My top takeaways from the 2017 SfEP Scottish mini-conference

Post by Jill Broom

As I sat on the 8.15 train from Glasgow Queen Street to Edinburgh last Friday morning, I was feeling excited about what the day would bring. Some of that excitement may have had something to do with the promise of my bestie’s hen weekend beginning later that evening, but the rest of the day was shaping up to be good too … I was off to the SfEP Scottish mini-conference.

As someone who works from home, I look upon it as a rare treat to get caught up in the bustle of rush hour. (I know. I’m probably mad.) And to have an hour’s commute when I can get through my admin before the ‘real’ start of the day? Well, that is awesome.

Although that morning my admin mostly consisted of organising my kids’ social lives by text, my mind was ultimately focused on my profession. This was going to be a day about developing and reaffirming my skills.

Why did I go to this SfEP conference?

Freelancing can be a lonely business. Holed up in a home office for days on end without seeing many people doesn’t always a fun Jill make. So, these events are important to me. Meeting up with, learning from and chatting to other editorial professionals every so often makes me feel less isolated.

What did I get out of it?

Well, loads of course … but there were three key things for me.

1. Trust your instinct (& don’t fret about strict grammar conventions)

Did you know that most current grammar books are outdated? Some merely contain rehashed guidance written 100+ years ago. OK, so don’t panic! There’s no need to burn them all. But this fact does rather rain on the whole idea of the fluidity of language.

Well, while Professor of Linguistics Geoff Pullum didn’t urge us to ditch all grammar rules immediately, he did ask us to be sensible in our approach.

The issue at the heart of Pullum’s entertaining talk on Freedom and tyranny in English grammar was that we should be editing written work to sound like it belongs in 2017. He pointed out that usages people regard as grammatical errors are often just a less formal style. So, don’t over-correct. If it sounds OK, leave it alone.

This resonated with me and many other conference attendees – hence the ‘trust your instinct’ subhead. But it’s nice to have your working practices reaffirmed by a linguistics prof.

I particularly liked this example:

  • ‘Don’t worry about the passive voice; just don’t be dull.’ Hooray! This is something that’s bugged me for ages. Even Word and some Content Management Systems obsess over this. WordPress’s insistence on using instances of the passive voice to score readability drives me bonkers. If it reads well, surely that’s the most important thing?

Pullum highlighted that the same goes for a whole host of other grammar ‘rules’. For example, you don’t need to ‘un-split a split infinitive if it makes sense’ and you don’t need to remove all adjectives and adverbs if they lend meaning.

And, if you’re dithering over whether to change a word to something that ‘makes more grammatical sense’, look around to see what occurs elsewhere. Ask Google. You may well find enough relevant examples to give you the confidence to leave it be.

2. Investigate and use tools that can make you more efficient

One of the things I love about SfEP conferences is that members are always willing to share their experiences to help their colleagues. And Ashley Craig’s session on commercial super-macros didn’t disappoint.

Ashley gave us live demos of Wordsnsync EditTools v8.0 and Editorium Editor’s Toolkit PLUS 2014, proving that super-macros save a lot of time by automating some of the copy-editing process.

Wordsnsync EditTools’ journal checker, which checks and corrects journal names, looked particularly handy for those regularly dealing with references, and its Insert Query tool saves you having to copy and paste or rewrite the same types of queries over and over again. But take a look for yourself. There are a whole load of other useful things these super-macros can do for you.

I’m terrible for setting aside time to look into these things and then getting caught up in some other work … But I’ve given myself a talking to after Ashley’s session.

3. Remember to be confident in what you do

How many times have you used the words ‘only’ and ‘just’ when talking about what you do for a living? Well … stop it.

Laura Poole’s pep talk reminded us that we’re not ‘only’ editors who ‘just’ tidy up other people’s writing. We provide an extremely valuable service to many different businesses, and we should talk about it using less apologetic language.

Laura also spoke about networking – something many of us recoil from. She pointed out that you don’t need to be ‘salesy’. In fact, don’t be. It’ll put people off. Just be yourself and start a natural conversation. Be interested in who you’re talking to. And when they ask what you do … think about how to talk about it in a nutshell. Can you do this in a creative way? Can you make yourself stand out from the crowd?

A week later, I’m still working on the perfect ‘elevator pitch’.  But … I know which words I won’t be including in it; I know how to make myself the most efficient proofreader and copy-editor I can be; and I know that I’m making the right calls when it comes to rejecting outdated grammatical conventions.

All in all, #SfEPSco17 was a very good day ‘out of the office’.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jill is a copywriter, proofreader and copy-editor, but her biggest job is being mum to three small children, which has helped her to sharpen one of her key writing and editorial skills … adaptability! Check out her LinkedIn page or follow her on Twitter @honeybroom.

My journey into editing (so far) – Alison’s story

Post by Alison Chand

Ever wondered how a person becomes ‘an editor’? This post is the second in our ‘How I got into editing’ series. These pieces are designed to give you some insight into the varied backgrounds of our members (we’ve come from all walks of life) and how we became embroiled in the wonderful world of editing.

Here is Alison’s story …

Careers and work identities are often arrived at by accident rather than by design, and that was certainly the case for me! I began studying for my PhD (an oral history-based project exploring masculinities in male civilian workers in Clydeside during the Second World War) at the University of Strathclyde in 2009, and had grand plans of becoming a full-time academic upon completion. However, in (what I thought was) the short term, I started doing some casual proof-editing of other postgraduates’ work to make a bit of extra cash.

This continued as I progressed with my PhD and, approximately nine months before I was due to submit, I discovered that I was pregnant with my daughter. After the initial euphoria/panic waves had passed, my thoughts strayed to my working life after my studies, and I decided to look into the idea of setting up as a sole trader in proofreading and copy-editing.

Getting trained and finding support  

After a bit of (not as much as I should have done) Google exploration, I signed up for Chapterhouse’s distance learning course in proofreading and copy-editing, confidently expecting that, because I saw myself as pretty good with all things written and grammatical, the course would be fairly straightforward. I was horrified by how much I missed in the first assessment, quickly realising that I’d need to apply myself a bit more to gain the skills I needed. After nine months, I passed the course, although not exactly with flying colours. I found the online experience fairly isolating, and lacking in support for learning about a world of symbols which, as it turned out, was entirely new to me.

Luckily for me, I also discovered the Society for Editors and Proofreaders on my foray into Google, and decided to go along to a meeting of my local group, in Glasgow, in June 2012. There, I found real, friendly people, offering real advice about work options and training courses. I joined the SfEP, first as an associate, later upgrading to intermediate member, and decided to sign up to the SfEP introductory day courses on proofreading and copy-editing.

At these courses, I enjoyed being able to ask questions in person and develop my skills among other interested professionals. I set up a basic website and LinkedIn page and, before and after having my daughter, Ailsa, in October 2012, I continued to pick up work proof-editing for students, from Strathclyde and elsewhere, also passing the editing test to work freelance for ProofreadMyEssay, a company offering proof-editing to students across the English-speaking world.

The variety of [freelancing] life

When I returned to more regular working when Ailsa was nine months’ old, I gradually started to work on material other than student dissertations and theses, receiving enquiries from authors of fiction, a CV writing company, and a variety of businesses.

I studied online for the SfEP’s Proofreading Progress course and was pleased to pass this, despite finding the return to marking a hard copy with symbols a bit of a challenge! Alongside editing, I taught freelance in the History department at the University of Strathclyde and spent two evenings per week as a children’s swimming instructor, making my working life varied to say the least!

In November 2015, I gave birth to my son, Euan, and another quiet working spell followed, before I returned to the fray in summer 2016, continuing to complete editing work for students and an assortment of others, and also returning to university teaching work and swimming instruction.

What’s next?

So, to 2017! Not knowing where the next byway may lead, I plan to keep pushing for improvement and thus to undertake further training. This year, I’d like to take the SfEP’s editing test and upgrade my membership status to professional member. With this in mind, I’m currently working online on the Copy-editing Headway course, with a view to following this up with Copy-editing Progress.

As my children grow up and the work I do sprouts arms and legs, only time will tell where my road as a sole trader will take me.

I feel that I’ve come a long way since 2012. I love the flexibility of my working life now, but I still have days where I feel woefully inadequate at addressing my different areas of work, as though I’m being pulled in too many directions at one time. Nonetheless, I want to be ready for whichever path I take next, and I certainly plan for proofreading and copy-editing to be part of that …

So, I’ll keep on appearing at the always-friendly and always-helpful meetings of the Glasgow SfEP group, the members of which helped draw me into the editing world to start with and now give me a great deal of motivation to stay there.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alison Chand is a freelance proofreader, copy-editor and oral historian (and swimming teacher!). Her editing work is mostly in academic material, including student dissertations and theses, and academic books and journal articles. She is an Intermediate Member of the SfEP.