Don’t Close Yourself Off

padlock on beautiful turquoise door

Freelancers don’t close yourself off.

There’s a lot to be said for specialising, but one thing I’ve found over the years is that you cannot close yourself off to possibilities.

Now, I’m not saying go out and make everything you can do into a business proposition (hey, I can make a cracking cup of tea, but I’m not going to set up a tea shop alongside my editing business), but it’s wise to keep your eyes, and options, open.

Editors Highlighted Section of Book

How I became an editor.

When I was a librarian I did all the librarianny things that we take for granted. It involved training, teaching (although at the time it was dragging first year students kicking and screaming into sessions on how to research effectively and use their library – hell I was in my 20s and confidence was a long way off for me ­– I hated it), writing ‘stuff’ and being a proper librarian who dealt with books and information. I loved my job and thought I would be there forever.

Then I moved and life became more complicated.

Fast forward through setting up my genealogy business and struggling when Who Do You Think You Are came out, and the internet evolved and everyone became armchair genealogists (often completely barking up the wrong tree, but if the dates or places fit …). I was asked to run, and write, a family history for beginners night-class at our local college. Me? Teach? And write a ten week course?? I nearly said ‘No’. I had no confidence; I thought I couldn’t write a whole course. Guess what? I jumped out of my comfort zone, and spent three or four years passing on what I knew to some lovely people.

When I was thinking about training in editing I thought it was a mysterious occupation that I would never be able to do. I worked with books from the other end – my degree gave me the background, but mainly from the outside, from the consumer’s point of view. Publishing was a closed shop, even though I had trained as an indexer a few years before. I had the CIEP’s training information printed off and in a folder by my computer, literally, for years. But people I knew convinced me that I had the skills, I just needed the confidence and the training. Then a friend passed some work on to me, she needed an eye for detail and someone she could trust. She knew I could do the work even if I didn’t. The possibility for a new experience arose and I took it. I loved it – I signed up for the course.

diversity, apples


Once I had opened myself up to the possibility that I actually could do something I previously couldn’t give myself the credit for, a regular indexing client asked me to edit for him, project manage for him and eventually write for him.

I realised that, actually, my years of training had given me more experience than I realised. Now you do need to train to be an editor, which I did (and I passed my course with a merit), but there were some other things that I wished I could do … and once I dissected what I used to do, I realised I’d been doing them all along.

For example, once upon a time I had little confidence in my writing ability, but when I bit the bullet and took a free writing course at Futurelearn, getting over my fear of showing other people my scribblings, I found that other people liked what I wrote. So I’m now taking an advanced course after taking the creative writing course last year. And I regularly write for clients.

questions, choices

Open yourself to the possibilities.

Where am I going with all this ancient history? Well, from opening myself up to possibilities and dissecting my previous training and experience, I came to the conclusion that:

  1. I could actually edit, write, develop and design books.
  2. What I take for granted from my training and previous work isn’t always common knowledge
  3. That my people skills, gained from years of working with academics, students, adults and children, are actually worth something.
  4. That my leisure activities can actually translate into a working environment
  5. That if I ever hit a dry patch with work, I have skills that can help me diversify if needed.

So, if you are open to the possibilities that are floating around you, you could change your life for the better. Keep your eyes and ears open, and if an opportunity shows itself don’t answer straight away (if you do, it’s usually a ‘No’ that is spat out when confidence is low).

magnifying glass

Ways to spot a possibility.

Here are my ways to spot an opportunity:

  1. Pick apart your past and present working life. Instead of saying ‘I’m only a stay-at-home mum now’ note down what you do – you organise, arrange and make appointments (you project manage), you help with the PTA (people and organisational skills), you feed, cook and clean (housekeeping duties), you teach the kids how to grow and learn (confidence coach) … see?
    If you work in admin, list what you actually do – it’s not all answering phones and making tea.
    In amongst what you do, and take for granted, there will be something that could be the opening for a new path.
  2. If someone asks your advice, ask yourself why they are asking you? You may not have the confidence to think you know something that others don’t, but there’s a reason they ask you and not someone else. Unless you say ‘yes’ to everything, in which case stop it!
  3. If someone says that would be right up your street, again ask yourself why. What do they see in you that you don’t?
  4. Keep your eyes and ears open. If an opportunity presents itself don’t talk yourself out of it. It’s far too easy to talk yourself out of something, believe me, I’m the queen of that.
    Take your time, write down the pros and cons, your experience and what the opportunity is. Does it interest you? If it does why do you want to talk yourself out of what could be a great new experience? What do you have to lose?
  5. Leave the comfort zone behind. Sometimes things seem a lot scarier than they are – be prepared to step out of your comfort zone. Step into your excitement zone instead, it’s a lot more interesting.

4 Comments on “Don’t Close Yourself Off

  1. Thank you for the reminder that we need to look for other opportunities.
    As editors, we have been exposed to a myriad of concepts, subject areas, writers of all sorts (including very reluctant graduate engineers!), skills that need to be mastered…
    I think we sometimes forget how much we ‘know’ – perhaps it’s time to cogitate upon how those skills and knowledge could stretch our thinking and the services we offer.
    Thank you, Sarah.
    PS I’m about to share your post with a Facebook group for editors here in Australia.

    • Aw thank you 😄
      I sometimes understand that I know more than I give myself credit for, but it was only when I actually realised that I’ve been working with information since 1987 that the lightbulb moment happened. That’s just under 30 years… Eeek!

  2. I think the career of an editor is a gradual process of evolution. You might start out somewhere completely different (in my case, it was working as a researcher and report writer for a large Japanese trading company, and before that, as a legal secretary). As time goes by, various opportunities come your way that lead you down a different path – albeit using skills you have acquired in the past, and requiring you to learn new skills that will be useful in the future. You also figure out what you like, what you’re good at (most people like what they’re good at) and what you don’t. If you’re lucky, you can avoid the latter – or pass on that type of work to others who do like it. For me, that includes resumes, horror fiction, and indexing. For these reasons, I could never say editing is boring. In fact, it’s the most interesting career move I ever made. I often wish I’d got into it years earlier, but then perhaps I wouldn’t be able to specialise in legal work and research that I gained from my previous jobs.

    • I often wish I’d trained in editing earlier, but you’re right … It’s the way we got here that allows us to know what we are good at.

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