Work Space and Productivity

willowgirl As I continue to work my way (slowly) through Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way, I continue to experience moments of synchronicity in my life. Cameron’s definition of synchronicity is when you put a request out to the universe—for instance, your desire to take up acting—and the universe replies—for instance, you meet a woman who teaches a beginning acting class at a dinner party.

I think there’s another type of synchronicity: as I learn a lesson from one source, I’m likely to notice complementary lessons elsewhere. For instance, one of the exercises in this week’s chapter was to design a creative space for myself; the idea, although not explicitly stated, is that by surrounding oneself with things that are inspiring, comforting, and beautiful, you free your creative side to come out and play.

It turns out that Cameron’s wisdom, penned nearly 20 years ago, is now backed by scientific research. While a graduate student at University of Exeter in the UK, Dr. Craig Knight performed research on employees’ attitudes, work satisfaction, and productivity as they relate to employee control over workplace environment.

His work challenges the mentality of many corporations, where “managers often create a ‘lean’ working environment that reflects a standardized corporate identity.” In a study of over 2000 office workers, he consistently found that the more control people have over their work environment, the happier and more motivated they are. In two additional studies, researchers compared the productivity of workers in “lean” environments, “enriched” environments (decorated with plants and artwork), and “empowered” environments (employee-decorated spaces). They found that employees who designed their own work spaces were 32% more productive than those in lean environments without increases in errors.

tea and books The lesson for writers: where you work IS important. Giving yourself a place that nurtures your spirit will improve your creativity—and productivity. After all, it’s not just an artsy thing any more: science backs it up!

:) Cheryl 

The Ethics of Medical Writing: Wyeth Pharmaceuticals Used Ghostwritten Articles to Promote Product

As someone who writes on science and medical subjects, this recent report* in PLoS (Public Library of Science) Medicine disturbs me greatly.

masklDr. Adriane J. Fugh-Berman of the Department of Physiology and Biophysics, Georgetown University Medical Center, analyzed ghostwritten reviews and commentaries published in medical journals and journal supplements that “were used to promote unproven benefits and downplay harms of Prempro—a brand of menopausal hormone therapy (HT)—and to cast competing therapies in a negative light.”

As a writer, it makes sense to me for a pharmaceutical company to hire professional writers to assist in editing, or even creating, articles for publication (the key word being “assist”). However, Fugh-Berman reports that academic physicians were invited to “author” prewritten articles that Wyeth had paid the medical writing and marketing company DesignWrite to produce. In addition, Wyeth paid for numerous reviews, commentaries, and opinion pieces for publication in medical journals—where they are not under the strict FDA regulations seen elsewhere. These types of articles are not usually peer-reviewed, but they can still have an immense influence on physicians’ understanding of disease and its treatment.

According to Fugh-Berman’s analysis Wyeth’s ghostwritten articles were designed to “Mitigate perceived risks of hormone-associated breast cancer”; “Promote unproven, off-label uses, including prevention of dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and visual impairment”; “Raise questions about the safety and efficacy of competing therapies (competitive messaging)”; “Defend cardiovascular benefits, despite lack of benefit in RCTs”; and “Position low-dose hormone therapy”. She also states that many physicians have been impacted by these reports, believing that the benefits of hormone replacement therapy outweigh the risks in asymptomatic women, despite clear evidence to the contrary.

I find medical writing to be fulfilling as well as lucrative—it feels good to be writing material that will help someone better understand breast cancer, for example—but the truth is that most medical writing is funded by the pharmaceutical industry, which definitely has selling drugs as its agenda. So where did DesignWrite cross the line in their medical writing business? How can other medical writers avoid doing the same thing?

I think the answer lies in that DesignWrite intentionally designed a marketing strategy that incorporated these ghostwritten articles as means to promote the product—and to promote off-label use of the product. Pre-writing articles for academic physicians to “author” rather than beginning with material from the expert also seems to cross that line from medical writing into medical marketing. One thing is clear: any time a company pays someone to write an “informational” article for them, there’s the possibility that the article will be slanted in that company’s favor. Writers beware.



*Fugh-Berman AJ (2010) The Haunting of Medical Journals: How Ghostwriting Sold ”HRT”. PLoS Med 7(9): e1000335. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000335.

More on Computer Games…

To add to my angst about all the time my kids are spending in front of the screen, I just read this report on how “Video games lead to faster decisions that are no less accurate.”*

imageResearchers at the University of Rochester tested students ages 18 to 25 who didn’t usually play video games. Half of them were required to play 50 hours of the high-action games “Call of Duty 2” and “Unreal Tournament”; the other half played the slow-moving game “The Sims 2”. Afterward, they tested students’ ability to make quick decisions—and found that the action game players were up to 25 percent faster and just as accurate as those who played the slower-paced game. Researcher Daphne Bavelier says, “It’s not the case that the action game players are trigger-happy and less accurate…[they] make more correct decisions per unit time. If you are a surgeon or you are in the middle of a battlefield, that can make all the difference.”

Do me a favor: don’t tell my kids about this, okay?

:) Cheryl

*This research will be published in the journal Current Biology in a paper authored by Daphne Bavelier, Alexandre Pouget, and C. Shawn Green.

Computer Games: Friend or Foe?

wow This has been a challenging school year for me thus far, for a weird reason: World of Warcraft. Not that I’m playing. My kids are playing. They both have accounts—that they pay for—and they are both spending hours and hours every week online, slaying monsters, completing quests, laughing, and having fun.

As a children’s writer and someone who’s chosen not to have a TV in the house for the past 20+ years, this disturbs me greatly.

How does such a thing happen, you ask? The problem is…not really a problem. That is, the kids have been given permission to play computer games without regulation as long as they’re getting chores done, logging half an hour of exercise a day, staying current on homework, and getting good grades. And the problem is that they’re doing it. And they’re seeing friends, playing Magic the Gathering at lunch, and participating in various clubs and after-school activities, so I don’t have an excuse to kick them off their machines.

Yes, this decision to let them have unlimited computer time is a slight point of contention in our household, but I can’t argue with the results. When I ask them to get off and help set the table, they do so with (usually) good grace. When they miss chores, they lose computer privileges the next day with few complaints. And the chores get done. Where we used to have arguing and conflict, now we have clear expectations, no reminders, no nagging, and simple consequences. And both kids are happy.

So what’s the problem? My kids are spending five million freaking hours on the computer every day!!!!


Not that I’d exaggerate. Much. I just keep telling myself that this is a good problem to have….

:) Cheryl