Monthly Archives: May 2020

Relative density: kids and coping in the time of COVID-19

By Cathy Tingle

It’s Tuesday. I was supposed to write this blog yesterday. According to our COVID-19 routine, on Mondays my husband runs ‘school’ for my two children, aged 7 and 9. But yesterday the kids were particularly restless. They didn’t want to do the tasks set by their teachers. The younger one kept interrupting me in my ‘office’ (bedroom). There was a lot of shrieking as they chased each other around the house. Add to that the summons to buy our possessions back at their ‘shop’ (I couldn’t miss that: there was an iPad going for 45p), a surprise Zoom meeting for my husband, and some complicated new logging-on process for online school followed by my son sending his friends excited greetings (which had to be typed, finger by finger, on my laptop), and my day was pretty much shot to pieces as far as writing was concerned.

Hello again, old routines

We parents are used to the feeling that our best-laid work plans are precarious. You might be halfway through editing a chapter and the school phones to say your daughter has a tummy ache and can she be collected. You could plan an evening of proofreading but your son decides now is the time to find getting to sleep difficult. It goes with the territory.

But this prolonged uncertainty about when we can work is new for most. Or, rather, it’s a revisiting of something many of us experienced when our kids were tiny. In a recent CIEP forum thread about parenting, members described a common pattern. As a newish parent, to find time to work you rely on nap times, evenings and weekends (the last if there’s a partner or other co-carer to share the load). A little way along the line you can then add the hours that playgroups and nurseries might give you (sometimes only a couple of mornings a week, but it’s something). CIEP members reported having to take laptops or study books on family holidays.

The long and winding quest for productivity

Then, one blessed day, they get to school. Once you’ve got over the surprise that a day at primary school isn’t actually as long as you thought, and realised your most productive times of the day are not during those six hours (one of our editors only really hits her stride at 2.30pm – she has to leave the house to fetch the kids at 3pm), you get the high school years. The kids can at least find their way to school and back, but transporting them to extracurricular activities might take time. And at home? ‘The younger one [14] does seem to feel the need to talk to me about random things when I’m trying to work’, one of our editors reported. Another, whose children have now left home, comments: ‘What I learnt was that a 5-second question requiring only yes or no would cost me 10 to 15 minutes’ work. That was how long it took before I had everything back in my head.’ Bear this in mind when you’re thinking, during these lockdown days, ‘My teenagers don’t require a lot of attention. Why on earth aren’t I more productive?’

So, while we’re required to use ‘school’ hours to educate our children ourselves, many of us are grabbing evening work, weekend work, first-thing-in-the-morning work, as we did in the early years, and as many of us still do in the school holidays. One CIEP member with three children starts working at 5.30am; another uses the hour before the family stirs to answer emails and prioritise her day’s work to avoid stress later. Sometimes there is a tag-team within the parent unit, with one parent covering mornings, the other afternoons, or, if the other parent lives somewhere else, with children going away for a couple of days or more each week. If all else fails, we’re sitting with everyone else with our laptops, snatching ten minutes here and there.

No answers, just a few tips

Many people choose to become freelance precisely because of the flexibility it offers when you have a family. But many editing and proofreading parents are finding lockdown difficult, and it’s not the bare fact of spending more time with our children that’s making us feel like this – of course not. We love them. It’s the pressure of balancing working and caring that’s the problem. If we get paid by the project and don’t have time to complete projects, or we’re paid by the hour and our hours are vastly reduced, how’s that going to work out? It’s worrying, and we don’t have any clear answers, apart from to investigate any government support for self-employed people during this crisis. But here are a few tips for negotiating work and life right now.

  • If you have work, make sure your clients know your situation. Many of them will be in the same boat and will understand, but at the very least it removes the terrifying feeling that you have absolutely no wiggle room on your projects. You might not need to ask for extra time, but knowing you could in an emergency helps everyone.
  • This isn’t the time to be aiming high, so don’t put pressure on yourself to be marketing or rebuilding your website. Don’t listen to those people who talk about achieving great things in lockdown. The achievement level you should be aiming for is ‘coping’.
  • Easier said than done, but if you can, separate work and caring for your children. We often feel we do neither very well, but trying to do them concurrently just confirms this feeling.
  • If you do get a quiet few moments while they’re doing their maths worksheet or drawing a flower, tackle those mundane tasks that might help your business. Personally, I’m deleting old emails. It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for forever and it will be useful once we’re all up and running again not to have (cough) 45,958 unread messages in my inbox.
  • Screens aren’t the enemy. From the BBC Bitesize educational programmes to the fantastic Horrible Histories and Operation Ouch!, telly can educate, entertain and buy you some valuable time, and there are a wealth of online museum tours, story readings, science demonstrations and language tutorials too. It doesn’t need to be highbrow – kids will find educational opportunities in most things. When I sought reassurance that there were educational benefits to the Captain Underpants Movie, another CIEP member testified that her son had gained three things from it: an enthusiasm for writing comic books; an introduction to classical music; and an ability to execute armpit farts. All of which will be invaluable when filling in his UCAS form, I’m sure you’ll agree.
  • Take that #StetWalk, as we say in the editing world. Get out for your daily exercise with your child(ren), whether you feel like it or not. It will do everyone good, and the break from work may mean you’re more productive this evening when things are quieter.
  • When you do try to work, don’t beat yourself up if you can’t concentrate very well. This is a completely natural reaction to everything going on in the world, and something that was reported by a number of CIEP members.
  • It might be that we can accomplish more together than apart right now. Reach out to others you could team up with. One member says that one of the lessons she has learned over many years is that ‘some of the most valuable things I do in my business are not done alone; they’re shared’.
  • Sneak off now and then. Not out of your front gate: to the kitchen, or the garden, or into your own choice of fiction, or a podcast. Too often I find myself retreating to Twitter, and that ends up being far from a moment of peace. Find other ways to escape, if you can.
  • As you’ll all be living under the same roof in these conditions for some time yet, try to focus on what matters. As one member says: ‘being extra kind is more important than ever, and remembering that it really, really doesn’t matter whether they learn their grammar or long division is helpful’. Another says: ‘Every single night that your little one goes to bed fed, warm, well, and loved is not failing, whatever else might be going on. Be kinder to yourself.’
  • Get them involved in what you’re doing, if you think it will interest them. My kids have helped me find the pictures for this blog, and for the first time ever they’re helping me lay the table for meals. They even seem to enjoy it.
  • Sometimes you’ve got to throw your plans up in the air and take the opportunities life presents. And if life is presenting you with a child who wants to sing ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ with you, cuddle up in front of a movie or have a chat about Instagram (or whatever young people talk about these days), just enjoy the moment and the chance to spend some time with them.

More than one of our members reported that home schooling had been their way of life even before COVID-19 struck. They’d been down a similar path to the one many of us are now treading, and had realised that, in one editor’s words, ‘what I’d feared would be strange and isolating and terrible turned out to be none of those things. My child has blossomed, found their own path, and taught me that there are many ways to live a life, to be a parent, to educate’. Some situations might not look ideal at first glance, but they end up being rewarding in ways we never anticipated.

And so, working-from-home parent, in the words of one CIEP member addressing the other parents on the forum, ‘hugs and solidarity vibes’ to you. We’ll get there, even if it’s by a different route to the one we were expecting.

Many thanks to the contributors to the CIEP forums, who so generously shared their experiences and their child-squeezed time.

Cathy Tingle is a CIEP Advanced Professional Member based in Edinburgh who specialises in copyediting. After trying and failing to work ‘alongside’ her children, she’s offering a reduced service until they go back to school. She’s terrible at baking.

 

 


The CIEP’s forums are a great place for members to connect with and support each other.

CIEP members shared their pandemic concerns and experiences with Liz Jones in April.


Photo credits: family with tablet by Alexander Dummer; child with heart by Anna Kolosyuk, both on Unsplash.

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

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

My year in books

By Abi Saffrey

At the end of each financial year, I reflect on the projects I’ve worked on, the clients I’ve worked with, the money I’ve earned and the money I’ve spent. It struck me at some point in 2019 that perhaps I could do a similar review of what I’ve read over the same span of time. So I set up a spreadsheet and logged the books I read for pleasure and those I edited and proofread. Time and sanity limitations meant I did not log everything I edited, or anything I read that wasn’t a book (but The Phoenix Comic is pretty darn good).

Reading was my greatest pleasure for many years, but going freelance and then having children limited my time and energy for it. I missed reading, but not enough to carve out the time for it. For whatever reason, 2019 was the year that I decided to JUST READ MORE.

April 2019

I copyedited two social science books for a regular client. And I managed a grand total of THREE books for pleasure, all short and very different from each other.

May 2019

I didn’t edit any books this month – I finished writing a guide to Editorial Project Management for the (then) SfEP, and worked on a fair few journal articles. I didn’t read much outside work either.

June 2019

I copyedited two books on subjects that I’m passionate about: climate change and gender inequality. This was the month when I set myself a reading challenge: to read my way through the alphabet (using authors’ surnames), selecting books available in my local library and by ‘new to me’ authors. I managed A–D over the month.

July 2019

Workwise, my focus in July was on student and teacher materials. And I didn’t read ANY books for pleasure. Sorry.

August 2019

A reduced workload because of the school holidays – journal articles only. I might not have read much this month, but I did get to spend two weeks in and around beautiful Tenby. August is my birthday month and, for the first time I can remember, I got NO books for my birthday. I did get some book tokens though, which I stashed away …

September 2019

Back to work with a bang and three books on my desk: political scandal to proofread; sociology and education theory to copyedit. A disappointing one letter crossed off my alphabet.

  • Reef, by Romesh Gunesekera (I have a vivid memory of reading this while sat in the playground at Audley End House)

October 2019

One book to copyedit (social science), two books for fun (and NO letters crossed off my alphabet, tsk tsk).

  • The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell (I started this in September, and read some in my downtime at the SfEP conference … but it’s long and complicated)
  • After Me Comes the Flood, by Sarah Perry (finished this one while on holiday in Tromsø – happy days)

November 2019

I copyedited three books in November, all related to welfare, social policy and politics – with those and being involved in a general election campaign, it was an exhausting month. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was no time for self-indulgent escapism.

December 2019

I started work on a contributed volume about South Sudanese objects (I’m still working on it now – May 2020); it is so different to my normal social sciences fare. A welcome distraction after an election that didn’t go the way I’d hoped. I managed to read three books on my own time – the joys of taking some time off over the festive period (alphabet challenge stowed away for another time at this point).

January 2020

I proofread one book – politics – in January, and it prompted me to buy (and read) another book in the series. I also set myself a new reading challenge (after some discussion with my accountability group): to read for 30 minutes a day on five days in each week. I nearly always ended up reading for longer than that, and it meant I ploughed through the pages. There is a slot in my day between collecting/taxiing children and preparing dinner – it tends to be filled with social media and internet browsing in a comfy chair, so I would leave my book on that chair and my phone in my coat pocket.

I went to Amsterdam for a weekend – so a Lonely Planet pocket guide snuck in here too.

February 2020

One copyedit this month – colonialisation, not a cheery read. I counteracted that by carrying on with my 30-min reading challenge, and I even managed to tick FOUR more letters off my alphabet.

March 2020

March’s one book copyedit was on support and health workers across the globe. I finally spent my birthday book tokens – on the paperback editions of Gretchen McCulloch’s Because Internet, and Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez, both of which I’d been lusting after since their hardback release. I also treated myself to The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy, which was the last book I read before the COVID-19 pandemic. I haven’t been able to focus on books in my free time since.

That year in numbers

So I read 31 books for pleasure:

  • I bought five secondhand, one was a gift, one was nicked off my mum’s bookshelves.
  • I bought ten new (one hardback, eight paperbacks and one ebook), and one had been on my e-reader for at least five years.
  • I borrowed 13 from my local library.
  • There were 19 fiction books and 12 non-fiction books.

I copyedited 15 books, and proofread two. I also dipped into two other books for CPD purposes: What Editors Do (edited by Peter Ginna) and Developmental Editing (by Scott Norton).

End-of-year summary

I’d hoped that I’d find some revelation about my reading habits and trends, or even find that my ‘to be read’ pile would be smaller. Or that I learned something profound and life-changing. But I didn’t, and it isn’t, and … I will leave social media soon(ish). I will definitely keep noting down what I read – reviewing my list and writing this post have brought back so many memories of where I was when I was reading each book.

I’d like to say I’ll go back and read some of these again, but I won’t. There are so many other books out there that need me to read them and I don’t want to set another challenge that I’ll give up on when I get distracted by the next one. Anyway, these are the ones I loved the most in my financial year 2019/20:

  • The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell – so beautifully crafted, and it presents an all too real future for us.
  • On Writing by Stephen King – I’m never going to read his novels and I’m never going to write a book but I loved the essential message that ran throughout: reading is the best way to learn to write.
  • Melmoth by Sarah Perry – it’s pretty close between this and Here Comes the Flood. Her writing sucks me in every time (The Essex Serpent is also compulsive reading, but I read that in 2018).

Abi Saffrey is an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP. She reads books to earn a living and to keep her imagination alive. She’s wondering when the library will open again so she can look at the ‘L’ section of the fiction shelves. She boycotts Amazon.

 

 


If you’re wondering which book to read next, peruse the CIEP’s book reviews.


Photo note: I read Paul Dolan’s Happiness by Design in February 2019 and Matt Haig’s Notes on a Nervous Planet in March 2019, but they cheekily snuck their way into the class of 2019/20 photo.

Proofread by Alice McBrearty, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

CPD: staying motivated

By Hilary McGrath

Have you ever tried to study but found it hard to stay focused? Am I alone in formulating a great plan, then abandoning my learning when the initial enthusiasm has waned? Continuing Professional Development is important but staying motivated can be hard.

Building on the study of language has always been particularly important for me as a translator and proofreader. Being able to write well and to correct errors was not enough though – I wanted to be able to properly name the troublesome parts of the texts I was working on. A dangling modifier? An attributive adjective? A predicative phrase? I needed to study the function and structure of English grammar, so I considered my options.

Take a course

I considered taking an in-house course. Having a fixed date and a valid reason to take some time off work is an advantage. But the need to travel and pay for accommodation makes this an expensive choice.

Another option was an online course – an efficient way to learn, especially for those who live far from big cities. Distance learning usually means there are start and end dates, deadlines and a certificate to show you have put in the work. The CIEP offers a Brush Up Your Grammar course, for example.

But I had to take cost into account. Unfortunately, I’d already dipped into my CPD budget, having recently attended a one-day workshop and completed an online course. How about self-study, then?

Buy a book

Buying a book and working through it slowly but surely was the next obvious thing to do. But, before I could even choose a book to buy, I knew my main problem would be staying motivated. How could I be sure I would stick with my learning plan?

Find a buddy (or several)

I made the fortunate discovery, through the CIEP forums, that other editors and proofreaders had the same idea as me. Together we selected a book – Grammar: A student’s guide by James R Hurford. Then, Slack was suggested as a communication tool for collaborative study. It was free, easy to join and very intuitive to use. It would become our virtual classroom.

Set some SMART goals

  • Specific – we chose a textbook that had exercises at the end of every section and answers to check at the end of the book.
  • Measurable – we studied the agreed section during the week, completed the exercises, checked the answers and discussed any difficulties or revelations once a week.
  • Attainable – the chosen textbook started with the basics but provided fuel for further discussion.
  • Relevant – as professionals working with language, building on our knowledge of English grammar was useful and important.
  • Time-bound – we would work through the book, literally from A to Z, on a weekly basis over a few months.

How did it work out?

As motivation was my key concern prior to starting, I was pleased that I was always able to find the time to join the weekly meetings. If I had been working on my own, I might have been less diligent. The whole exercise gave me a solid foundation in grammar and the desire to continue building on this in the future.

An unexpected outcome

This was a great way to get to know colleagues better. The group was small enough so that we could chat comfortably, but large enough to keep moving forward if one person couldn’t attend. There were so many advantages to working together like this – the most unexpected one was that the learning experience was so enjoyable.

Working alone but together

I found that this kind of learning suits me. I could work at my own pace during the week but use the regular meetings to keep on track. It was nice to know that I was not alone when I found something particularly hard to understand. And Slack was ideal for our purposes, giving us a dedicated space to work together.

What’s next?

For me, a combination of taught courses and self-study is perfect. But self-study is easier if you can find people with similar goals, whether in your personal life or through your professional networks. Then all you need is a book and a plan. Would I do this again? Absolutely! Anyone interested in joining me?

Hilary McGrath is a freelance proofreader and translator (French–English) living in the southwest of France. Find her on Twitter @hilary_mcgrath.

 

 


Photo credit: opened book by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Proofread by Victoria Hunt, Intermediate Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Are you up for the challenge?

By Alison Gilbert

LinkedIn challenges are fun and interactive, and I use them to engage with my target audience. My background is in education, and I have spent years engaging with parents and getting them involved with their children’s learning. The best way I found was with a challenge – something they could do together with their child. So I adapted the same principle to my proofreading business.

Setting a challenge

To set a challenge, you need to know your audience. Who are you trying to engage with? What sort of challenge would they want to get involved in? Then make it relevant and topical. Keep up to date with recent hot topics, relevant to your line of business. People get more engaged if there is a reason or a discussion point, such as in my reading challenge.

I strongly believe that children should read every day, so I set the challenge for parents to read with their children every night for a week and at the end of the challenge share their child’s favourite story. My post was topical and people got involved and shared their love of stories. It appealed to authors, publishers and fellow proofreaders. It was my most successful post and trended on LinkedIn, receiving more than 1,000 views.

Challenges can also reflect national events and times of the year. During National Storytelling Week I set a storytelling challenge to create a story together. This appealed to my audience of authors and let them showcase their writing. However, this post was less successful. I was hoping to generate a complete story over the week. The first day went really well and I chose the start to the story. But unfortunately no one commented to complete the next part of the story. I tried posting it on different days, times and with different images – even the author of the start of the story re-shared it – but still no takers. People like the initial idea of a challenge, but maybe I was overoptimistic in attempting to build on my challenge every day. Possibly it was too time-consuming a task; so since then I’ve tried to keep each challenge manageable and easy to fit in with people’s daily lives.

On the Random Acts of Kindness Day I set a challenge to do an act of kindness. I felt it was a great opportunity to encourage people to think of others and to go above and beyond.

When creating a challenge, image choice is very important in attracting your audience to the post. I have found bold images have worked for me, and I type a clear message on top of them. Therefore, people don’t have to scroll through my text to see what my challenge is all about. I think of them as an advert containing all the basic information necessary to promote engagement.

For a bit of fun at Christmas, I set a Christmas homework challenge, to get everyone in the mood for a magical time. Life needs to be filled with moments of fun!

The Comms Creatives challenge

I love challenges so much that I undertook another company’s challenge. The 31 Days of Creativity Challenge was set up by Comms Creatives, a marketing company that runs courses to inspire creativity. Every day for the month of January, Helen Reynolds, the owner, sent me an email with a creative challenge to post on social media. I used the challenge to learn new skills, stretch myself and advertise my proofreading business.

The challenges included some outright fun and silly ones to get my creative brain in gear: creating words using spaghetti, making a picture with your meal (I created the Hungry Caterpillar using grapes and cucumbers), creating origami, choosing an uplifting song, inventing a sandwich for your hero (mine is Joey from Friends, who loves sandwiches) and writing your day in emojis. Some challenges were quizzes to find out your creative personality and what drives you. Turns out that I am a producer.

Quite a few of the challenges were to get participants thinking and talking about their inspirations. For example, creating a video about what advice you would give yourself if you could go back in time (mine were believe in yourself, everything happens for a reason and trust your instincts), writing about what inspires you, visualising your style and sharing what you believe in (I believe in a love of learning).

Part of the challenge really tested my creativity and put me out of my comfort zone, for example writing a limerick (see the image above for mine), drawing tasks (I hadn’t drawn since school), creating videos, creating a story using a plot generator, writing a poem using magnetic letters, creating a handwritten message, creating a calligram (I did a snowflake using words linked to proofreading) and creating a newspaper article using a generator.

Some of the challenges were about reminiscing about my life and these seemed the most popular of my social posts – I created a collage of photos of my life and did something from my childhood. My most successful post during the challenge was a video clip of the game ‘Mousetrap’, which trended on LinkedIn. People obviously like reminiscing about their lives too and seeing connections with others.

I really enjoyed completing the 31 Days of Creativity Challenge: I gained confidence to post regularly on social media. I learned new skills, such as how to create videos and newspaper articles, and stretched myself to be more creative. I made a lot of connections during the challenge with other people doing the challenge at the same time. It was great each day to see how everyone had undertaken the challenge and to comment on their progress. Comms Creatives regularly run the challenges and do some on other platforms too.

Why do the challenges?

Challenges are motivating to others and encourage interaction. They allow me to engage with my target audience by tuning in to what is important to them, relevant and purposeful. Hopefully, building relationships through engagement will lead to future work connections. The challenges stand out on social media as being different and fun, and people always like a challenge. They are a good way to test yourself, find out what you are capable of and learn new skills.

Have a go: I challenge you to set a challenge for your target audience. Are you up for the challenge?

Alison Gilbert is a freelance proofreader, qualified teacher and early years professional with a love of learning. She specialises in educational and mathematical proofreading. She is an Entry-Level Member of the CIEP based in Ramsbottom, Lancashire.

 


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Proofread by Victoria Hunt, Intermediate Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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