Tag Archives: COVID-19

Reviving my editing business

By Louise Bolotin

Like many freelancers, I was hit hard by the pandemic. 2020 started well enough, including a huge two-month project for a Commission. But in the week before we went into lockdown last March, I ran into deep trouble. First, as businesses battened down their financial hatches, all the projects I’d had booked in up to mid-June were cancelled by my clients. And then the local weekly newspaper where I’d worked as their subeditor for several years rang to say they were laying me off. In the space of a few days, I lost 100% of my work. Utter despair and panic set in because after the final week of that lucrative Commission job, I had nothing – for the first time in 15 years of working for myself.

Normally I’d never admit this, but I was not alone. I heard countless similar tales from other freelancers. For a few weeks I seriously contemplated getting a supermarket job. I had bills to pay, after all. I even got as far as half-heartedly filling out some of an application form for one supermarket. But I reminded myself that I still wanted to be my own boss, rather than someone’s employee. So as the public clamoured to ‘build back better’, I resolved to do the same, as there was no point dwelling on what I’d lost.

Once the shock had settled, it was time to roll up my sleeves. Under lockdown, I had plenty of time to review what I needed to do to bring work back to me – I’d let a few things slide for a while because when you are busy you’re often too busy to do marketing essentials. I also thought about what I didn’t want so I could make the big decisions. One thing I definitely didn’t want was to commute again. I’d worked at the newspaper one day a week, sometimes two, but the prospect of sitting on a train for 45 minutes each way in the middle of a pandemic was now unthinkable.

Despite the prospect of no income for goodness knows how long, I pledged to do a minimum two things every day that might generate work, and I also felt I could afford to spend a bit to earn a bit as I qualified for the government’s SEISS grant.

First, it was time to invest in a new website and logo. My then website was 10 years old and looked dated and unprofessional. Within a few weeks of launching my new look, my site analytics were showing increased visits and enquiries.

Next, it was time to up my CPD. First in my sights was the CIEP’s Medical Editing course, something I’d planned to do for a while but not got round to. Under lockdown I had time to get cracking. I completed the course in October and then paid for a freelance directory entry on a specialist network with the aim of finding medcomms work. That is starting to pay off.

As a member of the National Union of Journalists I have access to a huge suite of free courses run by the Federation of Entertainment Unions. In April I joined their webinars on Cash Flow Planning and Freelance Finance to get a quick grip on loss of income. These helped ease some of the financial stress I was experiencing. I also did the FEU’s Grow Your Business via Email Marketing webinar in August – it was both useful and inspiring. Within days I’d opened a Mailchimp account and am now sending a monthly newsletter to my clients. Late last year, I attended the FEU’s course on goal-setting. I’d never done this before, but I set two goals for this year and I’m reviewing them every month. One was to find three new long-term contracts – two of them found me in December.

There were other things – signing up to some paid-for freelancing newsletters that signpost work opportunities and yet more webinars, and joining a Slack community for journalists that was hugely valuable in providing camaraderie and support for lockdown stress and mental health.

Among my ‘two things a day’ pledge, this was a good time to update my various directory entries, including my CIEP one. I polished my CV and opted to spend more time on LinkedIn engaging with colleagues. I scoured job sites most days to look for freelance work. I got commissioned by a national newspaper to write a feature on being separated from my husband under lockdown. My NUJ branch also hired me to update my training courses on the business of freelancing and run them for branch members on Zoom.

The hard labour paid off and work has come back – in November I was fully booked for the first time since lockdown. And I learned the following:

Resilience matters: I’ve always been strong, and have bounced back from some of my life’s most challenging situations. I drew on that in 2020 to rebuild my business, bank balance and sanity. Never underestimate the power of keeping going – you’ll get to where you want to be eventually.

Envy is pointless: I felt irrationally furious at some colleagues who were still busy. Why them? Why not me? Especially the ones who’d only just started freelancing. But who knew what trouble they too might be in? For all I knew, just because they seemed busy, it didn’t mean they too weren’t struggling. I felt better when I let go of the envy and focused on building back.

It’s OK to ask for help: I’m not great at this, but I did. I was honest on social media, in the forums of my professional bodies and to friends offline about being in a hole and needing work. This helped keep my spirits up and some CIEP colleagues were kind enough to put work my way. I have since given interviews on how freelancers were hit and what I did to get back on my feet. I hope that helped others.

Louise BolotinLouise Bolotin began her career in journalism, turning her attention to the editorial side after a decade. She still writes occasionally, but has been a freelance editor since 2005 and is an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP. She specialises in working with companies on business documents, alongside copyediting a few books every year. An NUJ trainer on the business aspects of freelancing, she took her own advice when the pandemic struck.


Photo credits: empty train by Carl Nenzen Loven; small business fighting for survival by Gene Gallin on Unsplash

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

How to alter your mindset by changing your space and pace

This year’s CIEP conference was held online, from 2 to 4 November. Attendees from all over the world logged on to learn and socialise with their fellow editors and proofreaders, and a number of delegates kindly volunteered to write up the sessions for us. Janine Levine reviewed Editing in the era of digital nomadism and COVID-19: challenges and opportunities, presented by Marieke Krijnen.

At Conference Aston, home of the 2019 SfEP conference.

The life of a freelance editor can be a charmed, privileged existence. We have almost unlimited freedom to work when and where we choose, be it the local library, our favourite cosy café, or a fully kitted-out home office complete with RollerMouse and treadmill desk. No one treasures this freedom more than freelance academic copyeditor and self-confessed ‘digital nomad’ Marieke Krijnen, who has lived all over the world, including countries in the Middle East and Europe and in North America. Marieke got the third and final day of the CIEP 2020 conference off to an inspiring start with her webinar, Editing in the era of digital nomadism and COVID-19: Challenges and opportunities.

Marieke is the first to acknowledge the inherent privilege in a term like ‘digital nomad’, but this lifestyle is not without its challenges. From isolation and loneliness to work–life imbalance and back pain, Marieke let us in on the secrets of how she faces down these challenges in her day-to-day life. While international travel is largely on pause, for the time being, more of us find ourselves working remotely or from home during the current pandemic, and, as Marieke illustrated in her presentation, many of the same challenges apply.

There were so many useful, practical takeaways from this webinar that I couldn’t begin to list them all here. Luckily, you can find all the information in this handout compiled by Marieke. From apps and ergonomic office accessories to online forums and social networking groups – not to mention Marieke’s tips and tricks for maintaining good physical and mental wellbeing based on what works best for her – I was heartened to learn that there are so many quick and easy things I can implement right away for a happier, healthier and more productive remote-working lifestyle. I will mention a few of my favourites.

To help with productivity, apps like Freedom can temporarily block access to certain time-swallowing websites of your choosing (Facebook and Twitter are popular choices). To combat feelings of isolation, online groups, such as those on Meetup, bring individuals working within the same profession together for a virtual version of that ‘water cooler’ effect of a traditional office environment. There are also increasing numbers of co-working spaces popping up in cities all over the world. While monthly or yearly subscriptions to these spaces can be pricey, many of them now offer day passes, so that sorely needed change of scenery once a week won’t break the bank. Or, if you can’t make it there in person, you can join a digital co-working space. Lastly, daily practices, like taking a break to do an online yoga class, or simply relocating to another room in the house midway through the day, can be the reset the body and mind need to stay focused. And sticking regularly to these practices can reduce the risk of burnout in the longer term.

The current pandemic has made working from home a reality for the foreseeable future for many of us. While a globe-trotting lifestyle may be out of reach right now, it’s clear that many of the challenges of digital nomadism apply now more than ever, to more of us than ever before. Judging by the level of engagement in the Q&A session, conference attendees found much to inspire them in Marieke’s talk. But for me, the most important takeaway of all was Marieke’s reminder to give ourselves a break. She admits that even she doesn’t manage to follow all her advice all the time, and she certainly doesn’t recommend rushing out and buying a treadmill desk right away. One small change can make a big difference.

Janine Levine is a freelance proofreader and copyeditor based in Toronto, Canada. She specialises in non-fiction editing, including academic pieces and political magazines. When she isn’t working, she enjoys hiking and Zoom calls with friends. She is an Intermediate Member of the CIEP.

 


Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Stay alert: the importance of plain English in these confusing times

By Claire Beveridge

Presenting scientific data or science-based guidelines can be like walking a tightrope. Lean too far to one side and you risk falling into the trap of using too much jargon and alienating your readers. Shift too much the other way and your message becomes vague and confusing. You need look no further than the messaging from the UK Government for an example of this delicate balancing act. Their initial message ‘Stay at home. Protect the NHS. Save lives’ was simple, direct and clearly conveyed what everyone was supposed to do. Contrast this with its successor ‘Stay alert. Control the virus. Save lives’, which was almost immediately met with confusion and parodies on social media such as ‘Be vague. Cover our backs. Shirk responsibility’. What exactly did ‘stay alert’ mean, and what could and couldn’t we do? If only they had used plainer English.

Communication of scientific and medical information is most effective when things are written clearly and simply. Scientific literacy among the general population has been reported to be decreasing, and bad writing that is too complicated makes it increasingly difficult for non-scientists to engage. Add in the pandemic of ‘fake news’ that constantly seems to swirl online and you have a dangerous mix. A BBC team recently reported that the human cost of coronavirus misinformation has included assaults, arson and death, with hundreds dying in Iran as a result of alcohol poisoning following rumours of its curative effects, and others ingesting disinfectant and even fish tank cleaner following some of the daily pronouncements by Donald Trump. The stakes could not be higher. If important information isn’t communicated in a way that people understand, the result can be the unnecessary loss of life.

The ‘dihydrogen monoxide parody’ is a classic example of how using unnecessarily complicated scientific terms and selectively reporting data can lead people to reach misplaced conclusions. It has been deployed several times, and involves water being called by an unfamiliar chemical name and members of the public being presented with a list of its well-known effects that make it sound dangerous (such as that it is used as an additive in junk foods, it is found in tumours of terminal cancer patients and it is the major component of acid rain), followed by people being urged to ‘sign here to join the campaign for it to be banned’.

Science, by its very nature, is full of questions that cannot be answered without an element of doubt. Even if someone can get the same result when they repeat an experiment, it doesn’t ‘prove’ that something is or isn’t true. Results are simply pieces of evidence that support (or refute) a theory; ‘all scientific knowledge is tentative and provisional, and nothing is final’ (Kanazawa, 2008). Understandably, this can be a hard concept to grasp, and frustration and mistrust can arise if people feel that they are not being given a ‘proper’ answer. When will we have a vaccine against COVID-19? When will our lives go back to the way they were before the pandemic? No mathematical model can accurately predict the answers to these questions because we have never experienced this situation before. Even if we had, there would be no guarantee that the situation would play out in exactly the same way again; there are simply too many factors involved. When presenting data, writers need to consider people’s expectations and be honest about what is and isn’t known, and why.

The use of plain English is also important when scientists write for other scientists. It is a golden rule of scientific writing that methods must be described so that someone else can repeat experiments, and it is best practice to aim the abstract of a research paper at a level suitable for a non-specialist graduate student. More importantly, English is the global language of science and writers must always remember that many of their readers will not be native English speakers. Reading research papers that are crammed full of acronyms and complicated terminology can feel like wading through treacle, even when the writer works in the same field as you. Imagine how this must feel if English is not your first language. When results and guidelines are published, they are shared globally to spread ideas and new findings as widely as possible, and hopefully stimulate new ideas and collaborations across different disciplines that will advance our understanding. This cannot happen if only experts in a specific field can decode what is being said. Writing in plain English both speeds up the process of sharing new knowledge and increases the chances of new and exciting discoveries being made, something that is particularly useful when confronting a global pandemic caused by a virus that has never been seen before.

Clear communication in these confusing times may also yield another benefit; increasing engagement with science and medicine holds the key to inspiring the next generation of researchers, which will hopefully increase the numbers entering the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects. Data from STEM Women show that the split between men and women in terms of studying STEM subjects at university and then going on to pursue a career in STEM is still far from equal. We have a golden opportunity to readjust this balance if we can clearly communicate just how fascinating and rewarding scientific and medical research can be.

I have seen a lot of posts online musing over whether COVID-19 will change the way we live and work forever. If we can increase our use of plain English when communicating scientific data and guidelines, one positive change may be increased engagement.

Claire Beveridge is a CIEP Advanced Professional Member specialising in medicine and the biological sciences. Based near Oxford, she has over 13 years’ experience working with publishers and individual researchers. She has recently developed a worrying fascination with personal finance. Find her on Twitter.

 


If you’re looking for an experienced editor skilled in plain English editing, search for ‘plain English’ in the CIEP Directory.


Photo credits: tightrope by Loic Leray; clear water by Rots Marie-Hélène, both on Unsplash.

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.

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.