Basic editorial training gives you… well, the basics. Here Howard Walwyn takes it to the next level and tells us how SfEP mentoring really prepares you for professional work – in all its glory.
When, like I did, you branch into a new freelance career writing, editing and proofreading – after what seemed like an eternity slogging through the corporate career mudbath – you need all the help you can muster.
I set out in my first year of freelance work to make training a centrepiece of that help-need, to do as much as I could. The SfEP turned out to play a big part in that strategy, although oddly enough not the first part: more on that later.
Mentoring was the culmination of it, and the highlight. By the time I finished my proofreading mentoring I felt ready. I felt confident. I felt – if not ‘qualified’ – that I could legitimately describe myself as a professional proofreader without demur and without being drummed out of the SfEP offices. Such was the level, intensity and value of the mentoring programme. It really prepared me, technically, practically and in a business sense, for life as a professional. And I formed what I consider an unassailable bond with my mentor, whom I have never met in person nor even spoken to! How can these things happen?
A bit of a bruising
Let’s look at the technical side first. I felt reasonably well prepared by my training – essentially the SfEP intros to proofreading and copy-editing and the not-at-all-euphemistically named ‘proofreading progress’ – at that point still one course rather than two and the necessary condition for moving on to mentoring. But I was surprised by the step-up to doing real proofreading assignments in all their glorious idiosyncrasy. I came face to face with the real life of biography entries, marketing leaflets, course brochures and travel guides, with their weird formats, blatant inconsistencies, limited space to work with, and in some cases horrible, interminable detail. What a good testing ground for applying the British Standard marks in a challenging, realistic environment. After one submission I admitted to my mentor that I had found it frustrating and quite bruising, and that was the right word – although met with slight surprise.
Invisible to the naked eye
The practical side was best demonstrated in two ways. (1) The mentoring was structured so you had to do assignments in a range of formats including complex (A3) hard copy as well as other non-standard page formats in pdf. It was good practice, though fiddly in places. (2) You started to really get that there is not always a clear answer to every conundrum: judgement is called for as well as precision and thoroughness, but as long as you can demonstrate you had a reasonable basis for most decisions, your mentor would buy it. Mine still went through every piece in incredible detail, each item of feedback a learning point, but delivered with constructive kindness and understanding. Some of the pieces were just – hard! And they involved things like inadequate briefs, cultural sensitivity, non-standard English and really tough differentials that were invisible without a looking glass. I exaggerate, but I think the pieces are deliberately calibrated to stretch, to show the boundaries of how bad things can get. So don’t judge just on the marks – which in one case were pretty low – judge more on the feedback points, and recognise that all mentees struggle with some of the pieces.
Minutes not hours
Finally, business-wise: perhaps the most telling advice from my mentor came right at the start, with an indication of how long an SfEP APM would expect to take to do so-and-so pieces. I was shocked at how small those numbers were, mere minutes where I was taking hours. But they gave me a target, and have proved utterly realistic and valuable. A year down the line, I am still using those parameters to guide my price quotations and my internal scheduling. In other words, they have helped me get work and manage my business.
So that is what mentoring does. It prepares you for proper professional work, and properly professionalises your work.
Preparing to feast again
I said earlier that I did not actually start with the SfEP when I launched my training plan. My first look at proofreading and editing was a five-day seminar with a publishing house provider, not necessarily the best or most professional, but an insight at least. There are other ways of doing things, and an alternative way can have value. But it did not take me long to latch on to the SfEP programme as a far more professional, integrated, intensive and flexible way of training. And proofreading mentoring was the pinnacle of that process. I still bother my mentor with daft email questions and social media observations. They don’t mind. It is a true, professional and much-appreciated relationship.
The proof (sorry) is in the eating, and I am planning a further feast – copy-editing mentoring – when I can make time in my ridiculous schedule to get through the preparatory courses. Maybe paths will cross once again with my proofreading mentor. Secretly I hope so. If not, hey! The SfEP is brimful of similar stars and whoever I get I know it will be another fantastic experience. I can’t wait.
Howard Walwyn is a freelance writer, editor and trainer, who helps people to write clear business English and bridge the worlds of language and finance. Howard set up his company Prism-Clarity two years ago, after a 30-year career working in financial risk and regulation at banks including the Bank of England and J.P. Morgan, and he still works with mainly financial sector clients, including regulators, investment banks, wealth and investment managers, consultancy firms, a risk management institute and a digital marketing agency. He is also a visiting lecturer in Writing for Business at City, University of London. Howard recently completed his first academic book edit, and is slowly working his way through the SfEP training, mentoring and certification levels. Earlier he gained degrees in English Language & Literature (Newcastle) and Economics (London). He lives and works in Hertfordshire. Find him on LinkedIn or Facebook.
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The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP