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Did you know that most current grammar books are outdated?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.