Conference Capers

Society for Editors and Proofreaders conference pack

Last week I came out of hiding and headed down to Edinburgh for the SfEP Scottish Regional Mini-conference organised by the Edinburgh, Glasgow and North/East Scotland groups of the SfEP.

Meetings like this are few and far between so for me it’s imperative that the whole thing is an enjoyable experience; there’s nothing worse than a few days away knowing you’ve left a pile of work behind (or worse still, taken it with you). So I cleared my work schedule and enjoyed the six-hour drive to Stirling, where I was staying for a few days, as my daughter and I sang along to our favourite tunes.

On the morning of the conference I gathered together my directions and notebooks, and headed for the train at stupid o’clock (the train was at 8 a.m. … I usually drag myself out of bed at that time). For once I was full of confidence as I know the area and didn’t have to navigate the car around unknown motorway exits while trying to remember directions. I love taking the train – I get to do some people watching and catch up on reading instead of spending my time swearing at road signs.

Outside the venue, 25 Nicolson Square, Edinburgh

Isn’t it pretty? This was the view from the venue – look, blue skies!

I was actually in plenty of time for the arrival coffee and networking (I usually manage to get to places with little time to spare if I’m being completely honest) and was pleased to see some familiar faces. I love meeting new people, but there’s nothing like catching sight of a friend to put you at ease. I talked complete and utter rubbish to a few people, then it was time to sit down and start the conference.

After our Chair, Sabine Citron, welcomed us all we started the day with a wonderful talk from Prof. Geoff Pullum. As Professor of General Linguistics at the University of Edinburgh, Geoff certainly knows his way around words (and apparently a Hammond organ – eat your heart of Prof. Brian Cox!) and this was the presentation I’d been most looking forward to. He didn’t disappoint. I think I’m a fairly rogue editor (and writer) as I prefer to use language as it has developed, rather than stick solidly to old-fashioned usage (unless, of course, the client wants to stick by the ‘rules’), and this talk was wonderful and full of energy. We were told that authorities do not suffice when it comes to grammar usage, and that most ‘rules’ were made up (yes, made up) in the C19th or earlier. As long as the writing makes sense, go ahead and split your infinitives, use the singular ‘they’ and be as passive as you like. And you can start a sentence with and, but and however. The overall theme from this humorous and refreshing talk was that unless you want to sound pompous, go ahead and be less formal – as an editor, over-correcting your author does no one any favours.

Next up was Jane Moody, Professional Development Director, talking about professional development and upgrading your SfEP membership. For me, moving to be a Professional Member was an obvious step, and not at all difficult, however Jane showed that for me to move to Advanced Professional membership will be equally as pain free. I’ll be looking at the upgrade procedure sooner rather than later now. Stephen Cashmore, Training Director, was due to talk about training, but unfortunately the internet crapped out, so we headed for an early coffee break instead.

Ashley Craig, from the North/East Scotland group, gave us a demonstration of commercial super-macros for editing, which was fascinating. I don’t use many macros, although I probably should, and her talk on Editorium and Wordsnsync EditTools was informative and very interesting. The user interfaces looked pretty good (I do like a nice check box) and I might be tempted to give them a trial (although finding the time to play with them might be difficult).

Lunchtime was another chance to catch up, and as we sat outside in the sunshine it made me realise just how much I miss editorial human interaction. Although I do have a tendency to talk complete and utter crap when faced with a bit of ‘networking’. Lunch with friends is a much better way of looking at it.

City of Edinburgh Methodist Church Garden

We sat in the garden at lunchtime, selfies were taken, I looked like a potato with blue hair, so here’s the lovely garden view instead.

Which moves me onto Laura Poole’s talk on authentic networking.  She had us all think about elevator speeches and why we network (it leads to conversations, which lead to relationships, which lead to opportunities). I did chuckle when she told us to ditch the words ‘only’ and ‘just’. They rank highly among ‘Oh, it was nothing’ in my professional phrasebook of ‘things to say when talking about what you do’. After our final coffee break, she gave the final presentation on taking charge of your freelance life. She spoke about dealing with the ‘feast or famine’ aspect of freelancing (how to break the cycle and how to say ‘no’ with conviction), and went into business practices such as client communication, paying attention, raising your rates and task management. Laura’s enthusiasm and drive were really infectious, and I really don’t know how she does it. I’m glad I finally got to meet her at last, as I missed her at the conference last September, but she now has one of my shiny new business cards (sorry, Laura) so she won’t forget the daft blue-haired editor she spoke with on her first trip to Scotland.

When the conference was over, after our Vice-Chair, Lucy Metzger, closed up shop, I dashed off with a friend to Waverley station to bag a seat on the last train before rush-hour madness descended. Sorry to all those I never managed to talk to, I’ll get you in September. There’s nothing quite like a bit of a get-together with friends (otherwise known as professional networking with editorial colleagues) to put a spring in your step. I felt thoroughly energised.

So, what did I take away from the conference?

  • Correct grammar isn’t necessarily something rigid that has been concocted 200 years ago, but is fluid and changing.
  • Professional development is easier than you think.
  • Super-macros are something that can help a professional to tackle their job more effectively.
  • Authentic networking means being yourself, and knowing yourself and your self-worth.
  • Taking charge of your professional life means saying no, as well as yes.
  • Editorial get-togethers are fantastic.

SfEP conference pack and editor's notebook

I’m now looking forward to September and the annual SfEP conference. Until then I have work to do and calendar spaces to fill, so if you know of someone who needs editorial help, contact me and we can have a chat.

When you’re working, but you don’t really think you’re working

(subtitled: When CPD eats into the wee small hours)

It’s all too easy these days to work the work, without actually realising you are working.

Work isn’t just about working for clients (although that’s the main aim, obviously), it’s about working for yourself if you are freelance, and one thing I have found is that sometimes it’s easy to discount work that doesn’t feel like work.

Does that make sense?

Ok, let me start again.

Caution - work in progress

I’m an Independent Word Wizard (well, Witch just didn’t sound right), in reality I work freelance although I’m still not sure what I think of that word. I work with clients who decide that they would like to work with me, and I work with clients that I decide I would like to work with. It’s mutually beneficial and I love it. Work also involves all the usual paperwork… you know the boring stuff, accounts and the like.

But, then there is also Professional Development… this invariably involves courses, training, reading, observing and networking. And this is where things can fall down.

Something struck me the other day, and it may seem obvious to others, but it came as a bit of a revelation to me.

I had a day off…

I’d finished a couple of pieces of work, and had some free time. So instead of doing the normal “day off” things – you know, housework, that pile of washing that was starting to morph into a laundry monster, emptying the dishwasher – I sat in front of the computer and read a blog… then read another, and another, did a bit of social networking, then read another blog or two. All industry blogs, not a grumpy cat in sight. Plus then I sat down to a lovely book written by Louise Harnby.

Before I knew it, the day had gone. I’d read some interesting stuff but at the end of the day I thought I may just have wasted my time off.

Thinking about it, this is a regular occurrence. I can get attached to the laptop. On an evening, the laptop is on… I’ll be reading as I’m watching some equally interesting telly programme… watching a documentary on Egyptology while reading a publishing blog is nothing new. I am woman, I multi-task.


But, it dawned on me that what I’m doing is valuable.

This doesn’t affect my work, as I don’t feel like I’m “working” just surfing. In fact I didn’t think I was working… until I read a blog that told me, yes I was working.

So, should it actually be thought of work if you enjoy what you are doing? … erm, actually, yes. If you are lucky, you spend your time enjoying your work but I’ve come to the conclusion that we do ourselves a disservice if we don’t realise that any time spent “with the trade” is actually work.

It won’t make any difference, I will still be reading a blog, or a piece of coursework, or a news story at some ungodly hour. But from now on, when people ask me what I’ve been doing, I won’t dismiss it as playing on the internet, or whiling away my time avoiding “stuff that must be done around the house”… I will remind myself that I have been networking, or reading up on the industry, or researching, or listening to what my peers are saying.


My time is valuable to my clients.

But it is also valuable to me, so I should accept that doing what I love is still work. I’m just lucky that I love my work, and perhaps I should remember to take some time off every now and then. No, honestly, really take time off. Turn the laptop off and switch off the email.

Come on now, own up… how many of you fellow freelancers recognise this situation?

As a final note, just as I’d finished writing the blog this came up in the Freshly Pressed list. It’s a very interesting read. There’s a fine line between loving your work, working hard and burn out. We all should remember, even the freelancers, that time off is important… even if work is interesting sometimes you have to remember to step back, after all the CPD will still be there tomorrow and weekends should be fun.

Have wonderful and unproductive weekend everyone!