her thoughtful, sensitive piece.

      • Marianne Grier


        Thank you, Frances and Rosemary!

        I really enjoyed Georgina’s post and have it firmly bookmarked. I love the way she’s likened the editor’s job to so many other professions. We really do need to take on a lot of roles as we work.

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