My love-hate relationship with lab notebooks

As some of you may already know, I used to work in scientific laboratories—specifically, those having to do with biochemistry and molecular biology. I no longer do lab work, mainly because of my mild disabilities which rendered me unable to manipulate some of the intricate devices used in the field. However, I never lost my fascination with and respect for science. We can all thank science for the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic emergency was recently declared over.

One thing that anyone who has ever worked in a scientific lab will tell you is that it is very important to keep a neat, detailed laboratory notebook. I learned this in my undergraduate biology and chemistry classes and it has stuck with me ever since. A lab worker who comes in your place after you have left should be able to look at your lab notebook and replicate your work (not necessarily your results, but what you did for the experiment).

I loved lab notebooks because in them, I got to write. And is writing not my favorite thing to do? I got to write stepwise procedures and describe results. Oftentimes, I also got to draw the results. I love to draw. (I preferred organic chemistry class to general chemistry because in organic, I got to draw compounds and molecules.) I can think of at least one class I took as an undergraduate where my lab notebook brought up my final grade.

However, I also hated lab notebooks because in some situations, I had to be so detailed that it drove me crazy. When I took a class which simulated work in the biochemical industry, there was a horrible amount of detail involved in the keeping of a lab notebook. There was the issue of traceability, where I had to document the brand name, lot number, model number, and expiration date (if given) of every single compound, reagent, or instrument I used. If I made any kind of mistake, I had to put a single line through the error and write the correction next to it along with my initials and the date. Finally, at the end of every lab period, another student would have to sign every page of my lab notebook for that day. Whew!

If you work or have ever worked in a scientific laboratory, what are your thoughts on lab notebooks?

Journaling away…

Last week, I stated that editors should be readers.

This week, I am saying that editors should also be writers.

Editors help authors write, so an editor should know the ins and outs about writing. What better way to gain knowledge about writing than to write?

An editor does not have to write the great American novel in order to be a writer—although I have known of some editors who are also novelists. (If you have the creative juices in you, I say go for it, although you may need the assistance of a developmental editor or copyeditor down the road.)

The easiest way to practice writing, however, is to journal. For this endeavor, you only need a pen or pencil and a simple notebook. In a journal, you can write about anything and everything without people reading what you have written (just be sure to tell the people with whom you live that your journal is off limits to them).

Journaling, for me, is extremely cleansing, for it is when I let my emotions rush off my heart and onto the lined page. I tend to journal about my worries and fears. My counselor taught me to do this and I soon found it to be very therapeutic. If I were to let you read my journal, you would probably think that my life is very messed up. It’s not. My worries and fears are on the pages of my journal because that is where they belong, not in my mind or body causing me distress.

I do not give myself a required amount of time to journal, but when I have finished writing, I always go back and read what I have written. Doing this is like a balm to my frayed nerves.

Do you journal? What do you think of the practice?

“Plum crazy” about these books

An editor should be a reader. An editor who does not like to read is like a dentist who hates teeth.

It dawned on me recently that I don’t often write about what I read, and maybe some of you are curious about what books I’ve been reading (or if I read at all). I read, and I like novels. My favorite kind of novel right now is a mystery. In this post, I am going to write about one of my favorite mystery series: Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books.

Stephanie Plum may be my favorite principal character in mysteries. She is a thirtysomething former department store buyer who, having been laid off, becomes a bounty hunter for her cousin’s bail bonds outfit in order to support herself. The books which feature her are all written in the first person from her point of view. She is physically attractive and tough as nails, but has a sensitive side as well, as evidenced by her interactions with Joe Morelli, her off-again-on-again boyfriend, and his dog Bob, who eats everything.

Stephanie spends much of her time chasing criminals who didn’t show up for their court date. Evanovich makes these criminals either hilarious or frightening. The hilarious ones make me laugh inside and the frightening ones give me goosebumps. The character of Lula, Stephanie’s best friend, is riotous; I often picture her as looking and speaking exactly like Queen Latifah. I also picture Stephanie as Sandra Bullock and Connie, her cousin’s secretary, as Rhea Perlman. I always “cast” novels inside my head.

Evanovich has come out with 29 books in the Stephanie Plum series and is gracious enough to give us one more each year. I tend to get excited when the most recent one comes out. When one of my dear friends got me into the series back in 2006, I did not start with book number one; I actually started with book number 11. That’s one of the beautiful things about the series—it is not necessary to read the books in any kind of order. The last one I read was Game On, which is number 28 and which contains a nice mixture of old and new characters.

What is your favorite kind of book to read for pleasure? A novel? A biography? Anything else?

Alexandria or bust!

I believe I said a few months ago that I had registered for EFACON, which will be my first professional conference as an editor, and that this even will be held in Alexandria, Virginia (near Washington, DC). I believe that I also said I was going to stay with my mother each night and take the Metro subway to Alexandria every day of the conference.

The plans have changed.

I am now going to stay at the hotel where the conference will be held. I booked a room back in March.

“But Suzelle, you are semi-local to Alexandria. You are only two hours away. Why are you staying at the hotel?” you ask.

There is more than one reason.

First, I do not want to be limited in my networking. If I meet another editor whose work I really admire and whom I wish to talk with for a good long time, I do not want to have to tell them, “Oh, it’s ten o’clock. I need to leave to catch the Metro.” Who am I—Cinderella?

Second, speaking of the Metro, I do not want to ride it back to my mother’s area at night. That is way too dangerous for a woman traveling by herself. I hear about Metro incidents almost every day on the DC local news.

Third, I do not want to have to duck out of evening events so I can catch the Metro. I will be very resentful if I must.

Fourth—and this is embarrassing—I have never been to Alexandria and I want the total experience of being there. I want to go out to dinner with colleagues and explore the waterfront and other attractions with them in our free time. The reason this reason is embarrassing is that I was born and raised in the DC area and have never visited Alexandria. I have heard there is nothing like being a tourist in your native area, though, so I’m really looking forward to seeing this city. Besides, I have heard that Alexandria is a lot like Annapolis, Maryland—my “happy place,” along with Wildwood, New Jersey.

Have you ever played tourist in your native area? If so, where did you go and what was it like for you?

Reaching out

I consider myself an introvert. Even making telephone calls to a restaurant to ask if they are taking reservations for Mother’s Day makes me anxious. I have an awesome circle of friends, but friendships do not come easily to me.

My preferred mode of communication with people is email, with texting being a close second. I do not like to talk on the phone unless it is with a close friend or relative. Some people may say email is “the coward’s preferred method of communication,” and perhaps they are right to a certain degree. When I email or text someone, I cannot see their face. When I talk to someone face-to-face, I very often cannot look directly at their face. It is way too anxiety-provoking.

Despite all of what I just said, I like to welcome new members when they join the EFA (Editorial Freelancers Association). I get their names from the “What’s New at the EFA?” bulletin, which comes in my email and indicates in which city and state each new member lives.

I focus specifically on members who live either in Maryland or in the greater Washington, DC area, which are the areas closest to me (I live in a Maryland city that is a bedroom community of the greater DC area.) I look at each new member’s EFA profile and if it includes the member’s email address, I send them an email which reads something like this:

“Dear Ms. X,

My name is Suzelle Fiedler and I have been an EFA member for four years. I saw that you recently joined the EFA and that you live [in Maryland/in the greater DC area]. Welcome to the EFA!

I saw that you edit [person’s niche or niches]. I edit scientific research manuscripts, focusing on biochemistry (I have an MS in Biochemistry).

I hope you grow to love the EFA as much as I do.

Have a great day!

Best regards,

Suzelle Fiedler

Am I trying to stalk new members? Absolutely not! What I’m doing is called networking. If a member does not respond, I simply move on. If they do respond, often this leads to a friendly colleague relationship.

One final important thing: I do not reach out to men (or members whom I believe to be men). Things can get very complicated in a bad way when this is done.

If you are a freelancer of any kind, how do you network?

The Fiedler computer trio

Here, in the condo which my husband and I call home, reside three computers. I have to say that each of them has a soft spot in my heart.

I will introduce you to our electronic companions.

First, there is our desktop computer, which we purchased in January 2015. That’s right—it is now eight years old. In computer years, that is about 105. If our desktop had its own voice, it would sound like Grandpa from The Simpsons. It is currently running Windows 10, although it was running Windows 7 when we bought it. Why do we still have it? Because it still works. It is slow now and I would never use it for my work, but I like to use it for “fun stuff.” It has an excellent pair of speakers, which keep me going with techno music when I do household cleaning and which have done an excellent job of introducing me to Bill McClintock’s famous YouTube mashups. My only real beef with our desktop is that it has neither a webcam nor a microphone, so no Zooming.

Then, there is my laptop, on which I am presently typing this post. I bought it in June 2020 to use for my editing and business-related things. I’m not sure how old three years is in laptop years; maybe middle age? I love my laptop, even though I often yell and mutter at it (I tend to be somewhat vocal when I make a typo). My laptop came with its own webcam and microphone, so I can easily Zoom on it. There have been times in the past when it has scared me after I landed on an infected website. That is when I have called the tech-savvy husband of one of my best friends and pleaded for help. The laptop has always survived, however, and I am hoping that it will last a few more years.

Finally, there is “Henry,” my iPhone 13 mini. Henry has taken me for many rides along the internet (lowercased “i” according to The Chicago Manual of Style). Unlike our other two computers, he also houses my iTunes collection and can connect to the sound bar in our living room via Bluetooth. (If only we didn’t have neighbors sharing our walls and floor…) He can also connect to my wireless ear buds (doesn’t everybody have those these days?) but does not have a jack for corded earphones. I somewhat miss corded earphones; if one falls out of your ear, you don’t lose it forever.

What kind(s) of computer systems do you have/like?


We freelance editors tend to have thick skin, which is essential for our profession. After all, an author might not agree with an edit or a comment that we make, and we need to hear them out without getting defensive or nasty or curling up on the floor and crying. (Well, the last one might be okay in certain circumstances, since the author cannot physically see us.)

When people ask me what I do for a living and I tell them I am an editor, most of them look impressed. If they ask me what I edit and I say, “Mostly scientific research manuscripts,” they look twice as impressed.

However, if they ask me for whom I work and I tell them I am a freelancer, I get the polite, fake smile and the “Oh.”

The word “freelancer,” for some, has some negative stereotypic connotations. The one that makes me the angriest is, “Freelancing is for people who can’t get real jobs.”

Oh, really? A real job? I don’t have a real job? Then what do I have—a fake job? I sat at my computer editing until midnight last night as part of my fake job?

(Uh-oh, there I go being oversensitive.)

Seriously, though—please don’t use the expression “real job” around freelancers when trying to describe a job in which one is not self-employed. It’s insulting.

“Staff job” and “W-2 job” are some alternatives one can use to describe a job in which one works for another entity. If you are comfortable with it, you can also use the name of the company that employs you, as in “my Springer job.” (For those who are unfamiliar, Springer publishes scientific journals.)

If you are a freelancer, do you find the expression “real job” taboo? What do you do or say when another person uses it? What are your favorite alternatives for this expression?

See you in two weeks

Easter is not only my favorite holiday, but it has serious faith-based significance for me. Therefore, I will be away from my blog on Easter Sunday, April 9th. I will be back here on Sunday, April 16th (sometimes WordPress time-stamps my blog with Monday’s date, but I always blog on Sunday or Saturday).

Mental illness: Let’s take it seriously!

We have only scratched the surface. We are not doing enough.

I’m talking about addressing the mental health crisis.

One of the few positive things about the COVID-19 pandemic is that it brought the mental health crisis in the US to light. A countless number of people suffered from anxiety and depression during this time and many continue to suffer, as TV news has told us repeatedly during the last three years.

The TV news has also given us advice, advice, and more advice on how to reduce the effects of anxiety and depression.

This is all a good start, but we need to do more.

It seems that on TV (and in society in general) we can talk about depression and anxiety all we want, but the minute we start talking about more severe mental illnesses—bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, to name two—everyone runs away, including the news media.

Why is this?

Is it because people with severe mental illness are portrayed as dangerous and as monsters in many movies, entertainment TV, and books?

Is it because we like to film individuals whom we assume are mentally ill having fits in public and plaster their images on YouTube and TikTok so that our friends can laugh at them and call them “Karens” and who knows what else?

Is this right? Is this compassionate? Is this fair?

I think you know the answer to those questions.

I have to admit that I did not go to medical school, so I can hardly call myself an expert on mental illness. However, I can say that I have relatives and friends with severe mental illnesses, and life has been a struggle for them many a time. Several of them have been hospitalized due to their condition. They are ashamed of it and don’t want to reveal it to anyone, all because of the stigma surrounding it.

This stigma is what we have to fight. And we do so by talking openly about severe mental illness. We need to open up about schizophrenia and bipolar, as well as keep discussing depression and anxiety.

I would be remiss if I didn’t add that my relatives and friends with mental illness have been very successful in their lives and careers. But they would not have been able to do so without treatment, and people in general don’t seek treatment without information. And we get information by talking about the condition.

Are we ready to break the stigma?

How about a date?

No—not that kind of date. I’m talking about the dates on the calendar—the ones we must write every day.

There are many ways to write dates. Let’s use the date on which I am writing this blog post (March 26, 2023) as an example.

The way I wrote the date above is probably one of the most descriptive ways to write a date (and would be even more descriptive if I added the day of the week: Sunday, March 26, 2023). This format is widely used in the United States. However, in many other parts of the world, the following is preferred: Sunday, 26 March 2023. The day comes before the month, with no comma after the month. You say tomato, I say tomahto.

A very common abbreviation for dates looks like this in the US: 3/26/2023 (or 3/26/23 if you didn’t live through the Y2K scare). Personally, I have never liked this format, though I wrote dates this way for decades when I was younger. It robs the month of its personality and replaces it with a dull number. “March” to me means St. Patrick’s Day, the beginning of spring, college basketball, and sometimes Easter. What is “3” supposed to mean?

Seven years ago, in order to update my laboratory skills, I took two courses in cell culture and biomanufacturing at a local community college. Early in the course, our professor taught us how we were to write in our lab notebooks, including dates. We had to write them like this: 26 Mar 2023. The day first, then the three-letter abbreviation for the month, then the four-digit year. The professor drummed the format into our heads to the point where I will only write the date in that format now, even seven years after I took the courses (and got A’s in each of them). Anything else just seems completely wrong.

Of course, if you are an editor, the way in which the date must be written depends on the style guide that your journal or book is using. Please check the style guide before correcting dates!

What is your preferred way to write dates?