When I am writing large reports that compare and contrast information gathered from a series of meetings (i.e, different regions or specialists), I sometimes sit through the same advisory board over and over.
Sometimes, when I am covering ad board #9 for product X, it’s hard to maintain the same enthusiasm I had in the first meeting. I know, every freelance medical writer out there is thinking, “you’re not supposed to tell them that!” I get it, but I think it is goofy to pretend like the medical writer in the back is still on the edge of her seat while hearing the same talk for the 9th time. By then, I know all the terminology, I know what the meeting questions are, and I can crank out a report that is exactly what the client wants in less time than when I was writing it up the first time. For a person who loves a challenge, the thrill is gone.
Of course, it goes without saying that it is important to act like a grown up and perform well in spite of your feelings, but I think it is important to recognize that this lukewarm autopilot zone can be a dangerous place to be. Pre-formed expectations can make it harder to really hear: though I can guess at what advisors might say, that’s not the same as hearing what they actually say. Even more dangerous, I start to notice my own opinions creeping in about marketing strategy or when the best time for drug X is for subgroup Y. I am an analytical person. I can’t help it. But, the writer’s job is to stay objective and listen, not to advise.
Know the warning signs of writing complacency
If my energy and enthusiasm for the subject fades, or I find myself having an internal dialogue while I write that is straight up boring, I try not to lose sight of the fact that an advantage of hiring a freelancer is objectivity. I haven’t been working as a medical-science liaison for the company for two years. I don’t know the internal history or what didn’t work for their marketing 5 years ago. All I am there to do is listen and make sure that insight makes its way into my writing. My job is to give the members of the client’s team efficient access to the meeting’s insights.
- Internal Dialogue 1: “Becaauuuuse paaaatients don’t like to chaaaaaaange after they’ve been on something ellllllse less expensiiiiiiive,” rather than
- Internal Dialogue 2: “Ooh! That’s going in the top-line report. I wonder why advisors think that? Have they reviewed the new phase III data yet?”
Part of what makes me good at this type of work is some distance from the subject. I haven’t been treating disease X as a physician for years, and I am not an expert in the company’s marketing and development strategy. This allows me to truly hear what advisors are saying. When that distance and newness gives way to familiarity, it takes more work to maintain the same high level of attention and diligence.
How to maintain focus and interest
So, how do I maintain focus and interest? Aside from reminding myself that ad board #9 is important to my client (and therefore to me), I play a game in the back of the room called “getting smarter.”
Search for deeper understanding
As the presenter is reviewing the same presentation I have already seen half a dozen times, I think of ways to deepen my understanding. One example might be “Wow, there sure are a lot of treatments for diabetes. When was the first one approved by the FDA? Who invented it?” I write down the question and I might research it further during my scheduled “reading time” that I have in place to keep myself sharp. This keeps me interested and engaged in the subject, and I pay closer attention because I am looking for new ways to dig deeper and learn more.
Engage an advisor during a coffee break!
Another similar strategy is to think of questions to ask the advisors during breaks. Now that I know a thing or two about the disease and its treatment, I can ask the advisors themselves questions. For example, ” I heard you say that patient compliance with drug X is really horrible. I’m curious; why do you think that is?” Sometimes I can even go beyond satisfying my own curiosity and I am presented with information that can go in the report! I always indicate that this came about in a break-time conversation so that no one has to wonder why they don’t remember it. Sometimes we talk about mechanism, and sometimes about the advisors’ practices, or even their hobbies! These conversations with advisors are always enjoyable; these are people who are at the top of their field.
However it happens, maintaining engagement with the story unfolding in the room and the people sharing their perspectives makes me a better writer. It’s a win-win-win-win-win!