The One Where I Talk To A Writers Group

audience at a conference


This week I stepped right out of my comfort zone.

I talked for nearly two hours to a local writers’ group.


Now, if you’ve been following my blog for any length of time you’ll know that I’ve given the occasional talk before, and that I am really, really uncomfortable doing it.

I’ve given two lightning talks at SfEP conferences fairly recently. These were only five minutes long – and timed. And at the time those five minutes felt like forever.

So you can imagine how apprehensive I was to give a talk to an established group of local writers who publish their own writing.

quill pen and ink

The Preparation

To prepare for my talk I really had to look at what I thought would be most useful to the group. The brief was vague – talk about editing and proofreading.

My initial thought was ‘Oh, shit. I’m going to send them to sleep’.

My second thought was ‘Right, what will they find most interesting and helpful’.

And my third thought was ‘Oh, shit. I’m going to teach them to suck eggs and I’m really going to send them to sleep’.

It’s actually really difficult to take a step back, look at what you take for granted and unpack it to see what isn’t as obvious to others as it is to you.

I decided to start at the very beginning, pretend to be Julie Andrews and go back to basics.

sound of music

The Structure

To keep me on track (I do tend to go off on a tangent quite easily), I started with a piece of paper and some headings:

The difference between editing and proofreading.

This was THE most important thing I had to get across. Too many times editors are approached by authors who think they’re ready for a proofread when really they need a copyedit. I figured that if all I managed was to stumble my way through this, it would be useful to the group.

Red pencil not quite a pointy stick

The traditional publishing workflow

As the group self-publish I thought it would be good to go over this, and explain why it’s a useful way to look at self-publishing too.

Stack of Library Books

Why use an editor

Perhaps this would be a persuasive argument when so many writers think that they can do it themselves.

copy editor looking at a book

Levels of editing

I should explain to them what the different levels of editing are, why they are different and why they are all important.

What Type of Edit Do You Need_

How to get the best out of working with an editor

Really, I thought this would perhaps be the second most important thing to get through to them. It’s all very well hiring an editor, but no one really tells you how to do it properly.

writing, editing, corrections

Where to find an editor & their credentials

Following on from the last point, I figured that it would be good to tell them where to go to find an editor. And how to make sure they pick a qualified editor and not a hack who’s just out to do a spell check and take their money.

magnifying glass

I’d also give them a small number of useful links to take home with them, and a couple of other handouts.


I thought this would take me an hour.

I was wrong.

time, clocks, rush job

The Build Up To The Talk

Cue Tuesday night.

I checked my bag about 100 times to make sure I had everything. Ok, only 50. I have a thing.

I left in plenty of time to make my way across the county. During the drive the surrounding countryside was subjected to me singing tunefully to Panic! At The Disco’s latest audio delights. Well, I enjoyed it.

road through the country


But when I arrived at the venue I honestly thought I was going to bomb as my hayfever tablet wore off and the cough I call ‘daffodil’s revenge’ took over. Ack. (or rather, ack-ack-ack-aaaaack)

Hurrah! My lovely host got me a cup of coffee and all was well.

But I was still scared.



When everyone arrived they were absolutely lovely, and were very receptive to me sitting around the table with them, rather than stand up and talk at them. I think this worked out much better as I didn’t have to stand up with everyone staring at me, we were all on the same level and it allowed the conversation to flow more freely.

Besides, I have no idea how a smart board works.

meeting room

The Talk

The group finished off their initial business. Then it was my turn.

Deep breath. Smile. Remember to breathe.

What happened over the next two hours is slightly hazy.

confused penguin


I kicked off by asking the group if they knew the difference between editing and proofreading, and they mostly did. Which was good. But I still whipped out the SfEP fact sheet that I’d printed out for them (from the website, it’s all good). We went through that, just because it was the most important thing of the night.

And then we kinda got side-tracked.

But that was a good thing. The group started asking questions.


questions, questions


Over the course of the night we talked about most things on my list, just not in order. We talked about getting beta readers and why family and friends are not good at critiquing your work. We talked about the different levels of editing and we talked about getting the most from your editor. Towards the end we also talked about where to find a qualified editor and what those qualifications are.

Oh, and I talked a lot about money.

For someone who hates talking money, I figured that it was important.

jar of money


Then, on the back of giving them examples of how much an editor might cost you, I whipped out my style sheet. None of the group had seen one before or used one.

Now, it’s a fairly cluttered style sheet as I included parts of the drop-down menu I use when I’m working, but it gave them a pretty good idea of how to keep their writing consistent. I explained that if they use it when they write, and give the sheet to their editor when they begin work on their novel, it makes their editor’s job easier.

blank checklist


Next, I gave them a character sheet. Like a style sheet for characters in their novel. I didn’t tell them that some of the information on the sheet came from old D&D sheets I used to play with at college.

D&D character

Finally I handed out my ‘handy links’ sheet. It just had a couple of websites of fellow writers and editors whose information I find useful, and editorial societies and tools that can help the writer.

By the time we’d got through all this is was 9 p.m. and time to go home.

open road

The Aftermath

I actually ended up enjoying talking with the Caithness Writers.

The atmosphere was good and most members of the group were engaged and asked questions. Many of these questions were things I hadn’t even thought of including, such as the worry that you’re writing something that someone else has already done, a kind of unintentional plagiarism, and the difference between a subplot and a parallel plot.

So, overall it was an interesting night. I think they found the talk useful. And it goes to show that you can plan a talk, but it’s ok if it goes slightly off piste.

I drove off into the night, singing along to Panic! (only quietly this time), and looking forward to reading the anthology they kindly gave me for not sending them to sleep.


Imposter Syndrome and Five Steps on How to Overcome It

Imposter Syndrome is debilitating

A little while ago I wrote a post about Imposter Syndrome. I said back then ‘I don’t know a single freelancer who hasn’t been hit with it at some point’.

That was two years ago. If anything, I’ve seen more freelancers lately sharing that they feel inadequate, a phoney, a fraud or they just have no confidence in their abilities.

What is it that makes competent, trained freelancers turn into individuals full of self-doubt?

What is it that makes intelligent men and women look at other people in the same situation then think that the other people are better than they are?

To be honest it really pisses me off!

angry human

I’m a freelance copy-editor and copywriter living in Caithness, a remote part of Scotland. Most of my training and my work has been done remotely. Since I wrote that last article I’ve gained Advanced Professional Membership of the SfEP. This is the highest grade of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. You can only reach this ‘deliberately tough’ level if you’ve proven to be well trained and highly experienced. Yet, I still get the Imposter Monster sitting on my shoulder at times. Boy, is he heavy.




I’ve worked on some brilliant books and written some excellent copy. Yet I still occasionally think no one is ever going to hire me again.


Seriously, why?

I’ve written relatively few articles on this website since the New Year. Can you guess why? I ran out of things to say that I thought might be useful or worth reading. Seriously. I thought no one would care.

And I’m not alone.

A quick search on Twitter shows SO many people struggling with the feeling of being inadequate.

Look, if Neil Gaiman and Neil Armstrong have suffered with Imposter Syndrome, then what hope do the rest of us have?




Kill the negative inner dialogue

My original five steps towards killing the monster still hold true. But first you have to realise when you’re feeling inadequate for no reason, and when (dare I say it) you really do need to take stock.

If you find your inner dialogue telling you the following:

  • you just got lucky,
  • you’re not good enough,
  • you should be doing more.
  • your clients couldn’t tell you if you were wrong anyway,
  • you should feel guilty for succeeding
  • it was a one-time thing
  • you should be doing more training
  • you should be charging less
  • you should let the fear take over, because you’re not worthy


ask yourself: can I prove that I AM an imposter?


  • Did you really get lucky?

Did you honestly put in no work, training or have no knowledge? Prove it.

  • Why aren’t you good enough?

Have you done the work to the best of your ability? Have you trained in your chosen sector? Are your clients happy?

  • Why should you be doing more?

Have you done enough to be competent at your craft? Have you trained and gained experience? Is there really something else you need to do right now? Prove it.

  • What if your clients couldn’t tell you if you were wrong anyway?

Your clients are relying upon your expertise. DO you know what you are doing? Have you trained, can you give reasons for what you do? Are your clients happy with your work? Do you really need to take stock and do more training? Look at your training and what you’ve done. Prove it.

  • Why should you feel guilty for succeeding?

That’s what you’re aiming for – success. Why should you be frightened or guilty for success? Enjoy your success, you earned it!

  • Was it a one-time thing?

Why do you feel like this? Have you never done this successfully before? If you’ve failed before what did you do differently this time? Will you do it again? It was only a one-time thing if you don’t do it again.

  • Why should you be doing more training?

What training have you completed so far? Is there more you need to do? Why? Do you need to do it or are you just addicted to training? Are you competent at what you do now? Why do you think you need more training? Are you keeping up with your CPD?

  • Why should you be charging less?

Are you charging more than the market will stand? Do you not have enough experience to charge a higher price? Remember that more experience and training commands a higher fee – are you charging similar to other freelancers in your position with your background? If you think you should be charging less – prove it.

  • Why should you let the fear take over, why do you think you’re not worthy?

What is the worst that can happen if you fight the fear? If you’re not worthy, prove it.




By now, hopefully, you’ve realised that you’re not an imposter.


You may have also highlighted areas where more training would be beneficial. This can be a positive step – take that training.


take the training


Five steps to destroy Imposter Syndrome

With your head held high, use these five steps to move away from Imposter Syndrome and kill that monster. It’s all about emotional intelligence, understanding what’s happening and taking positive steps to take back control.


Step 1.

Realise that this monster will attack you when you’re vulnerable.

Step 2.

If you feel the first niggle, take stock, understand the situation and realise that the monster is trying to feed. This may be enough to kill the monster dead – accept what it is and let it go.

Step 3.

If the monster does take hold understand this:

  • Just because you find something easy, or something comes naturally to you, don’t discount it.
  • Remember that not everyone knows what you know and not everyone deals with things the same way.
  • You don’t necessarily need the same pathway to a career as everyone else.
  • If you think you are a fraud, most other people you know think the same thing about themselves.

Step 4.

To keep the monster at bay, realise your self-worth. It is not a dirty word.

  • Print out and keep emails that praise your work, or even just say thank you for a job well done. Pin them to your board, keep them in a jar, put them in a folder. Imposter syndrome thrives on the lack of outside validation – keep these positive messages and believe them. You didn’t ask for them to be written, did you?
  • If you did ask for testimonials, believe them … those clients would not react favourably to a job badly done.
  • When you have good days keep a note, put them in a jar and go back to them when you feel the monster growing beside you.
  • Talk to someone. If the monster has grown huge and won’t let you go, take a realistic view of your work. If you really feel a fraud, ask someone you can trust for an honest opinion.
  • Keep a book of training, accomplishments and successes. Prove to yourself that you are not a fraud. Be a Vulcan, leave emotion behind and concentrate on the cold, hard facts of your working life.
  • Laugh it off. If it gets bad, take the day off if you can, do something fun and remove the stress for a short while. Stress to the Imposter Monster is like a fine dining experience.

Step 5.

Kill the monster. By believing in yourself, and understanding the nature of the beast, you may eventually kill it. If you do you are one of the lucky ones.


imposter monster


Imposter Syndrome is a real problem. It can be debilitating. It sucks the life out of you, stops you moving forward and eventually, if you give in to it, can destroy you and your business.

Don’t let it win. You can do this!


When Customer Support Fails



I’m writing this in my kitchen, listening to an old ‘You Must Remember This’ podcast* and trying to calm down.

You see, I’ve spent ALL day (and a lot of yesterday afternoon) arguing with the Customer ‘Support’ department of a well known subscription website. I won’t name names, but if this isn’t sorted properly, believe me, I probably will next year when renewal is due again.

thoughtful editor


The problem? Automatic renewal failed. I followed the link in the ‘notification of failure’ email and renewed what I thought was my subscription. Instead it was actually ‘re-subscribing’ me to a new subscription. You see, the problem was, my old subscription level is no longer allowed for new customers – only existing customers on auto-renewal are allowed to re-subscribe on that, now defunct, level. And as auto-renewal failed at their end …


In short, due to their error, my renewal never happened. Because I followed what seemed to be a renewal link to allow me to manually renew, I was put onto a lesser account.

So I spent all day asking why, because of their error, I was being penalised. A ‘goodwill gesture’ was given, adding Pay As You Go credits to my account. Accepting this ‘goodwill’ I would effectively accept the lower subscription (and to be honest, their credits wouldn’t even last me a week).

question mark


As a long-term subscriber I was told – tough. I was told it was impossible to put me back onto my original subscription (can you hear the bullshit klaxon, because by this point I could).


bull head


Now I know many people would let it go or get frustrated and give up. But I’m savvy enough to know that things can be rolled back and computer systems aren’t as rigid as the ‘Customer Support’ team would have you think.

After a day of to-ing and fro-ing, and after a couple of times asking to be put in touch with the line manager, I eventually got an apologetic email from the line manager and was reverted back to my original subscription type. Although it’s only likely to be for a year (we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it).


Frustrated Woman at Computer With Stack of Paper --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis


Ok, I know I’m venting, but this is one thing that really makes me mad. Customer Support departments are there to support the customer (the clue’s in the name), not fob them off or frustrate them so much against a wall of ‘Nos’ that they give up.

When departments don’t communicate and when automatic emails don’t communicate effectively with the client, then things break down and everyone suffers. Well, the customer suffers, the customer support employee gets frustrated and the business just merrily counts the cash and moves on. But the business loses credibility and eventually the client’s money. You see, when the client loses faith in the business eventually they’ll take their custom elsewhere. And tell their friends.




In this case, was it a story of genuine renewal malfunction or an effective way to dump long-term clients and force them to either accept lower value subscriptions or go for the more expensive option? Call me cynical, but it happens. How many people have had the same problem and given up?

For me, I’ve seen both sides of customer service and know not to settle and accept easily thrown ‘goodwill gestures’ (which, let’s face it, are rarely good will).




By now I’ve calmed down, but have spent the day with raised blood pressure and lost hours. You know the feeling, when the next email arrives and you dread which way the fight is going to go next. How many of you get palpitations, like I do, when these hit the inbox?

fiery heart


Ok, so this post has been all about me, but I’ll bet you’ve had something similar happen at some point. You’ve been fobbed off by ‘Customer Support’ departments hoping that you’ll shut up and go away.

Now, this is not legal advice, but you should know that you don’t need to give up if you get no support from Customer Support.

Here’s how to tackle it when you’re being fobbed off and the problem’s genuinely not your fault.

When negotiating, remember:

  • Customer Support is supposed to help the business help its customers, not drive them away.
  • Your immediate point of contact won’t necessarily know how to help you. You’ve encountered ‘cut and paste’ replies – you know what I’m talking about. Some support staff are brilliant, but some aren’t, just as some are more trained than others. Some stick to the script, while others will know when to be more ‘hands-on’.
  • Be as specific as you can, have your facts ready and don’t accept the first thing they offer you.
  • If you get no satisfaction from your first contact, go higher. Ask to speak to the line manager or supervisor, who is probably more experienced and has more authority.
  • If you get no satisfaction via email (I always prefer email as you have a record of what was said and agreed), the next step is to phone. Ask for the department manager.
  • Don’t accept liability. They will try to get you to say it’s your fault, even when it isn’t. People get flustered, and can very easily have the tables turned on them without realising.
  • Don’t give up until you really have to, and don’t accept that ‘it’s automated’ and they can’t do anything because it’s computerised. Remember behind every automated email or response or service, there are humans in charge.
  • Finally if you come away feeling dirty and used, it’s a sign that it’s time to move on. After you’ve been given the satisfaction you deserve.


call centre


And if you run a business? Well, it’s simple:

  • If you have staff, train them (and treat them) well.
  • Train your staff to communicate effectively and politely with customers.
  • Ask yourself how you would deal with situations that might arise. Implement ways to deal with these problems.
  • Make sure that your automated emails point to the correct information, and that they’re unambiguous and helpful.
  • Make sure that your website communicates effectively, and that all areas are covered.
  • Set up a ‘yes, we can help’ framework, rather than a ‘no, go away’ one.
  • Leave your customers feeling that they’ve been on the end of good customer support, rather than being a nuisance to the company.


yes button


As an update to this little saga, the line manager has been in touch again. They’re refunding and recharging to allow the renewal next year to go ahead. In other words, refunding my lesser subscription and doing that auto-renewal properly.

Let’s hope it goes smoothly!


Have you had experience of good or bad customer support? How do you deal with it?



* (not heard of it? If you love old Hollywood you’ll love this)

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