Thank you so much for agreeing to be a part of The Writing Desk Blog.
Now, imagine I’m about to introduce you to an auditorium, filled with the smiling faces of folks fuelled by caffeine and an eagerness to learn. What would I say?
“Hello everyone, I’d like to introduce…
Hi, I’m Deborah Nock and I’m a freelance Medical Writer. Normally I get blank looks when I tell people that, so just to explain a little more. These days, I mainly write clinical papers, white papers and literature reviews for international healthcare companies and/or physicians. I also get to attend key opinion leader meetings, mostly within Europe. I write about many different therapies ranging from recognizably complex issues such as deep brain stimulation and robotic surgery, to often-regarded simpler issues – but actually just as complex – areas such as the importance of micronutrients within the body.
Here’s the part where we’d sit down and try and look comfortable next to the microphones. Are you sitting comfortably? Then let’s begin…
Can you name the business book that’s always on your desk? (I’m talking about the one that’s covered in pencil marks, coffee stains and has turned down corners…)
I actually have a nearly paper-free office. Most of the information I need for work can only be found in a university library or online (and as I’m essentially a lazy person, online it is). But I do have a copy of a good anatomy and physiology textbook, as I am not medically trained and often have to start with the basics. Which actually helps me when I write training materials for medical representatives, for example – if I can understand it, after knowing nothing at the start, then hopefully they will also be able to.
What’s your all-time favourite advertising campaign?
Some medical writers do become involved in advertising campaigns, but it is not something that interests me. I am involved in the previous stages, however, the crossover between science and marketing – making sure that what is said by marketing can be supported by science. One brand that I have worked on which you might recognise is Voltarol, for relief of joint and back pain. Some of you may have even used it – one of the hazards of our job is sitting at a desk all day, which can play havoc with your back if you’re not careful.
“Everyone has a book in them…” Or so the saying goes. What do you think/know/believe is the secret to good writing?
Can you believe that I recently sat down and wrote a book, for younger people (aged 12 years and over)? I’ve sent it off to some agents, so wish me luck. I think the secret for any writing is to enjoy what you’re writing about. If you have no interest in your subject, you will find it very difficult to find the right ‘voice’ while writing. That’s why specialising can be good – I love reading and writing about medical issues, and am always learning something new that piques my interest. I would urge any potential writer to focus on an area that appeals, in which they can become experienced and make a niche for themselves.
If you were just starting out, what advice would you give yourself? Which book or books would you read first?
When you’re writing a piece of work for a client, put all the effort and love into it that you can – but don’t take offence at any comments at the editing stage. It’s rarely anything personal, just that they have specific needs in mind and sometimes want you to change things to suit their own internal politics. Simply take all comments on board, address the ones you agree with, and then state your reasons why you disagree with any suggestions. If the client still wants it their own way, then go with it. It is ultimately their piece of work, not ours.
Silence? Radio? Or music while you work?
Usually silence, especially now I’m getting older. If I don’t need to concentrate so much, then ambient electronic music at low volume is all that I can stand.
What are your top three novels of all time – and why?
I love reading, with a passion. But I am not ‘literary’ in any way. I simply love books into which you can escape, in which anything can happen at any moment. So I love Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb. And Magician by Raymond E Feist. Also The Game of Thrones by George RR Martin (I have never seen the tv version though – and sadly, will never get to read the ‘true’ ending for the books). I’m going to cheat and choose a fourth book – Who Sent Clement? by Keith A Pearson. Simply because I love all of his books, he is a self-published author, and deserves to be promoted whenever possible.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever written? Why did it rock your world?
I recently wrote a literature review about micronutrients and their vital roles in immune function. I really enjoyed writing it because I know nothing about immunology – and quickly learned what a vast and complex subject it is! So I wrote the review in a way that would simply show how micronutrients act at each stage of the immune response, without overwhelming the reader with endless intricate details (if you’ve ever read anything on immunology, you’ll know what I mean). As an added bonus, I now understand how important it is to ensure your daily vitamin and mineral intakes are adequate (they rarely are in most of us), and have a multivitamin tablet every day – it won’t harm you, but could do you the world of good. (Similarly, another paper I wrote on interdental cleaning made me realise how vital it is we get rid of plaque – it can cause or contribute to all kinds of diseases, yet is easily preventable.)
What’s the last thing you bought? And yes, that packet of chewing gum counts.
Well, you did ask – a new bra, as it happens. All related to minimising back pain, which is actually one of the major medical issues of our time. Keep mobile folks, don’t sit down for too long. Even if you do have back pain, move slowly through it – don’t let it seize up.
Who was your teenage crush?
River Phoenix who, besides being rather good looking, came across as thoughtful and sensitive lad even at his young age. What a waste.
Can you describe the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
Subtle, yet distinct flavours that rippled across my tongue, with aromas that gently tickled my nose. It was amazing – yet to this day, I cannot remember what I actually ate. Just the memory of sitting in the warm sun under the verandah of a little restaurant in Switzerland, eating this delicious food washed down with a delicate white wine. Bliss.
What’s your favourite tipple? Is it wine, beer – a cask-aged malt?
Red wine, for sure. Mostly malbecs and merlots, South American or Californian – rich and full-bodied. And in my defence, a glass or two really is supposed to be good for your health.
If I were to give you a private jet, David Attenborough as a tour guide and a month off work – all expenses paid – where would you go and what or who would you write about – and why?
Italy, I think. Although I’d actually rather travel by train once I got there, and I’d leave David Attenborough at home to enjoy himself. But I do love the country and its history – especially places like Venice and Florence, full of beauty, historical intrigue and dark menace.
What’s in your pockets?
No pockets today – but would normally be my phone. I really need to detach myself from it now and then.
Pen and ink, pencil and paper or keyboard and screen? What’s your writing style?
For writing, I always use my laptop. So much easier for the words to flow, but also so I can edit as I go along. But I do need paper to write my monthly and daily ‘to do’ lists, and always hand write notes when I attend those key opinion leader meetings – my notes are created using a mind map-type style, which is easier on paper. Although XMind software is brilliant if you want to create a mind map on your computer.
Do you read any blogs or magazines about writing? (And I mean read, not just subscribe to and delete/leave on desk and recycle?)
No, to be honest. It all goes back to what I like writing and reading about – and reading about how to write isn’t my cup of tea. Although I do subscribe to the New Scientist, which is always mind-blowing.
Tea – or coffee? What’s your poison?
Coffee – I really can’t get into drinking tea. Normally instant coffee, with one cup of ‘proper’ coffee a day. Did you know you can get caffeine-related headaches either by drinking more than you’re used to, or even having just one cup less a day? A regular caffeine routine is important to avoid associated niggles. Caffeine also has an analgesic effect of its own, and can augment the pain-relieving effects of drugs like paracetamol and ibuprofen.
Sorry, I’ll try and switch off medical writer mode…
Do you have a favourite cup or mug? Can you describe it?
I have several, all won in competitions run by self-published authors. I’m in a few such groups online, and it’s great to see the encouragement that is given to authors who take the big step of self-publishing. If you’re thinking of doing something similar yourself, then do it! Hard work, but can be very rewarding.
What was your most adored children’s book? And character?
Oh my goodness, that is hard. I read incessantly as a child. I think there are two books that set the scene for my future reading: The Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton, and The Marvelous Land of Oz by Frank L Baum, which is actually the second in the series. Both took ordinary characters to different worlds and swept me along with them. I really identified with the young boy Tip in the Oz book – which is perfectly understandable if you’ve read it.
Your favourite word?
Really – means so many different things, depending on which inflection you give it.
Your most loathed word? (You know, the one that makes you shudder and say “Ew!”?
‘Reach out’, as in ‘I wanted to reach out to you…’. It never sounds sincere.
Where can we find you? – Browsing online or lost in the aisles of a bookstore?
Both – I love bookshops, and used to spend much of my free time in there and on the secondhand bookstall in the Norwich market. But since having my son, I’ve had much less (no…) time to browse peacefully, so buy most of my books online. The Kindle Paperwhite is a great invention, if you ask me – so many books at my fingertips, whenever I want them!
Favourite song lyric of all time? And why?
All of ‘William’s Last Words’ by the Manic Street Preachers – I’m having that played at my funeral. Unlike the narrator, I do go to sleep and wake up happy though – I am a very lucky woman.
Name the artist who is guaranteed to get you up on the dance floor.
Pulp, specifically Disco 2000. Reminds me of carefree uni days!
Do you have any strange writing rituals you’d like to share with us?
Not at all strange, but after I walk my son to school, I go for a half-hour walk with friends, sometimes alone. We set the world to rights and my mind can settle into writing mode. And if I really can’t work out how best to approach a project, I know that staring at a screen hoping for inspiration is never going to be productive. Instead, I walk (no music or podcasts allowed) – I don’t think specifically about the project or problem, just let it run in the back of my mind while I look at the nature around. Besides helping to clear your mind, walking is one of the best exercises you can do, both physically and mentally.
What are you working on today? What’s in the pipeline?
I am procrastinating today, as ever, and jumped at the chance to contribute to Katherine’s blog, rather than doing paid work. I should be writing up a clinical paper (the discussion section is often the hardest). Lots in the pipeline, all clinical papers and reviews. The great thing about being a medical writer is that if you are good enough, you are normally in demand. So you should be able to secure projects that last at least a couple of months – although you always have to be willing to work on several projects at once, all at different stages. Organisation and prioritisation skills are essential!
Can you describe the last photograph you took?
Anyone who is a Facebook friend will be able to tell you what type of photograph I took – one of the beach. Norfolk has 84 miles of wonderful coastline and golden sandy beaches, so we spend at least one day there every weekend. Soul soothing.
What piece of advice really changed you as a writer?
Understand what you’re writing about. If you don’t know anything before you write, read up on it until you do. And enjoy the whole process, difficulties and all.
What was the last thing you wrote that had nothing to do with your job?
Does my own book count? It was a fantastic experience that I will treasure and hopefully repeat, even if I don’t get formally published. There is nothing like disappearing into a world of your own imagination, peopled by characters you have created. And watching them evolve seemingly independently from what you originally intended. I often read back on what I’ve written and wonder where on earth that came from.
What’s your favourite quote about the process of writing?
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” Stephen King.
Who is your favourite Mad Man – or Woman?
No idea! I’ve never watched it, I’m afraid.
Can you name your favourite film – and tell us why you love it?
Probably Withnail and I. It’s a story about nothing and everything and friendship, and never fails to make me laugh. Either that or the Big Lebowski for exactly the same reasons.
Which book or books is/are by your bed today?
Bill Bryson’s new book, The Body: A Guide for Occupants – he has a great ability to present lots and lots of trivia in an interesting and amusing way. He always clearly enjoys what he writes about.
Who was or is your greatest teacher?
I didn’t go to a great school, to be honest. But I always admired our English literature teacher for perpetual enthusiasm and enjoyment in the face of youthful indifference and disdain. I guess he has inspired me to carry on regardless, despite what life throws at you.
Who is your favourite artist?
Another difficult one, and one that depends on mood. I do love Caravaggio though, for his sheer drama. But also book illustrators such as Arthur Rackham, who can take your breath away and bring a story to life when you turn the page to see one of his drawings.
Where do you like to work best – is it at a desk, in an office or in a coffee shop? And would you send us a picture of where the magic happens?
I definitely work best at my desk, with the door closed. It’s not a particularly elegant working space, and not exactly uncluttered – but everything is where I need it, when I need it. When I’ve finished for the day, I can shut the door and forget about it all for a few hours – essential, when you work from home.
And finally, where can this caffeine-fuelled audience find you?
Email is always best, [email protected]