Category Archives: Freelance life

Information for freelancers.

A week in the life of a fiction editor and writer

By Rachel Rowlands

I’ve been a freelance fiction editor for about three and a half years now. I love what I do, and aside from getting to immerse myself in fiction every day, being able to be flexible is a big perk of the job. This is because I’m also a writer.

I studied English and Creative Writing at university, and I always wanted to be an author. But working in book publishing was another ambition of mine – and becoming a freelance editor was the only way I could do that, given that London living costs are ridiculous. Plus, I grew up in the north, and I’m a homebody!

Editing and writing go hand in hand for me – I can pass on knowledge I’ve gained as a writer to my clients. I’ve been able to advise my authors by drawing on my own experiences of exploring traditional publishing.

A typical week

My day-to-day tends to be similar. I’m flexible about the hours I work, but I try to stick to office hours and be done by 5 or 6pm. A typical week involves working on one or two of the following projects:

  • a manuscript assessment or beta read
  • a copy or line edit
  • a proofread.

I usually work on manuscript assessments and beta reads alongside a copy/line edit or a proofread, because I enjoy the variety, and it breaks up the day. I’ll spend the morning doing the more intensive job – say, a heavy copy/line edit or a complicated proofread – and the afternoon reading a manuscript on my Kindle and making developmental notes. I mainly work at my desk, but sometimes I move to an armchair downstairs by the window, with a view of the greenery outside.

There are other tasks involved in my work, depending on what’s going on in a given week. I don’t have a dedicated admin day, though. I’ll do these tasks as and when needed, either first thing in the morning or when I’ve wrapped up a chunk of work for the day:

  • answering emails from clients
  • responding to enquiries
  • responding to requests from publishers
  • invoicing
  • sending out contracts
  • booking in new and repeat clients
  • accounting
  • marketing (anything from writing a blog post to networking)
  • visiting Twitter (I use it to keep up with the book industry, although it’s easy to procrastinate – I use SelfControl for Mac when I need to focus).

How I fit writing into my day

I don’t have a set writing routine. Writing comes in stages. Sometimes I’m drawing a map of a fictional world, or outlining, or writing pitches to send to my agent; other times I’m knee-deep in a draft.

If I’m up early, I’ll write in bed with a cup of coffee before moving to my desk to do client work. Other days, when I really need to crack on with editorial work (and that comes first because it pays the bills), the writing will happen later in the evening.

I might email my agent with pitches or to discuss ideas. It’s great to have someone supportive on your side, and I think that’s part of what I find rewarding about being an editor.

How writing helps me be a better editor

I’ve been learning about and studying writing craft for a long time – since before I became an editor. This gave me a huge advantage when I set up as a freelancer. Things I learned at university, or by digging into books, attending writing groups, or through trial and error and critique, I can pass on to my clients to help them grow.

Being a fiction writer myself, I can spot issues in other people’s stories, such as world-building problems, exposition, hollow dialogue and characterisation issues. But my writing experience allows me to do other things more focused on the industry and cheerleading for my clients:

  • helping authors with query letters
  • advising on submitting to agents
  • explaining the pros and cons of traditional publishing versus self-publishing
  • empathising with my authors
  • discussing rejection honestly – it happens to everyone, and I often tell my clients about my own experience of racking up rejection letters
  • having frank conversations about the likelihood of being able to make money as a writer
  • pinpointing the market/target audience of a project – for example, I’ve worked on some MG (Middle Grade) projects that focused on grown-ups, which would be a hard sell.

Some might feel it’s a conflict of interest, being both a writer and an editor of fiction, but most of my authors appreciate my knowledge and that I can relate to their struggles. I’ve walked in their shoes, and they can trust me to be honest about what their work needs. I try not to impose my personal preferences, but instead frame things in a way that can help develop their own vision in line with their goals.

Professional development

I try to fit some professional development into my week, if I’m not too slammed. This can be anything from making progress on a course I’m taking, watching a webinar, to reading a reference book. This week, it was catching up on the CIEP’s conference recordings because I was too busy to participate in real-time.

I count reading books in the genres I edit as professional development, so I always fit leisure reading into my day (recently I’ve finished and loved The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix). Sometimes my leisure reading will be related to a writing project I’m working on. I’m currently reading some HP Lovecraft stories and Arthur Conan Doyle’s Eerie Tales, since I’m writing a historical/gothic fantasy.

Leisure time

When my mind’s been occupied by editing and writing all day, I need a breather! I’ll do something light-hearted, like watching an anime with my husband, or playing Animal Crossing. Working with words can be tiring, so I like to start off my downtime with something unrelated to books. Yoga helps me stretch out after a long day at a desk!

I always try to squeeze in an hour of leisure reading before bed. Even though I read all day, it’s my favourite way to unwind.

And that’s what my work week usually looks like. I take weekends off from editing, but I do some writing then, too, because I have more free time. Like other writers, it’s a balance to fit everything in, but I love what I do!

Rachel Rowlands is an editor, writer and Professional Member of the CIEP. She has a degree in English and Creative Writing and specialises in adult, YA and MG fiction, including fantasy, sci-fi, horror, romance and crime/thriller. She also edits general commercial non-fiction. You can find her at www.racheljrowlands.com or on Twitter.

 

 


Photo credits: books by Ed Robertson; writing by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

A week in the life of a virtual PA

By Sherona Treen-Coward of Treen Coward Associates

I began my self-employment journey in 2014; having spent 16 years in industry, I felt it was time for a new challenge. I had worked in the legal sector and the NHS, mainly in administrative and managerial roles. I wanted to put my skills to good use, and the concept of the virtual PA was emerging. I also wanted to futureproof my work, and I felt this was a business I could build upon.

In 2017, as the team grew and our services expanded, we decided to rebrand. I now have two employees and a specialist contractor on board, as we continue to grow and evolve the business to suit the ever-changing needs of the professional service industries. As such, we can offer a variety of services, such as virtual PA, virtual administrator, note-taking for meetings, social media management, bookkeeping and call answering.

Like many self-employed individuals, I often cite the variety in my work as a huge benefit. I work with service-based professionals from a variety of industries; however, the principles of good business administration remain the same.

I work traditional office hours: Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. Typical daily work for me will include chasing documentation over the phone, appointment setting, diary and email management, CRM management, document formatting, invoicing, answering calls and dealing with queries, drafting content for various purposes, and audio typing. I will also note-take at board and other business meetings, and compile action lists and associated papers as well as ensuring they are circulated well in advance of the meeting.

I am also involved in a variety of projects where we agree a process, and I ensure this is adhered to as well as carrying out any tasks that may be assigned to me. I particularly enjoy project-related work, as evaluating or managing processes has always been part of my managerial administrative background.

Stay professional

Pre-pandemic I would often attend many meetings each week which involved travel. All my meetings have since moved online, and I always qualify the purpose of a meeting before agreeing to any requests. I think that has become more important than ever, as demands on our time have not necessarily decreased, but they have changed. One thing I am always conscious of is working productively and adding value rather than being busy. Like many, I am now working from home but have set up my home office to ensure I separate work from non-work. I do miss the travel associated with my work, but it is more important to be safe at this time.

Being a virtual PA and business manager is not just about getting appointments in the diary. We are often the first point of contact for many organisations and professionals, the face or voice of someone else’s business, and their professional reputation can start and end with us. Even though all our meetings have now moved online, I still observe office attire when facing clients or attending a business meeting.

When I first started out and was working from home, I had to deal with assumptions that I wasn’t doing much all day and had lots of free time, but that is not the case. Our clients work traditional office hours and we support them during that time and deadlines are there to be met. While a benefit of self-employment is managing one’s own diary, discipline is essential if you want to stay in business.

Aside from working in the business, I also set time aside to work on the business. Like every business, we need to undertake accounting and marketing activities among other things. I block time out each week to plan our social media, write blogs, and check over our accounting system. I also check in with my colleagues, our clients, and meet with my business mentor, whose support has been invaluable to me and my business.

Stay connected

Part of our marketing strategy involves networking, which I do regularly, and I am a member of a weekly networking event that now meets online. It is also part of a larger network where I can attend other meetings and catch up with other members. Networking is a really important part of my work, and one of the most enjoyable bits too. Meeting with like-minded business owners helps develop a business mindset, and it’s a great way to keep up to date with news from various industries. I always recommend networking to other business owners, regardless of their line of work: it is a great way to meet other professionals, build your professional relationships and create opportunities for potential work. I always enjoyed running the SfEP [now the CIEP] annual conference speed networking events and getting to know the members.

Similarly, I have been able to source professional suppliers based on reputation and trust by asking my network. But it’s not all work, work, work – there are social aspects to networking, which are equally important to us as human beings. When I first started, it was easy to get through almost the whole day without speaking to anyone, as I was so focused on building my business, but through networking, I realised that to build my business I needed to build relationships too.

Plan your courses

Another important part of my working life is CPD [Continuing Professional Development]. As an employee, I was required to attend training courses, and often delivered training too, but being self-employed meant I now had complete control over my CPD plan. I have taken various courses over the years, from introductory to post-grad level; they may relate specifically to my work, but also general business-ownership matters such as marketing or leadership. I am currently completing the ILM Level 5 in Leadership and Management as I want to undertake more project management and process improvement work, and this is taking up quite a bit of my working week as the course comes to an end.

Some courses have been free, others require a financial investment. I have a CPD plan that I review regularly to ensure the courses I attend add value to my work and ultimately my clients. CPD comes in many forms, such as general reading, listening to podcasts, or undertaking self-directed research. That said, I also recently attended a short online art course, which forced me to slow down and make time to observe – traits which I’m sure will benefit all aspects of my life.

Allow time for yourself

It may not seem that there’s much time left after all that, but as my grandparents often reminded me, all work and no play … As difficult as it can be, I always try to do one thing for myself each day. It can be something really small like walking the dog, a five-minute exercise while waiting for the kettle to boil, or calling a family member or friend. I try to do it before I start work so I feel energised for the day ahead; sometimes it’s not possible, and there may be days when it doesn’t happen, but it’s important to factor in some time for yourself to keep a healthy mind and body, and to maintain your relationships in and out of work.

At the end of the week, I always take a moment to look at what I have achieved and celebrate those wins! Again, they may be big or small, but ending the working week positively with a glass of something sparkly is important to me. I’m fortunate to live within reach of two cities and several beaches, and at the weekend I like to spend lots of time outdoors, walking or kayaking. The contrast to my working life really helps me to achieve some kind of work-life balance.

Sherona Treen-Coward is a Virtual PA and business manager with over 20 years’ experience working with lawyers, doctors and service-based professionals within the UK. After starting her own business in 2014, one of Sherona’s first self-employed contracts was supporting the SfEP conference director, drafting and sending correspondence on behalf of the SfEP. Five SfEP conferences later (and imposter syndrome very rarely permitting) she thought perhaps she wasn’t that bad a writer after all, and finally started writing her own stuff.


Check out the other posts in our ‘Week in the life’ series: discover what a picture researcher, senior editorial project manager and a book indexer do.


Photo credits: Desk by Nathan Riley on Unsplash; video conference by Alexandra_Koch on Pixabay.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

 

Forum matters: Setting up your own business

This feature comes from the band of CIEP members who volunteer as forum moderators. You will only be able to access links to posts if you’re a forum user and logged in. Find out how to register.

With so many new members signing up to the forums, now is a good time to discuss the many things you have to consider when setting up your editorial business.

The practicalities

If you’re based in the UK, take a look at www.gov.uk/set-up-business for information on all the financial and practical aspects of setting up a business. You will have to register it, decide on a name, keep records of the money you make and your expenses, and complete self-assessment tax returns. Many editors are sole traders, and information on this is at www.gov.uk/set-up-sole-trader. Business expenses for sole traders and other freelancers were discussed on the forums in the spring.

If you get stuck, then contact the government helpline.

As also discussed on the forums recently, HMRC runs helpful webinars on a range of relevant topics. CIEP members testified to their usefulness and the value of seeing the human faces behind the tax system.

Your local council may hold seminars on how to run your own business and may offer business grants for new starters, so check out their website.

If you’re in another tax jurisdiction, ask about equivalents on the forums.

Editorial training

It’s not enough to be good at spelling and eagle-eyed at spotting typos. If you want to work as an editor or proofreader, there’s much more you need to know about, from style sheets and house styles to grammar, consistency, layout and presentation. Good-quality editorial training will: (a) reassure you that you know what you’re doing; (b) fill in gaps in your knowledge and help you review learned habits; (c) help to set you apart from the thousands of other copyeditors and proofreaders, and (d) assure clients that you are a professional who knows what you’re doing.

The CIEP runs core skills training courses and courses on other editorial skills, from medical editing to working on fiction.

So the first answer to the question ‘Why train?’ is the obvious ‘To gain and then improve core editorial skills’. If you have never been taught, systematically, how to edit or proofread, you should start [training] now. Nobody would wake up one morning with a desire to be an accountant and set to work without help. Professional editing and proofreading are no different.[1]

There have been recent forum discussions on proofreading web content and proofreading training for American editors.

What equipment will you need?

  • Somewhere you can work without being disturbed by your household (including pets). A big enough desk and a comfortable, supportive office chair.
  • A computer, preferably with a screen that is large enough to view one or more whole pages.
  • A professional email address (charlotte-edit@host.com or charlotte@businessname.org rather than chaz-lol-xx@host.com).
  • Style guides – so you can answer the many questions that will come up, such as ‘should an ellipsis have a space before and after, or be closed up?’ New Hart’s Rules is a commonly used guide for British English editing and Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) for US English, but which style guide(s) you buy will depend on which language you are using, the type of client you work with, and the subjects you work on.
  • A dictionary – there are plenty of free online ones and a popular one is Lexico.

CIEP members get a discount on many dictionaries and reference books: see the members’ area. For general recommendations on reference works, see www.ciep.uk/resources/recommended-reference-books/general-editing-publishing-style.

CIEP members discussed their favourite work-related purchases on the forums in July.

Marketing yourself and finding clients

Now that you’re all set up and raring to go, where are you going to find your clients? This question comes up regularly on the forums, especially the Newbies forum, so do have a look. Recently there have been threads on next steps in starting a business and business networking.

Also, check out Louise Harnby’s great resources: www.louiseharnbyproofreader.com/marketing-your-editing–proofreading-business.html

Working from home

If you’re used to working in an office with other people, the transition to working on your own can be tricky. It’s not for everyone; some people need the buzz of a busy office and don’t cope well with looking at the same four walls each day.

You need to be self-disciplined and stick to working hours – however you define them! – or you could find the days drifting past in a fog of Twitter, daytime TV and housework: ‘I’ll just pop a wash on … oooh, the floor needs sweeping. Where did that hour go?’ If this is you, you might find a recent discussion on time-tracking tools helpful.

Make a list of the things you need to accomplish each day, so you can tick them off and feel a sense of achievement.

CPD

This has been more difficult during lockdown, but there are still plenty of ways to keep your editorial knowledge up to date. Many local CIEP groups are meeting via Zoom and there are always the forums. See www.ciep.uk/standards/continuing-professional-development for more CPD ideas.

Anything else?

This is only an overview. If you have a question on anything not covered here – who to choose as a website host? What social media platforms are best for networking and finding new clients? – then ask on the forums! Many CIEP members are happy to share their experiences of setting up their own businesses. In August there was a lovely forum thread entitled ‘How did you get started?’ in which many members, experienced and not-so-experienced, shared stories of their first steps into editing and proofreading.

You’ll find a list of recommended resources to help you set up a business on the CIEP website: see www.ciep.uk/resources/recommended-reference-books/running-freelance-editorial-business.

Running your own editorial business can be a hugely rewarding, worthwhile and satisfying way to earn a living. Enjoy the journey!

[1] ‘Why train?’ Rosemary Roberts MBE. This article first appeared in the SfEP’s then newsletter, Copyright, in June 2000 and was updated in May 2004. See www.ciep.uk/training/why-train


Photo credits: Come in we’re open by Álvaro Serrano; Home office by Mikey Harris; Office space by Annie Spratt, all on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

 

Freelancing job websites: are they worth it?

By Sofia Matias

At the beginning of our self-employed journey, we editors and proofreaders are, more often than not, overburdened with questions, but none perhaps more important than this one: where can we find work?

If we trust Google with answering that for us, the outcome is near-unanimous: most hyperlinks on the first page of results lead, in some form or another, to freelancing job platforms. They promise that ‘millions of people use [us] to turn their ideas into reality’ (Freelancer), that ‘we’ll make earning easy’ (Fiverr) or that they will give you ‘access to a stream of projects from our international client community’ (PeoplePerHour). But, with so many competing platforms – and millions of freelancers vying for the same jobs – is joining them a good idea?

As is the case with most aspects of self-employed life, what works for one person might not work for another, so ‘your mileage may vary’ is an appropriate sentiment to bear in mind. I know of several people who have successfully found work on these platforms, but my personal experience with them has not been the same. Here is what I learned from my time on these freelancing websites.

Fees, fees, and more fees

These websites are, of course, a business in themselves, so they must make money. Joining them is always free so there are no upfront costs to creating your profile on them, which makes for a good starting point for editors and proofreaders who are not ready to invest in, for example, building their own website or paying for advertisements. Even on the platforms where you can list your services as a product that interested people can buy outright, instead of bidding on listed jobs (such as Fiverr), doing so is free.

However, this is as far as the free lunches go. If you want to make your listings stand out, you can pay a fee to have them be featured on searches and reach more people, increasing your chances of booking work. This is not uncommon, but the point where some people might turn away is the one where, if you do get that all-elusive job, the platform will then take a cut of up to 20% from your payment. This, in conjunction with taxes and other fees (such as having to pay for the opportunity to bid on jobs, with no guarantee you will get them), can make earning a living on these job platforms an uphill battle (and definitely not as ‘easy’ as some of them claim).

High competition for little pay

With such high fees, you would assume that getting a job would be somewhat possible, right? Since it’s in their best interest to make money from you?

Again, your experience may differ, but if there is one thing that most editors and proofreaders agree on, it is that these platforms are filled with millions of people that can do (or claim to do) the same as you do, and who are more than willing to undercut your prices. In fact, you might even struggle to achieve fees that reach the UK minimum wage, let alone the CIEP suggested minimum rates. This is the main reason why I never booked a job on them: I had interest from buyers and personalised invitations to apply for jobs, but I did not want to work for less than my established fee, so I rejected them.

Remember, these platforms are worldwide, and what accounts for a low fee by UK standards can be perfectly acceptable in other countries (and the same applies to the standards of work produced). So, if you want to succeed, you might have to compromise what you are hoping to get for your work, or put in a lot more effort.

Opportunity to learn and acquire experience

Even though I personally never got work from any of the websites I was signed up for, I learned invaluable lessons that I successfully applied when it came to launching my own business. I realised just how important marketing is to succeed when self-employed and learned what to do and not to do when pitching my services.

For people who have an interest in editing or proofreading, but are not sure if it is the right career choice for them, these websites provide the opportunity to try it out without a sizeable upfront investment. For aspiring professionals who want to embark on full-time self-employment but do not want to do so without earning relevant experience, these platforms can be a good opportunity to get some testimonials under your belt, especially if you have another source of income and can be flexible with your prices.

The competition will still be there if you decide to create a business outside of these platforms – and can be just as fierce – so having a place to at least practise how you put yourself across to possible clients is a huge plus.

In short …

Not every editor’s journey is the same, so answering the question ‘are freelance platforms worth it?’ is not as simple as a ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

If you are considering looking for work or establishing yourself in any of these freelancing websites, at the very least do your research on which ones are more suitable for you and the work you offer, be fully aware of how they operate, and read reviews (from sellers, not buyers).

What they are not is a magical road to success, so be prepared to be flexible and put in the time and effort these platforms demand. They might just work for you and, if they do not, you can still learn valuable skills you can apply in your career as an editor or proofreader.

Sofia Matias is a professional writer, editor and proofreader based in the South East of Scotland. She specialises in working with independent authors of Young Adult and general fiction, arts and humanities students (including ESL) and businesses, charities and publications in need of clear and concise copy or editorial content.

 

 


The CIEP’s Pricing a Project guide describes the quotation process, from taking a brief to agreeing terms and conditions. This practical guide comprises tips, checklists and worked examples to assist not only freelancers but also clients who seek the services of editorial professionals.


Photo credits: Woman at desk by Andrea Piacquadio (Pexels); pennies by Josh Appel (Unsplash); person at desk with notes by Startup Stock Photos (Pexels).

Proofread by Kelly Urgan, Entry-Level Member.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

A week in the life of a book indexer

By Paula Clarke Bain

I have been an editorial freelancer for two decades, originally as a proofreader and copyeditor, and now primarily as an indexer, after training with the Society of Indexers (SI). I like being an Advanced Professional Member of both the CIEP and SI. I also love the variety of the job, but here is a glimpse into a typical working week as a book indexer.

Monday

I’m at my desk for 9.30 as I try to keep a working routine of pretty normal office hours. I worked from home already, and luckily that hasn’t had to change much this year.

Today I’m starting a new index. This job is unusual in that I also did the proofread for it, so I have had one good read over it before I start the index. If I come to an index fresh, I tend to do an initial skim-read of the book to begin understanding its content and structure.

Another different aspect is that this job is in InDesign. For a normal back-of-the-book index, I would work from a PDF of the page proofs on the left of my screen, and SKY Index software on the right. However, this publisher prefers an embedded index in InDesign. This has its own indexing facility, but I prefer to work with the Index-Manager program, which imports the InDesign text and allows you to build and edit the index properly while embedding the entries in the text.

A good start is made, considering that the first day is always slowest. To index, I start at page 1, line 1, and read and input entries as I go along. (Yes, we do have to read the whole book.) I consider the readers’ needs as I do this and the ‘aboutness’ of the book. What is this chapter/page/paragraph about? I add possible subheadings to large entries that will need breaking down further. The software sorts all this into alphabetical order as I input. I do not add page numbers for an embedded index, as these are automatically generated by anchoring entries at the correct point in the text.

In the afternoon, I hear back from another indexing job. The typesetter had a few minor queries for the author, which they check with me. I soon resolve these and that index goes to print. I am often commissioned by authors and I think this can work better than the traditional publishing scenario where indexer and author have no contact.

I down tools at a reasonable hour and assess how much I’ve done so far, and how long it might take to finish. This book is a history of liberal thought. I’ve input entries for the introduction and first two chapters today and I’m only up to the end of the English Civil War. It’s going to be a long week.

Tuesday

An early start for a full day of inputting entries. I want to get another four chapters done today so I need to focus.

I make sure to take regular breaks. I use an online Pomodoro timer, so focus for 25 minutes, take a five-minute break, and repeat, with a longer break every two hours. In my breaks, I might go on Twitter, which is my preferred social network. There are many indexers, editors, authors and publishers on there, and I have sometimes got indexing work directly through Twitter contacts. I’ll either peruse some tweets or look at the CIEP or SI forums for some freelance chat.

I receive an email offer of a future indexing job, but it’s for a busy time and it pays a poor rate, so I don’t pursue this further. I stay on some of these freelance lists as a cushion if nothing else turns up, but something invariably does.

It’s a day of revolutions in the reading: Glorious, American and French. Lots of names for sorting out, and a couple of love stories too: between Benjamin Constant and Madame de Staël (quite an eye-opener), and between John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor. Some of these entries will need to be like mini-biographies in themselves, covering early life, relationships, theories, works, etc. I’ll reconsider these at editing stage.

I’ve done the four chapters as planned and I’m on track. Hoping for similar tomorrow.

Using Index-Manager

Wednesday

Onwards with more of the same. Having already proofread the book, I know that there is some difficult material coming up, though, including world wars and the Holocaust. It’s all written well, and so important to include, but the content is obviously horrific. I index this as professionally as I can, but I’m relieved to finish those chapters. I take a good break after this and head out for a walk.

On return, I am offered a job by a regular client to update a previous index I did for them. The author has written some additional chapters, so I will need to proofread this material, index the extra chapters and incorporate the new entries into the index (much easier with proper indexing software). I’m happy to do this, the publisher is pleased (as it’s less time and less money than a full index), and I agree to take it on.

The afternoon indexing is an easier session – on post-war rebuilding, including the theories of Hayek and Keynes; quite a lot on national identity, particularly seen through Isaiah Berlin and George Orwell; the Cold War, Thatcher and Reagan; and general post-war economics, up to the 2007/08 financial crisis. It’s a wide-ranging book, this.

Another four complete chapters done today: good. Ten down, four to go.

Thursday

I aim to reach the end of the inputting today and make a start on the editing. During the day, my reading covers, among other things, identity politics, cancel culture, migrant boats, Brexit and Trump. Quite a combination.

I do finish inputting early in the afternoon. The last indexable page occurs earlier than the last proofreadable page, as we don’t generally index the acknowledgements or references/bibliography sections, and endnotes are only indexed if they contain significant information.

And so the editing stage begins. I generate the index in a copy of the InDesign file and put it into the desired format (usually two columns in a smaller font than the main text). I can then see how long the ‘raw’ index is, and how much editing I have to do. The unedited index is 40 pages, and the publisher wants it to be 20 pages maximum. This should be fine. I go back into Index-Manager, as its editing facilities are superior.

I pick out some easy edits today – mainly removing unnecessary subheadings where the main entry only has about six page numbers. This starts saving a lot of space, as an entry with subentries over several lines can be quickly made into a main entry of one or two lines.

As I’m where I wanted to be, I decide to clock off and tackle the editing with fresh eyes and a rebooted brain in the morning.

Friday

Up with the lark and raring to go. The editing stage is when the index properly takes shape and where a lot of the thinking work is done. On this pass, I start from the ‘A’ section and look at each entry, considering whether it should stay in (if not, out it goes, or it’s marked as a potential deletion) and if it is correct or needs some work.

I made some notes to self while inputting – marking with tags such as ‘??’ when there’s something to look at again. At the end, I search for these to make sure I have resolved them all.

I see some unusual entries, which I try to retain, as it makes for a more interesting index. Here are entries such as ‘sans-culottes’ and ‘shit lists’. The former will stay. The latter could come out, but as this author is renowned for their colourful language, I feel it’s fair game. I’m also keeping ‘Cecil the lion’, because he’s worth it.

An entry with many subheadings will take the longest time to sort. Are all the subheadings needed? Can some be combined with others? The main characters in the book are in this category. The same goes for concepts (eg doubt, freedom, identity, liberty, truth, will) and ‘-isms’ – communism, fascism, individualism, nationalism, socialism, etc. This is the bulk of what the book is ‘about’, so it’s important that these work.

I often leave the ‘metatopic’ entry – the subject of the whole book – till the end. Some say that this should not have an entry at all, as everything relates to it, but I do tend to include one as a basic overview. The metatopic here is ‘liberalism’, so I deal with this entry last.

After working through the entries from A to Z, I regenerate the index in InDesign to check for length. It’s 18 pages, so I’m happy with that. I now print out the index for a final proofread (using proper proofreading marks). I spot different things on hard copy, and it gives me a better feel of the reader experience of the index.

I make any tweaks and generate the final index. One last check and I submit the whole proofread and indexed InDesign file to the publisher, with index entries embedded in the text and a generated index list at the end.

Then I await index approval before submitting my invoice. An author may request minor changes, which the indexer should amend, as they understand the index structure and how other entries might be affected. In this case, I’m glad to hear that author and publisher are happy with the index, and off the book goes to press.

So, there is a fairly typical week in the life of this book indexer. I love my job and I feel lucky that I can disappear into a good book every working day. I have seen the joy of indexing being compared to a word game or jigsaw. It is most satisfying to figure out the best index solution for each book. Next week will be a different puzzle again.

Paula Clarke Bain is an Advanced Professional Member of the Society of Indexers and the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading. She tweets as @PC_Bain and her website (with comedy book indexes blog) is www.baindex.org. Find the Society of Indexers on Twitter @indexers and www.indexers.org.uk.

 


Photo credit: calendar – Emma Matthews Digital Content Production on Unsplash

Proofread by Andrew Macdonald Powney, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

CIEP social media round-up: June and July 2020

In June and July the CIEP looked to create, as well as curate, our social media content.

A CIEP commitment to anti-racism

In June, the CIEP – like many other organisations – sought to respond meaningfully as we reached a tipping point globally: a point at which anti-racism demands more of us than lip service to dismantling structural inequality. On 5 June, we published A CIEP commitment to anti-racism across our social media channels, setting out five steps that the CIEP will take to contribute to change.

‘As editors and proofreaders,’ we noted, ‘there is so much that we can each do to make space for and amplify voices that have historically been and continue to be marginalised and silenced.’ A warm reaction on Facebook (87 likes/loves and 14 shares), Twitter (71 likes and 25 retweets) and LinkedIn (117 likes/loves/applause) demonstrated how keenly this resonates. Both privately and publicly, members expressed emotion at being part of a membership eager to take action; some followed up swiftly on this commitment, forming a working group to translate the CIEP’s words into practice.

Throughout June, the CIEP social media team curated relevant content, including Do the work: an anti-racist reading list, and promoted Black voices, spanning #PublishingPaidMe, a campaign asking authors to reveal their advances and expose race-based pay gaps, a call from the Black Writers’ Guild for sweeping changes in UK publishing and a celebration of Reni Eddo-Lodge’s success as the first Black British author to top the UK’s official book charts. We also shared Alex Kapitan, the Radical Copyeditor, explaining why saying ‘All Lives Matter’ makes things worse, not better, Sophie Playle’s thoughts about how to avoid unconscious bias in your creative writing, and a list of 5 steps freelance editors can take to combat racism. And these efforts continue, the CIEP’s social media being key to our commitment ‘to [seek] out and [amplify] BAME voices and the voices of editors/proofreaders of colour worldwide’.

All the free stuff

As we went into July we continued creating social media content by publicising a range of free-for-everyone and free-for-members fact sheets and focus papers across all our platforms, including a love letter to editing cunningly disguised as a focus paper by our honorary president, David Crystal, called ‘Imagine an editor’. This was popular with our audiences, but we also found that explainers, such as ‘Training for proofreading or copyediting’ and ‘The publishing workflow’, went down well too.

 

Of these, our fact sheet on ‘Proofreading or copyediting?’, which could be used to explain to clients the differences between the two disciplines, went down a storm. We also posted CIEP quizzes 1, 2 and 3 across our platforms, in case any of our audiences had missed them. These got a particularly good response on LinkedIn, with ‘pub quiz’ participants comparing scores and one follower commenting: ‘Fun and educational every time 😊’.

Never forgetting our bookshelves, or the location of the toilet

Pieces on bookshelves, how to organise them, and the books we put on them are always popular with our audiences. In June and July we offered articles (some from the archives) on a bookshelf illusion mural in Utrecht; a list of all the ways to organise your bookshelf, including using the Dewey Decimal System; organising books by colour only; (if more inspiration were needed) how 11 writers organise their personal libraries; and (if all else fails, presumably) the artistic arrangement of books around a person or persons in order to recreate a series of dramatic scenes.

We also took a virtual trip to a writer’s studio in a garden, which could just as easily have been an editor’s studio, we thought (or hoped). One Facebook follower asked: ‘Does it have a toilet? Not going in the bushes …’. Apparently it does, but it’s concealed behind a secret panel. Here’s hoping it’s easily found in moments of need.

Talking of virtual trips, our Facebook followers made the role of books in their lives very clear when, on 1 June, we posted a link to a story about how Covid-19 is forcing authors to change their novels in ways such as avoiding references to flying and including details such as temperature checks. ‘I want to read about a world that’s not burning and going down the drain. I read to escape, not to be reminded that I can’t leave the house’ posted one follower. Oops. Luckily, later in the month we had the opportunity to share an article listing ‘50 brilliant books to transport you this summer’, and then even later (in July) to introduce our audiences to a piece that reviewed novels as if they were travel destinations. The reviewer of Les Misérables, in ‘A misérables trip to Paris’, advises ‘If you’re going to visit Paris, don’t go during revolution, I’d say, or at least don’t bring the kids’. Wise words indeed.

Loving letters

Another thing guaranteed to transport you is a simple handwritten letter, and during lockdown people have been turning to this lo-tech but lovely form of communication. We shared a story about a Colombian library’s campaign to spread positivity through anonymous letters, and a New York Times piece (restricted access) reminding us of the value of letters in these email-soaked days: ‘I do trade big, juicy emails with some people in my life, but receiving them isn’t quite the same as slitting open a letter, taking it to a big chair and settling in for the 20 minutes it takes to devour it’. We were also reminded of the value of using letters in marketing, with a Throwback Thursday blog by Louise Harnby which urged us not to forget the old ways.

Time for fun

As ever, we made space on our social media platforms for fun items, such as Futuracha, the font that changes as you type. And for anyone who has trouble remembering the difference between ‘born’ and ‘borne’, and ‘affect’ and ‘effect’, we posted the clever homophone artwork of Bruce Worden of Homophones, Weakly. Finally, ‘Words we know because of Star Trek’ went down well. So, until the next social media round-up, we send you this sincere wish: live long and prosper, friends.

Don’t miss a thing in editing and proofreading. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.


Photo credits: letter and coffee – Freddy Castro on Unsplash

Proofread and posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Uncovering the value of your work

By John Niland

In a recent conversation, a copyeditor posed the following question: How can I justify a higher rate, when I’m ‘just’ being asked to review a couple of thousand words of text?

I hear a similar question nearly every week, from accountants, lawyers, web designers, video producers, trainers … all professionals who are constantly being asked to ‘just’ do something. Indeed, I sometimes wonder if certain clients use the word ‘just’ to devalue a job, even before a professional ever gets to quote for it.

Nevertheless, I had to issue a gentle challenge to my copyeditor friend. It is apparent to me that she is already doing more to devalue her work than her client is. Can you see how?

You may wish to take a moment to reflect back before reading on. What’s the problem with the way that she is looking at value?

Context

Value is all about context, as the following story illustrates. A father once said to his son, ‘You graduated with honours. As a reward, here is a car I acquired many years ago. It is now several years old. But before I give it to you, take it to the used-car dealership and tell them I want to sell it and see how much they offer you.’ The son went to the used-car place, returned to his father and said, ‘They offered me £1,000 because it looks rather old.’ The father said, ‘Take it to the pawn shop.’ The son went to the pawn shop, returned to his father and said, ‘The pawn shop only offered £100 because it is such an old car.’ The father asked his son to go to a car club and show them the car. The son took the car to the club, returned and told the father, ‘Some people in the club offered £50,000 for it since it’s a Nissan Skyline R34, an iconic car and sought after by many.’

In the usual telling of the story, the father then lectures his son: ‘The right place values you the right way. If you are not valued, do not be angry, it means you are in the wrong place. Those who know your value are those who appreciate you. Never stay in a place where no one sees your value.’

Extrinsic value

So far, so good. However, there is a more fundamental point to this story: that value is extrinsic (ie based on context), rather than intrinsic (ie based on content). It’s not the condition of the metal that defines the value of the car, any more than the quantity of text defines the value of the copyediting job. It’s not the age of the car, any more than it’s the age of the copyeditor. Nor is it even the mileage of the car, any more than it’s the experience of the copyeditor.

The copyeditor is looking in the wrong place to find her professional value. As professionals, we will never find our full value in the content of our work: it’s the context that makes our work valuable. Needless to say, this distinction often produces howls of protest from purist practitioners. ‘What! No! It’s the quality of my writing / design / coaching etc that’s the key to my value!’ Well … not really. Most clients see quality as fitness to purpose and the value of that purpose lies squarely in the client’s world (context) … not in your content. No matter how good your content is.

Let’s walk through another illustration. Two web designers draft identical webpages: same text, same images, same design, same call-to-actions. One of those pages sits on a busy site, on a ‘crossroads’ often visited because of links from partners and associates. The other page is part of a standalone website, rarely visited, with no links. Which page has the most value? Which page would you spend most money to enhance?

Not content

Value depends on context, not content. When I work with my professional clients to fully master this distinction, it’s often quite liberating. They become much more fluent in the issues of their chosen client world; hence more compelling in first meetings. Their time-management improves – often quite dramatically – as they align their hours with the value added by their work. Over the course of a few months, they often learn to double and triple their fees, because they are no longer competing with generalists and instead can point to the true benefits of their unique value-centred approach. Younger professionals learn that they don’t need to first amass years of experience, but can differentiate themselves early on in their career, simply by becoming masters of context, not content.

There are many practical skills to learn here. Let’s look at some opening questions that our copyeditor friend might ask, to focus on the context (rather than the content) of her work. Here are some examples:

  • How will the client judge the success of this project?
  • Who will be making that assessment? When and how?
  • What impact could this project have on sales/engagement/signups, etc?
  • What’s their experience/history so far? What happened last time they tried to engage someone like me?
  • What other initiatives are going on that we should take into account?

You can quickly craft some of your own questions, to fit your style and market. As a rule of thumb, ask yourself if your questions are about them and their world, or about you and the work you are being asked to do. If it’s the former, you are well on your way to uncovering context, wherein lies the real value of your work.

Of course, there are challenges along the way. There are clients who block professionals from context. There are agents and middlemen who could not care less. There are last-minute clients who constantly suffer from hurry-sickness and just don’t have time for a value conversation. This is when your own self-worth is vital. Whatever happens, you know you don’t belong in a place where people don’t want to see real value. So find better clients and move on.

© John Niland, August 2020

John Niland runs regular webinars for professionals to improve the value of their work. See www.selfworthacademy.com/webinars/ for the current schedule. John’s book ‘The Self-Worth Safari’ is available on Amazon.

 


The CIEP’s Pricing a Project guide looks at preparing quotations for editorial work.


Photo credits: Plant in coins – Micheile Henderson; Nissan Skyline – Ondrej Trnak, both on Unsplash

Proofread by Emma Easy, Intermediate Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

How to be a freelance introvert

By Tom Albrighton

Freelance editing is an ideal occupation for introverts. But if you want to make a success of freelancing, you’ll need to overcome some challenges too.

Are you an introvert?

If you’re happy on your own for most of the time and prefer working alone, the answer’s probably yes.

The word ‘introvert’ is from the Latin intro, meaning ‘inside’, and vertere, meaning ‘to turn’. So an introvert is someone who tends to turn inwards, towards their own thoughts and feelings, rather than outwards, towards other people or external events. While extroverts get an energy boost from being in company, introverts draw theirs from solitude and quiet.

Being an introvert isn’t quite the same as being shy. Shyness is about being tense and awkward in company, sometimes unbearably so – and even extroverts can feel that way sometimes. In contrast, introverts can deal with company if they have to. They just prefer not to – at least, for much of the time.

Introverts at work

Being an introvert is fine, as long as you have choices. But that can change when you get to work.

Open-plan offices, team working, brainstorming and many other modern workplace trends are fine for extroverts, but tough on introverts. The effort to fit in and take part demands emotional labour from introverts, on top of their actual work.

It’s ironic, because your work is probably still done alone. Editing and proofreading, for example, are solo tasks. But because of the nature of the workplace, there can be a tension between where you work and how you work.

Although I generally call myself a copywriter, I’m really an editor by trade. I began my career as a lowly assistant editor, checking calendars for a trade publisher, and eventually graduated to editing non-fiction (mostly guidebooks).

Along the way, I worked with plenty of freelance editors and proofreaders. I often envied them, because while they obviously had an introverted character that was very similar to my own, they didn’t have to put up with working nine to five in a busy office. Instead, they got to work in the quiet and seclusion of their own homes, where they could bring their full concentration to bear on their work.

At that time, I couldn’t see how they’d done it. How had they gone from the hamster wheel of employment to an enjoyable, plentiful freelance life?

Upsides and downsides

A few years later, when I went freelance myself, I began to understand what it’s like to run your own freelance business. And I also saw, at first hand, how being an introvert can both help and hinder your progress.

On the plus side, working at home was everything I’d hoped for. No maddening noise, no trivial chit-chat, no interminable meetings, no tedious office politics. The chance to work in an environment that I controlled, at hours I chose. And, in theory at least, the freedom to work on whatever projects I wanted.

However, I also saw the flip side of the coin. While the upsides of freelancing are indeed great for introverts, the challenges can be tough.

For instance, I learned first-hand what it’s like to build up a roster of freelance clients from scratch, and how galling it can be to compare to yourself others who are further down that road.

I saw that it’s difficult to market yourself and set prices when you’re naturally retiring or diffident. Building a network when you prefer solitude is hard work. And when you have a strong tendency to sit and reflect on problems alone, you sometimes struggle to resolve issues that would really benefit from outside input.

Managing clients, gaining confidence

I also realised that although I no longer had a single boss, I now had lots of mini-bosses, whose demands I had to balance and prioritise. I experienced the distress of clients playing hardball on price when I was struggling for work. And inevitably, I collided with the small minority of clients who are unreasonable, timewasting or downright rude.

What’s more, it’s hard to listen to your instincts about rogue clients when you’re used to overriding your own unease in social situations. It’s even harder to turn work down when you prefer not to rock the boat. And it’s upsetting when clients move on, because your natural introvert instinct is to hold on to relationships rather than forge new ones.

While introverts aren’t necessarily lacking in confidence, I have personally found that building confidence is vital. There are several ways to do that – and they don’t have to involve making huge leaps outside your comfort zone. You can also consciously change your beliefs and explanatory style so you favour more positive and productive interpretations of events.

Overall, freelancing has been great for me, and I’d always encourage people to give it a go. You just need to go into it with your eyes open, and understand that while some aspects of it will come naturally, others will take some work. Put that work in, and you’re well on the way to becoming a successful freelance introvert.

Tom Albrighton is a freelance copywriter and author. His latest book, The Freelance Introvert, is available now in paperback and ebook. Find it at Amazon UK, Amazon US or your local Amazon store.

 

 


As we adjust to a slightly less locked-down life, introverts may find themselves needing to re-establish some restorative niches (which aren’t just for conferences).


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.

CIEP social media round-up: April and May 2020

Two of the strangest months in memory, recorded through our social media accounts

Times such as these are tricky for a social media team whose focus is on publishing and freelancing. As with pretty much everything right now, long term we don’t know what COVID-19 might mean for publishing, the book industry, or editors and proofreaders. We entered April 2020 wondering what we could communicate to our audiences on a day-to-day basis. Too much doom would be unhelpful. Too much levity would be unwelcome. What to do? Like so many others, we took each day at a time.

Silver linings

But heartening developments emerged, at least where publishing was concerned: increased book buying during lockdown, and the appearance of online book festivals and other events, with the Hay Festival, from 18 to 31 May, presenting an impressive array of personalities including our own honorary president, David Crystal. (David also starred in Mark Allen’s new podcast, That Word Chat, on 11 May.) Online events, by their nature, could include many more people than would have attended physically. ACES, the society for editing in the US (@copyeditors), took its conference online with #ACES2020Online on 1 May, and we were promised great things by SENSE, the Society of English-language professionals in the Netherlands (@SENSEtheSociety), whose online conference was to take place in early June.

Revising our lexicon

We covered the updating of dictionaries that the coming of COVID-19 required, so that editors and proofreaders were informed about how to refer to the virus. We posted articles about new terms such as quarantini and coronacoaster, and terms that were gaining popularity such as infodemic, as well as whether we were using older terms differently now. We reminded our followers of the differences between similar terms we were now using a lot, such as hoard and horde (‘There are hordes of people hoarding toilet paper’, one Facebook follower observed).

Keeping up with tech

Video conferencing packages are now part of our lives in a way they never were before. We covered Zoom in various ways, from why Zoom makes you tired to sports commentator Andrew Cotter’s Zoom meeting with his two Labradors: a treat. Meanwhile, Cambridge Dictionaries introduced us to new video conferencing terms like zoombombing, zumping and teletherapy. Merriam-Webster noted the coining of two news-and-phone-related phrases: doomsurfing and doomscrolling.

Shelf isolation

More attention is being paid to bookshelves in these Zoom days (see ‘Bookcase Credibility’, @BCredibility, an account launched in April that comments on the bookshelves of various public figures). Of course, at CIEP we appreciate a good bookshelf (and a good book nook, a scene or figure that can be placed between shelved books). On 25 March we had proved ourselves ahead of the curve by asking our Twitter followers to #ShowUsYourShelves. To fill these shelves still further, during April and May there were a number of articles and postings about the books we could read in lockdown, to comfort us, return us to our childhoods, inspire, uplift or offer us escape, or simply to get us through. We enjoyed artist Phil Shaw’s ordering of books to tell a story with their titles, something that Orkney Library (@OrkneyLibrary), now temporarily closed, had often done for its 70K followers. And, remaining with libraries, the true story about the cleaner who rearranged the books in a library in size order – oh, horror! – inspired sympathy and hilarity in many.

Actors available

Suddenly, actors and other artists had time on their hands and were doing impromptu readings and recitals. Jennifer Ehle, Elizabeth Bennet in the famous BBC 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, read the novel chapter by chapter, and we shared this on Twitter on 6 April. Andy Serkis read The Hobbit online for charity. @SirPatStew (Sir Patrick Stewart) read a Shakespeare sonnet every day until 22 May. Our post announcing this got 83 likes and 33 shares from our delighted Facebook followers.

Home comforts

Of course, we editors and proofreaders are, for the most part, well used to all aspects of working from home, from furry assistants to endless tea or coffee drinking. And, alas, with beverages occasionally comes spillage. One of our most popular posts on Twitter was about an artist who made coffee stains into illustrations of monsters. There were a lot of them. Boy, was he unlucky with his coffee.

Funnies, Friday or otherwise

If you’re a devotee of the CIEP Facebook page, you’ll know that there’s a Friday Funny at about 4pm every week to send everyone off into the weekend with a smile. These are often comic strips by book-appreciating illustrators such as John Atkinson or authors who understand the trials of working from home such as Adrienne Hedger. When we’re very lucky, the legendary Brian Bilston releases a poem. His ‘Comparative Guidance for Social Distancing’ got 160 likes and 105 shares on our Facebook page, and it wasn’t even posted on a Friday. Sometimes the stars align and there’s a cat-and-books story we can post at the end of the week. Such an event took place on 22 May, when we enjoyed Horatio, a cat who wears (or, really, bears) costumes to promote his local library. As one Facebook user commented, ‘That is a patient cat.’ Truth.

Lockdown LinkedIn

We only started posting our blog-based LinkedIn content regularly last June, and since we passed the 10,000 followers mark last August our followers have increased again by another 8,000. Since lockdown, engagement has reduced as many of our followers seem to be working parents who are grabbing opportunities to work while suddenly morphing into teacher mode. During April and May 2020, posts that proved popular included: Denise Cowle’s week in the life of an editor (more than 8% engagement rate and 45 likes), a post by Intermediate Member Hilary McGrath sharing tips for staying motivated when starting a course (more than 4% engagement rate and 38 likes) and, showing reading-related content is our bread and butter, Abi Saffrey’s post about evaluating her year in books (more than 5% engagement rate, 32 likes and 8 comments).

Rounding up the round-up

During April and May 2020 on the CIEP’s social media, the emphasis was on editors and proofreaders looking after themselves, diverting themselves, keeping informed and looking for light where it could be found. As ever, our social media was overwhelmingly about support. We got a new emoji on Facebook – ‘care’, the usual little yellow head hugging a heart. Gotta tell you, it’s coming in useful.

Don’t miss a thing in editing and proofreading. Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.


Photo credits: wall emojis by George Pagan III; cat by Andrii Ganzevych, both 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.

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.