What a difference a few weeks make. In my last post I was celebrating SfEP becoming CIEP … now the UK is in virtual lockdown, people are dying, and I don’t know what to say but feel I should say something. This (Covid-19) is too big to be ignored.
My heart goes out to the NHS staff – and those who support them – working so hard to save people’s health, and to other key workers keeping people fed and essential services running. A lot of them get forgotten – mechanics keeping doctors’ cars running, communications engineers keeping our phone and internet working, sewage plant workers making sure we have clean water, people who work with the dead protecting our hygiene and dignity – and they are at risk and have to live with the fear of catching the virus.
I’m a long way from the front line. I worked from home anyway; I am one of the lucky ones. But no one is unaffected. As so many people get put on reduced wages or lose their jobs, many people have reduced disposable income, and everyone is focusing on what is important – which, let’s face it, is not usually editing unless you are a publisher. Several of my freelance colleagues have lost some or indeed all of their contracts or upcoming work. Do I worry about where my next projects are coming from? Of course I do. Promoting my services to anyone seems like the height of insensitivity at this time.
The stress is getting to everyone, including those of us who have it comparatively easy.
I want to do what I can to help writers and publishers in these difficult and unprecedented times, but I don’t know how to go about it without being an arse. Look, if you’re writing … if you want help … a critique, dev editing, copyediting, proofreading, anything of that nature … and you’re struggling either financially or mentally, please don’t hesitate to get in touch and I’ll find some way of helping you out. I can’t promise to do everything free, because I need to eat too, but I also want to be humane and find a way of doing my job (which I love for its own sake) in a way that helps and uplifts people. Now more than ever we really are part of a global community, all facing the same challenge, and all I can do is try to spread a bit of love and light by sharing the skills that I have. Editing is something I can do from lockdown, so … here I am.
Stay safe, everyone, as safe as you can. We are all called to be heroes now.
I’m excited about this change. The SfEP was already highly regarded, but as the CIEP it should wield even more clout as the national professional body for editors and proofreaders. Since I joined in October 2015, I’ve been impressed by the resources and support available. The team behind the change has worked really hard to make this happen, so congratulations to them!
I am proud to be a professional member, and I hope to upgrade to Advanced Professional Member later this year – fingers crossed!
It’s time to take stock of the year and plan for 2020, and
this is particularly important for me as I only moved into freelancing ten days
ago. What went well for me this year and what are my plans for next year?
It’s easy to scramble along from one day to the next
thinking you’re doing ‘okay’ but not feeling as if you’re achieving anything
noteworthy. That’s typical of me – if I don’t have my head down working like a
demon, I’m panicking that I’ll never work again! Whether I’m looking for work
or actually doing the work, I’m always motivated, but analysing what I’ve done
isn’t something that I carve out a lot of time for. So when I did this a few
days ago, I was pleasantly surprised.
How did the year go?
Over the last year (2019) I’ve done thirty-nine projects for
eight new clients and ten repeat ones. (I count publishers, agencies, packagers
and ‘middlepeople’ as single clients rather than counting every author I worked
with through those channels.) I’m pretty happy with that! Next year I’d like to
find more new clients than I did this year, but of course repeat clients are
always good – a testament to the fact that they were pleased with my work!
Twenty-six of my projects were books, six were essays, four
were ‘other’ (websites, emails, blurbs, instruction manuals, newsletters,
interviews and biographies), two were short stories and one was a writing
project – my first piece of work of that nature. Bite-size corporate projects like
proofreading emails or web pages slot in nicely around other work, but books
are still my first love. Out of those, fifteen were fiction and eleven were
Apart from my activity on social media and various forums,
the only real promotion I did was a full-page advert in Writers’ Forum magazine and an article that I was kindly invited to
write for the July/August
edition of Editing Matters, the SfEP’s trade
publication. (I was surprised to find out that I’ve actually published six blog
posts myself, not including this one, but five of them were posted within the
first four months of the year!)
One great way to round off the year was with a lovely
testimonial that was volunteered by one of the non-fiction authors I worked
with. She mentioned my ‘versatility, keen eye, outstanding professional
communication, efficiency and verve’.
I usually have to ask clients for testimonials – with my usual British
reticence, and not nearly as often as I should – but they serve as a fantastic
pick-me-up when they land in my inbox.
Plans for next year
I’m excited about the prospect of spreading my wings,
especially when it comes to promotion, CPD and networking.
All too often, time spent on marketing or networking can
feel like time wasted if you don’t see an immediate return, but now that I’m
only accountable to myself, I hope to look into various other options for spreading
the word about who I am and what I do. Corporate clients are a notoriously hard
nut to crack, and I still find myself drawn to books by self-publishing
authors, but I’m not going to close my mind or eyes to any potential openings
in the world of business.
I’m particularly looking forward to doing more face-to-face
networking with my fellow editors, who are always amazingly supportive and
I’m also keen to set some of my budget aside for training
courses and CPD in 2020. I’m very close to meeting the requirements to upgrade
to Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP – which I’d be over the moon to
achieve – but I do need a little more training to get there, and I have my eye
on a couple of courses that would help me hone my skills and benefit my
One major avenue I want to pursue in 2020 is developmental
editing. I’ve already started some informal development in this area, and
ideally I’d like to complete some formal training in this area too. I also have
a reading list of dev editing books that are highly recommended by my
This might also be the year when I finally get some printed
materials done. I’m in the process of having a logo designed, and it can’t hurt
to get a few business cards and flyers. I’ve felt the lack of them a few times
over the last year, and they are particularly useful for corporate clients, who
are best reached via face-to-face networking rather than online.
As for blogging, I deprioritised it in the latter half of
2019 and I don’t think my bottom line suffered as a result – it freed up my
time to do other things – so I’m not sure yet whether I’ll simply continue to
be bad at it, whether I’ll make more of an effort, or whether I’ll feel more
naturally inclined to blog now that I’m a free agent, so to speak.
I’m excited about 2020. My successes this year have given me
confidence that I can continue to do well, and I can’t wait to improve my
skills and pass those improvements on to my existing clients and, hopefully, a
whole swath of new ones! I’m sure I have what it takes to be a good dev editor,
and I’m looking forward to crystallising that with some training and a few
juicy projects for my portfolio.
I feel like I may have been on the edge of burnout for a while, but now, writing this, I don’t feel as though the cure is going to consist of working less. There is no working less on my horizon, only working more, but for me it’s working differently that is the key. I feel energised, not dismayed, by the prospect of all the extra things I want to fit in next year! Despite the variety of work in my portfolio, I’ve never had a project I disliked or was reluctant to get stuck into. I’ve enjoyed every piece of work I’ve had – no exaggeration – and spent every day glad that I get to do this for a living. But I also feel that working on other things – CPD, marketing and networking – will freshen up my brain and help me to work faster and more efficiently across the board. Let’s get started!
I’d like to wish all my wonderful clients and editorial colleagues a very happy Christmas. If you celebrate it, have a great time; if not, do enjoy the public holiday if there is one where you live!
I’ve been implementing some publisher feedback on a psychology book I’m working on. I also replied to an enquiry about some possible work. (This potential client lives in India – not everyone shuts up shop over Christmas!) However, now it’s time to tackle the tidying … and perhaps eat a mince pie and some baklava and some chocolate and …
Today is my last day working for Help For Writers Ltd. Tomorrow will be my first day as a ‘true freelancer’. In material terms, nothing much will change – certainly not overnight. I’ll carry on editing and proofreading just like I did before. But it does feel like closing a novel that has kept me gripped for years – only to be overtaken by that swooping feeling of the excitement of starting a new one.
I have to thank my colleagues at HFW for believing in me and supporting me to embark on my editing career. When I started working at the company over four years ago I didn’t realise that this was going to be my niche, but now I’m looking forward to focusing on editing and proofreading, leaving the rest of the capable staff there to explore and develop other aspects of the business more fully. If you have any needs relating to ebook conversion, distribution or cover design, drop them a line!
My plans for freelance life are modest so far – short-term goals include new business cards and flyers – but the most significant thing I aim to do is to branch out into developmental editing. I’ve touched on it in my most recent project, and I’m excited about the prospect of undertaking further training and CPD in that area. So if you have a project that you think might need dev editing and you’re brave enough to let me cut my teeth on it, I just might have a tasty discount for you!
I feel very lucky to have a job that I’m excited about every day of the week. A recent client voluntarily sent me a lovely testimonial that made me feel warm inside. She mentioned ‘energy’ and ‘verve’, qualities that I’d never given much thought to before, but I’m glad they come across to my clients, because I definitely feel the same drive each time I start a new project. I can’t wait to see what the future holds!
I’ve often looked at the style sheet I’ve created for a book I’m working on and thought that the words listed could be used as writing prompts. ‘Pick any three consecutive words and write 1,000 words based on them’, sort of thing. I even tweeted about making the executive decision that ‘asshat’ is one word but ‘fuck-head’ takes a hyphen. I think you can guess the tone of the book just from that! Shortly afterwards, I saw a discussion on Twitter about how a style sheet is a microcosm of the book as a whole. ‘How true!’ I thought.
So here you go. Some selections from recent pieces of work. I think these all give a good flavour of the piece without giving away any spoilers – and if you want to use them as writing prompts, that’s even better!
son of a bitch
hide and seek
The featured image is my latest artwork, just because I didn’t have anything else to illustrate this with and I’m trying not to use stock images. You can see more of my artwork here.
Sometimes even when I think the pieces I’m working on have no connection, I realise that they actually do. These three topics are a case in point. Vampires, history, swords – what could go together better?
I’m excited to be working on the next book by R. H. Hale. Her first title, Church Mouse: Memoir of a vampire’s servant, is one of the best contemporary vampire stories I’ve read. I like the way it follows in the gothic tradition and the author doesn’t run scared of long sentences and semicolons. Without giving too much away, the sequel is just as good!
I’m also working on an edited collection of essays about teaching Shakespeare, and it’s never too late to learn. After all those years covering Shakespeare plays in GCSE and A-level English, I still didn’t know about some of the subtleties of how cue-scripts work.
And finally I’ve recently proofread an article about historical bladed weapons. I suppose you could say I’m finding my niche.
My artwork has been following a similar kind of theme, as I’m working on skulls at the moment – update coming soon!
Maybe it’s just a coincidence. You don’t see a particular mistake for years and then several examples turn up at once and you find yourself asking, ‘Is this a thing now? Why are people doing this?’ So here we go. How to improve your writing by avoiding things that I don’t like. Will it actually improve your writing? Maybe. No guarantees. Depends on context, etc. etc. etc. Try it and see!
There seems to be a trend for writers to use ‘inside’ or ‘within’ where the little word ‘in’ – or ‘into’ – would work just as well. Hence we have ‘The hero strode inside the room’ or ‘She reached within the cupboard’ or ‘He put it inside his pocket’. Try substituting ‘into’ (first two examples) or ‘in’ (last example). Doesn’t it sound cleaner and crisper? See also: ‘placed’ instead of ‘put’: for example, ‘Maria placed it inside the box’ vs ‘Maria put it into the box’. People are always placing things inside things instead of simply putting them in. That’s not to say there isn’t a place for these usages, just that it would probably improve your writing if you stopped and thought about it first to make sure that’s really the best way of saying what you want to say.
There’s another construction that’s been bugging me lately. Again, it’s not ‘an error’ per se, but it’s something you might like to think about to make sure you’re using it consciously and to maximum effect. Technically I’d call it ‘gerund vs infinitive’ – here’s an example:
‘She started walking along the path.’ Compare and contrast with: ‘She started to walk along the path.’ (walking – gerund; to walk – infinitive)
I’ve been seeing a lot of gerunds lately – the ‘ing’ form of the verb – especially in action sequences. ‘Dave started shooting …’ ‘Emma started running …’ and so on. I can totally see why people do it – it has a certain flow, and it tends to be how people talk, as well. But it can actually serve to slow down the ‘feel’ of the action where the infinitive would keep it moving along. This is the case especially where the action is interrupted or moves rapidly on. Neither construction is right or wrong, but if you keep it in mind while you’re reading through your own work, you can make an informed decision about which one you want.
Those are the most obvious things I’ve seen recently that give me an impression of laziness rather than bad grammar or mistakes. When one construction is used a lot at the expense of another which works just as well or better, it just makes me think that the author has got into a comfortable groove and hasn’t really ‘seen’ their own writing. It doesn’t make it bad writing, but if you take a look through fresh eyes and try mixing things up a little, it might give your work that extra pop and sparkle that elevates it from ‘competent’ to ‘good’ or from ‘good’ to ‘great’.
Final note: a character telling another character something is still ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’. I find ‘show, don’t tell’ rather a simplistic instruction – there’s a place for both – but don’t think you can stick something into dialogue and it suddenly becomes better. It’s particularly annoying when a character has spent a couple of paragraphs thinking about, for example, how Mr X can’t possibly be a plausible suspect because of Y and Z, and then feels compelled to repeat their thought process word-for-word to their colleague in the next chapter.
On rare occasions someone pays me money for something that isn’t editing. No, not that, you dirty-minded people! If you’ve been reading my ‘About me’ section with the thoroughness that I’d expect, you’d have found that tiny one-word link to my art gallery. In my precious spare moments, I often put pen to paper. As Valentine’s Day is coming up, I decided to do something a little more commercially friendly for a change! So, still shopping for a card or gift? Here are a few designs you might consider:
This is slightly larger than A4 size, completed and ready for shipping – a one-off!
Roughly card-sized … individual variations available. I can do you something like this from scratch.
Again, pretty small, about the size of a rather small card, and I can produce these on demand or something similar with lyrics and customisation of your choice.
So there you have it! If you like my style and are short of inspiration, or want something for your partner that is a bit different but not ‘too much’/over the top, look no further. Drop me a line and I’ll be happy to work to your requirements.
It’s about time I came clean. I hate writing blog posts.
There. I said it. I thought long and hard and I … oh, who am I kidding. I didn’t have to think hard at all to figure out that honesty is the best policy. And it doesn’t take a genius to work out that if I feel like that, there must be a whole load more people out there who feel the same. Can I come and join your tribe?
Writing blog posts is something ‘they’ say you must do in order to help your site’s SEO, boost your visibility, and attract lots of new potential customers to your site. By ‘they’, I mean marketing how-to guides and other successful editors. And they have a point. If no one knows my site is here, how are they going to find my awesome skills?
So I want writers to come to my site. Writers who need an editor and proofreader. Obviously. And what do writers want to read about? Well, how to be a better/quicker/more productive/published/successful writer, of course. So I try and write posts with that in mind. Posts that will help writers.
There’s one important flaw in this approach. Writing isn’t my best skill. I’m an editor. Now, that’s not to say that my writing is bad or that I’ve got no useful advice to offer – but it does mean that I often feel as though I’m winging it or cribbing information from elsewhere. And, while I know the world is big enough to take more than one ‘how to beat writer’s block’ article and more than one piece on ‘how to write dialogue’ … I don’t just want to rehash the same old things.
So I’ve decided to take a new approach. An honest approach. I’ve touched on this before with posts about my searches and my SfEP professional membership status, but now I want to grasp it with both hands and own it. I don’t mean posting about my personal life, soap opera style … but I’m going to be myself, and that might mean writing about things that aren’t writing, and maybe even things that aren’t editing. In this way I hope to post more often, and give you stuff to read that comes from the heart, rather than from a marketing expert’s idea of what will help my site rankings.
So here we have an irrelevant but sexy picture of a Triumph motorbike. Not connected with writing, but hey, your main character has got to have some mode of transport, right? How about it?