Tag Archives: freelance life

My first steps into proofreading made me fit!

By Carolyn Clarke

Yes, it’s true, but allow me to start at the beginning.

I wanted to use another of my hobbies as a way of making a living. Two of my loves are plants and words. The former I had transformed into a successful gardening business over the last seven years. The latter started when I was a child, spending my pocket money in the local bookshop.

I love my gardening work but as a 50-something I realised that this amount of physical hard work could not go on for ever.

Enter my love of words. I was aware that I spotted mistakes easily. I liked consistency, tidiness and balance: proofreading was the way to go. And I knew that the outdoor physical could dovetail nicely with the indoor cerebral – Yin and Yang.

Getting started

With this no-brainer decision now made, I bought a new laptop and enrolled on an online proofreading course. It was a toss-up between the two reputable providers, the SfEP and the PTC. I chose the latter’s Basic Proofreading: Editorial Skills One, which took me nearly a year to complete. Before I did the course, I wondered if it was even necessary (I can already spell can’t I?!) but soon realised that, yes, it was very necessary. I didn’t know how much I didn’t know until I started the course.

I enjoyed the course immensely although it was a little biased towards working on paper with BSI marks and less focused on working digitally with Word or PDFs.

From the essential books that a proofreader needs I bought the New Oxford Spelling Dictionary, because it shows word breaks, and Trask’s Penguin Guide to Punctuation. I intended to buy New Hart’s Rules: The Oxford Style Guide and the New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors but realised I could access these online with my library card. Excellent.

I wrote a profile about myself and was proudly listed as a proofreader on the PTC Directory. Competition is tough though, so I knew it was no use just sitting around waiting for possible work to come in: I had to be proactive, but how?

I was allowed to attend three local SfEP group meetings before I joined so I went to two different groups. Arriving early at the first, I was greeted by the one other early SfEP member and received my first gems of advice: read everything by SfEP gurus Louise Harnby and John Espirian, and have you joined findaproofreader.com yet?

I started to read lots online. Everything I read suggested something else that I needed to write or do; I had entered a very enjoyable internet black hole and was rapidly list-making in order to prioritise my tasks.

I created a logo for myself and set up various social media pages on LinkedIn, Facebook, Aboutme and FreeIndex knowing I could always add to them as I gained more experience, work and, importantly, good reviews.

Getting work

Approaching one of my long-time gardening clients, I offered to proofread their business website at a reduced rate. No, they said, we will pay you SfEP rates. I was jumping with joy and raring to go; I could now use my logo-emblazoned invoice created from a Word template. A couple of real clangers stood out: ‘Sometimes a simple and sort video can cut though the fog of technology’, and ‘Sign up our newsletter’. Hilarious. Armed with a review and some experience I logged back on to my social media platforms…

My enthusiasm boosted, I trawled sites online and found a theatre website that was littered with schoolboy (and girl) errors (‘thrown’ instead of ‘throne’, [groan]) and yes, he would be happy for me to proofread it in exchange for some theatre tickets and a review of my work.

Getting fit

I was now spending hours glued to my laptop. Sitting is alien to a gardener so I started to sandwich my computer work with activity: a five-minute plank and ab workout, ten minutes of yoga, a fifteen-minute run/walk and, believe it or not, skipping with a rope! (It is astonishing how tiring it is now compared to when I was a child!) For a longer break, I walk for at least an hour.

I practised working with Word and using Find and Replace to make searching a text quicker. I had read about using Templates and Styles and added them to my To Do list. Macros were new to me but I downloaded Paul Beverley’s Macros for Editors and installed the Macro Starter Pack which I knew at some time in the future would make my proofreading much, much quicker. When I found that Louise Harnby had made a set of BSI stamps available free to use with PDFs, I immediately downloaded a set and had a go; I wanted to practise using the marks I’d spent months learning before I forgot them.

Ten-minute run break…

I had now joined the SfEP and so began my descent into another internet black hole: the SfEP forums. These are online discussions where members can post questions and read about anything to do with proofreading or editing, whether it be a grammar question, finding work or dealing with clients. It is a hugely supportive network of experienced professionals. Another valuable asset is the archive of Editing Matters, the SfEP’s bimonthly magazine which is full of useful articles.

Yoga mat aside, I thought about the need for finding a niche. My specialisms are gardening and horticulture but I am also a trained primary teacher so educational books may be a good way to go. From the library I borrowed the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and noted the contact details of educational publishers and publishers that produce books about horticulture. There is also a section on book packagers, another possible tack that is new to me. My To Do list continues to get longer.

I reach for my skipping rope in between the emailing…

Carolyn Clarke is a bookworm with a sharp eye! She is a freelance proofreader who specialises in horticulture and primary education but will happily proofread a range of fiction and non-fiction. Connect with Carolyn on LinkedIn.

 

 


A longer version of this post is available in the May/June 2019 issue of Editing Matters.

The SfEP has a wide range of courses for new and experienced proofreaders and editors, and SfEP membership benefits include discounts on the ‘must-have’ resources and software.


Proofread by Emma Easy, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.

Don’t panic! How to stay calm in a crisis

By Melanie Thompson

Drawing of an 'emergency kit' bag with Hart's Rules and Oxford English Dictionary books spilling out of the top

Would you sign up for a two-hour conference session titled ‘Risk Assessment for Editors and Proofreaders’? Perhaps a few people would. (I might even be tempted myself, because I have some experience of editing and writing safety-related content.) But SfEP conferences always aim to entertain as well as educate: after all, that’s one of the best ways to learn. So I needed to come up with a new twist on an apparently dull but important topic for my slot at the 2018 event.

After a bit of head scratching I came up with an idea: ‘Don’t Panic! How to stay calm in a crisis’ – a workshop that challenged my unsuspecting victims keen and willing editorial colleagues to play a giant interactive board game: The Game of Editorial Life.

Spinning plates

Freelance editorial professionals need to keep a lot of plates spinning – marketing their services, juggling client expectations and moving deadlines, chasing invoices, and keeping up to date with technology. And there are other plates spinning in the background – both business and personal – that must not be ignored.

Life happens and plates may crash but, by thinking ahead and preparing for the worst, we can avoid many problems, and survive most of the rest.

When I say ‘survive most of…’ I do mean just that. There is one inevitability that we all face (and I don’t mean your tax bill), and we need to think about that too.

The Game of Editorial Life enabled like-minded professionals to think about ways to plan ahead to avoid a number of work-related crises – from electricity outage to hacked computers via vanishing clients. But we also discussed strategies to deal with non-work events that can have an impact on our capacity to work and therefore pose a risk to business continuity.

Among those was one I want to focus on here: the round I named ‘Unhappy families’.

Unhappy families

Drawing of a person with a broken arm in a sling

If you are an employee you will have access to paid holiday, sick leave, maternity/paternity and other benefits. And there will usually be someone else on hand who can cover for you if you have to dash off because of a family emergency. This is relevant even if you don’t have a ‘family’ in the traditional sense – pets have crises too as, of course, do close friends. More important, you yourself may have a health crisis (either sudden in onset, or a gradual change that makes working difficult).

If you’re a freelancer, you have to grapple with these things while still keeping your work plates spinning.

Or do you?

In the workshop, I presented the competing teams – yes, it really was a game (with forfeits, and prizes) – with various scenarios and asked them to make a crisis plan by answering the following questions:

  • Triage – what do you do first, second …?
  • Do you tell your clients?
  • If so, when and how?
  • What could you do to be better prepared for this sort of crisis?

Grab a pen and some scrap paper and have a go yourself. Here are a couple of scenarios:

  1. You have landed a really exciting project, but a few days in you’re starting to feel really ill, with flu-like symptoms.
  2. You get a call one morning that a close family member/friend has been taken to hospital in an ambulance.

In the workshop discussion our ideas for all the scenarios coalesced around these key points:

  • Remember the flight attendant – put on your oxygen mask (ie, look after yourself so you can care for others).
  • Consider health/dental insurance.
  • Have regular health checks.
  • Regular breaks/holidays.
  • Consider loss of earnings insurance (it can be very expensive) – not to be confused with payment protection insurance (which often doesn’t work for the self-employed).
  • Know where to seek local help.
  • Tap into your network – local and remote (SfEP colleagues are perennially generous with their time and empathy).
  • Talk to your clients – they are humans.

Extras you might consider for scenarios 1 and 2 above are: get vaccinated; and keep emergency numbers handy.

A desktop PC with a unwell looking face on the monitor screen and smoke rising from the top

On that latter point, the entire workshop was built around developing an emergency plan and all the participants went home armed with a business resilience booklet that acts as an aide memoire for all the lively and useful discussions of the day, as well as a place to write down essential information that you – or your nearest and dearest – can easily find in a crisis.

I have mine pinned on my kitchen noticeboard.

As I mentioned at the beginning, crises don’t bother to phone you up and plug themselves into your busy schedule, they just happen. Mine, post-conference, was a call from a stranger to say that my son had crashed his car. I was in the middle of work for a client, and had an ill pet waiting to go for a walk. Of course, I dropped everything and dashed to the scene (son was fine, by the way) but I was very glad I had spent time while writing the workshop to think about my own ‘don’t panic’ strategy.

If this sounds like something that could be useful to you, watch out for a new SfEP online course currently being developed, which will touch on many of the ‘crises’ we identified – especially the business-specific ones.

Until then, remember:

  • Don’t leave things to chance.
  • Make plans.
  • Review them regularly (eg, once a year).

Further reading

 

Melanie Thompson reading the SfEP guide 'Pricing your project'Melanie Thompson (SfEP APM) has worked in and around publishing since 1988 and has just begun her 20th year as a freelancer. She writes and edits materials on sciences, especially climate change – a topic worth panicking about – from her home in a small village on the Herts/Beds/Bucks border. She’s an SfEP tutor. Follow her on Twitter via @EditorSpice

All illustrations © Paul Dyett 2018

 

The 2019 Conference: This year’s conference takes place at Aston University, Birmingham, from Saturday 14 to Monday 16 September. Booking is now open.

Proofread by Joanne Heath, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.

Wise owls: a nugget of wisdom

The SfEP’s wise owls are back – and have been thinking about what little nugget of wisdom they would love to have been able to tell their newbie selves…


Two stone owl ornaments, on a log in front of a flourishing garden

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford

Find out what you need before buying

Start small, and don’t anticipate your needs, which translates into Think Before You Spend. As a rookie (copy-editing is my second career, and I had no prior experience in, nor even links to, publishing), I was keen to set everything up ‘properly’ – even before I had a business to speak of. I’d talked to freelancers I knew in a different field and they recommended setting up as a limited company from the get-go. All that money wasted when I was just setting up and every penny counted. Ouch! Turns out, in EditorLand at least, being a limited company is almost always something you grow into – and may never need. Then there were all those books. So many books! I never need an excuse to buy books – and I suspect neither do you. Hold back. Some were essential once I’d got myself some clients, but most were outclassed by the internet. (The internet can be fickle, so I’d recommend having your most heavily used resources in hard copy too, if they exist.) Amazon was already well established when I was starting out – I could get books the next day if I wanted. So that’s my nugget of wisdom – find out what you need, then buy it. Don’t buy anything and everything vaguely to do with editing and writing to see if you actually will use it. New business owners, repeat after me: it’s easier to save money than to make money. (But do invest in training!)

Melanie ThompsonMelanie Thompson reading the SfEP guide 'Pricing a project'

Take time off if you’re faced with a family crisis

It’s easy to think you can power through problems, or use work as a ‘distraction’, but you can’t be sure your concentration will be sufficient to keep all the plates spinning, and your clients won’t thank you for a rushed or below-par job.

Michael FaulknerMike Faulkner

Know your limitations

I began my freelance career with proofreading, and my biggest challenge from the start was to stick to the parameters, my course tutor Gillian Clarke’s admonition ringing in my ears: ‘Leave well enough alone!’ It’s excellent advice and I did try, but I found myself adding more and more marginal comments to the proofs until eventually I was reframing with gay abandon.

My lightbulb moment came several years later, when I finally admitted to myself that I was not temperamentally equipped to be a proofreader. I didn’t have the self-discipline. Gillian had been right in her assessment that I was too inclined to intervene, and by then I was really pushing the boundaries, encouraged by a law publisher from whom I was getting a lot of work (still am) and whose senior editor said she ‘appreciated proofers who approach everything with an elegant scepticism’. When I made the switch to copy-editing I was much more comfortable.
So, my advice to my freshman freelance self would be, ‘Know your limitations!’.

Liz JonesLiz Jones

Learn to chill out

It always feels good to push yourself hard, to please a client, to go the extra mile, to bask in praise for all your hours of hard work and extraordinary diligence. But remember to look after yourself too, and establish boundaries. So, learn to recognise unreasonable requests, and then learn to say no to them. Learn to give yourself time off. Learn to question whether it really needs to be done by last thing on a Friday, or if Monday morning would be just as good. Learn to look hard at what the client is offering and assess whether it’s as good a deal for you as it is for them. Learn to say no as well as yes. Learn to ask for what you need to do a job well, and to have a life outside of work. Learn to chill out.

Hazel BirdHazel Bird

Have confidence, and prioritise

This year, my editorial business turned ten. In those ten years I’ve vastly expanded both my skillset (from being nervous of any copy-editing at all to managing and co-editing multi-million-word works) and my subject specialisms (who knew this English literature graduate would end up copy-editing postgraduate-level psychology?).

The nugget of wisdom I’d give to my 2009 self has two parts. The first would be to have confidence in exploring the aforementioned skillset and specialisms. As long as it is done mindfully, incrementally and with due diligence, expanding into new and varied realms can be one of the most rewarding aspects of editorial work.

The second part would be to prioritise finding a time-planning system capable of forming a solid foundation for this expansion. I have pretty much never missed a deadline, but sometimes that has been to the detriment of my work–life balance. I wouldn’t tell 2009 me never to take jobs that would involve working crazy hours (such opportunities can pay off exorbitantly in terms of job satisfaction and stability). However, I would encourage her to put more energy, earlier on, into finding a system that quantified the crazy, so as to be able to make better-informed choices about what an opportunity would cost in terms of time.

 

Proofread by Joanne Heath, Entry-Level Member.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.

Top tips for healthy home working

By Lisa Robertson

This time last year, I had a desk-based job in a busy, open-plan office. Phones were ringing, people were chatting, and there was always somebody getting up to make a cuppa. I’d march up and down the office to go to meetings or to look for someone on the top floor of the next building. In fact, it’s amazing I actually got any real work done.

Since making a career change and going solo, I’ve been particularly obsessive about monitoring my working time. Of course, this is really important for paid projects. But I also keep track of time spent on reading, forums, training, marketing, admin, etc. If I get side-tracked or go and put the kettle on, the timer stops. I know that the time I record is now all ‘real work’, as opposed to the distraction-filled days I had in my previous working life.

But is this really a good thing? I only work a couple of days a week at the moment, so I try to cram a lot into that time. I find that I am now sometimes sitting at my desk for longer periods of time than I should be. My eyes struggle to adjust to the outside world when they stop focusing on the computer screen. My legs need a good oiling before I can get up again. So, although more of my time could now be counted as productive, that’s not necessarily the whole story. Taking those little walks at lunchtime or allowing myself to go and load the washing machine could be of benefit to my overall productivity as well as my health.

About a month ago, I worked some long hours on an intense project with a tight deadline. I knew I was doing myself damage, but it was only for a few days and I just had to get through it. I couldn’t take proper time out, so I decided to experiment with something: every time I got up to make a drink or to go to the loo, I jumped up and down 50 times to get the circulation going again. Needless to say, this was a ridiculous idea (especially if done on the way to the loo) but it got me thinking: I really need to factor in some distractions – particularly physical ones – as this no longer happens as naturally as it did in the open-plan office.

I put out a plea on an SfEP forum and there was a great response. Here is a summary of top tips from fellow SfEP members for healthy home working:Dog on rollerskates

  • Get a dog. This was overwhelmingly the most popular distraction people recommended on the forum. Dogs are friendly company, they take you on compulsory walks and (apparently) they can sit on your feet when you’re working in the winter. My cat is not quite so accommodating.
  • Work flexibly but be disciplined. Undoubtedly, one of the perks of self-employment is flexibility. But that flexibility needs control, so we must be disciplined about how we use it. If we are early risers and are able to get things done by lunchtime, great; but we must remember to take the afternoon off and not be tempted to log on again later. If we are tied into the school run at 3.30, we can spend a few quality hours with the children and maybe catch up later. It has to be each to their own, depending on workload, personal preferences and home circumstances, and we must each take the time to think about what works for us, ensuring we have sufficient downtime.
  • Get physical. Whether it’s a swim, a run, the gym or a walk with the dog, a physical break is the perfect contrast to all the hours we spend being sedentary. One member on the forum confessed to running up and down the stairs in her block of flats for a break, and now one of her neighbours has followed suit. Maybe my jumping up and down idea wasn’t totally ridiculous, after all.
  • Stay hydrated. This is one that I do abide by. Staying hydrated keeps me feeling alert and less lethargic. It also means I need to get up from my desk more frequently, either to make a drink or to go to the bathroom.
  • Look after your eyes. Timing and length of breaks away from computer screens is not set down in law, although it is certainly advised from a health and safety perspective. One SfEP member sets 90 minutes as a strict maximum; another uses an online tool (http://protectyourvision.org/), which badgers you every 20 minutes to take a break. The Health and Safety Executive (http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg36.pdf) advises to:
    • Stretch and change position.
    • Look into the distance from time to time, and blink often.
    • Change activity before you get tired, rather than to recover.
    • Take short, frequent breaks, rather than longer, infrequent ones.
  • Look after your back. Similarly, regular breaks will help you care for your back. The HSE (link above) also advises on desk setup, which will help with posture and alignment. Two forum respondents highly recommend the Alexander Technique (http://www.alexandertechnique.com/) to help ease the strains we put on our body by sitting down at a desk for long periods of time.

Maybe reading this has tempted you to head out to the gym or visit the local kennels. But if that’s not your thing, think about what is. Whether it’s baking, ironing, shopping, having a coffee with friends, or something else, make sure you look after yourself.

Thank you to everyone who contributed on the forum. The full thread can be viewed by SfEP members on the Off topic forum: https://forums.sfep.org.uk/read.php?13,81989

Lisa RobertsonLisa Robertson set up Editwrite in April 2015, after working for a local authority for over 14 years in various children’s services planning and commissioning roles. She offers a range of editorial and writing services, including document writing consultancy. Her specialist areas are children’s services, the public sector and charities. She is an Entry-Level Member of SfEP. www.editwrite.co.uk

 

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.

A day in my life: Lucy Metzger

IMG_2999What exactly do editors and proofreaders get up to every day? This is a question we will be exploring in a new, regular feature: A day in my life. We start off with an insight into the life of SfEP regional development director Lucy Metzger.

I’m at work the moment my feet hit the floor around 6.15 a.m., but I don’t start getting paid until about 9.00 a.m. In between I’m waking teenagers, making teas and coffees (I must add that later in the day my teenagers sometimes make ME a cuppa) and packed lunches, waking teenagers again, telling teenagers I don’t know the whereabouts of their headphones/maths jotters/black-cardigan-no-not-THAT-black-cardigan, waking teenagers again and finally ensuring that they all end up in school. I drive home on a wee stretch of country road to escape the school-run traffic. That little drive, listening to the tail end of the Today programme, eases my transition from Mother Lucy to Editor Lucy.

There are many things I miss about office life, and I don’t know what I’d do without my Glasgow group companions, but I do relish that solitude as I sit down at my computer to begin work. Ideally the tasks I do between 9.00 a.m. and 1.00 p.m. are those that require my best thinking, as far as that goes. What’s ‘best’? Creative, analytical, intuitive – different jobs require different kinds of thoughts, but my mind is definitely better in the morning. A lot of the time I’m copy-editing academic books and textbooks. I usually conceive of the editing as being in two phases: the bits-and-pieces and then the reading. The morning is my best time for the reading. It’s also when I mark mentoring assignments, which requires careful thought as each mentee raises new kinds of queries and issues; and the morning is good for any writing I’ve got to do, e.g. reports or proposals for the SfEP council, training materials, a note for Editing Matters, or even a blog post.

My lunch isn’t a single meal – I snack: a cracker with cheese, a bowl of muesli, some leftover rice, some fruit. If I’m starting a new book then I’ll typically begin it in the afternoon and do routine checks: chapter titles vs table of contents, numbering of illustrations, styling of headings and subheadings, checking references and notes, etc. These tasks are good for afternoon. I don’t want to give the impression that I become completely incompetent at that time (the jury’s still out on that one), but these activities don’t exert my mental muscles quite as much. Such checking almost always throws up a few things to ask the author about, and this makes an opportunity to establish communication by means of some relatively lightweight queries – ‘which version would you prefer for the title of Chapter 3?’ – rather than plunging straight into the nitty-gritty – ‘I wonder if you could clarify what you mean by “if the subject (the individual is individual) is determined, yet only as being undetermined, then that which determines the subject, i.e. the predicate (the particular), is taken to be in-determining any determination”?’ I’m not kidding. Anyway, that kind of query is a morning query and definitely belongs in the second or third email to the author, not the first.

For the last few years, I’ve used the school day to predict exactly how many hours I’d have between sitting down at my computer and the first ‘hello’ of one of my kids coming in the door (they walk home). This year, though, my oldest is in sixth form and so may turn up at any time. I don’t like pointless interruptions, but it’s lovely to be interrupted by that. We have a little chat and then when she starts wondering about food I turn her loose on the leftovers in the fridge. I then get back to work, and so, I can only suppose, does she. Then the other two come home, and on goes my Mother Lucy hat again, which feels really nice.

How does this compare with a typical day in your life? We’d love to hear about what you get up to. If you’d like to share your ‘day in the life’ story, please email smm@sfep.org.uk.

Lucy MetzgerLucy Metzger grew up in Illinois and began proofreading in 1987. She edited for Macmillan in London from 1990 to 1995; she then moved to Scotland and went freelance. She is based in Glasgow. Lucy works mostly on academic and educational materials. She has three children, is an amateur musician, likes cooking and taking walks, and is learning to crochet.

Proofread by SfEP associate Patric Toms.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.