Yes, it’s true, but allow me to start at the beginning.
I wanted to use another of my hobbies as a way of making a living. Two of my loves are plants and words. The former I had transformed into a successful gardening business over the last seven years. The latter started when I was a child, spending my pocket money in the local bookshop.
I love my gardening work but as a 50-something I realised that this amount of physical hard work could not go on for ever.
Enter my love of words. I was aware that I spotted mistakes easily. I liked consistency, tidiness and balance: proofreading was the way to go. And I knew that the outdoor physical could dovetail nicely with the indoor cerebral – Yin and Yang.
With this no-brainer decision now made, I bought a new laptop and enrolled on an online proofreading course. It was a toss-up between the two reputable providers, the then SfEP (now the CIEP) and the PTC. I chose the latter’s Basic Proofreading: Editorial Skills One, which took me nearly a year to complete. Before I did the course, I wondered if it was even necessary (I can already spell can’t I?!) but soon realised that, yes, it was very necessary. I didn’t know how much I didn’t know until I started the course.
I enjoyed the course immensely although it was a little biased towards working on paper with BSI marks and less focused on working digitally with Word or PDFs.
From the essential books that a proofreader needs I bought the New Oxford Spelling Dictionary, because it shows word breaks, and Trask’s Penguin Guide to Punctuation. I intended to buy New Hart’s Rules: The Oxford Style Guide and the New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors but realised I could access these online with my library card. Excellent.
I wrote a profile about myself and was proudly listed as a proofreader on the PTC Directory. Competition is tough though, so I knew it was no use just sitting around waiting for possible work to come in: I had to be proactive, but how?
I was allowed to attend three local CIEP group meetings before I joined so I went to two different groups. Arriving early at the first, I was greeted by the one other early CIEP member and received my first gems of advice: read everything by CIEP gurus Louise Harnby and John Espirian, and have you joined findaproofreader.com yet?
I started to read lots online. Everything I read suggested something else that I needed to write or do; I had entered a very enjoyable internet black hole and was rapidly list-making in order to prioritise my tasks.
I created a logo for myself and set up various social media pages on LinkedIn, Facebook, Aboutme and FreeIndex knowing I could always add to them as I gained more experience, work and, importantly, good reviews.
Approaching one of my long-time gardening clients, I offered to proofread their business website at a reduced rate. No, they said, we will pay you CIEP rates. I was jumping with joy and raring to go; I could now use my logo-emblazoned invoice created from a Word template. A couple of real clangers stood out: ‘Sometimes a simple and sort video can cut though the fog of technology’, and ‘Sign up our newsletter’. Hilarious. Armed with a review and some experience I logged back on to my social media platforms…
My enthusiasm boosted, I trawled sites online and found a theatre website that was littered with schoolboy (and girl) errors (‘thrown’ instead of ‘throne’, [groan]) and yes, he would be happy for me to proofread it in exchange for some theatre tickets and a review of my work.
I was now spending hours glued to my laptop. Sitting is alien to a gardener so I started to sandwich my computer work with activity: a five-minute plank and ab workout, ten minutes of yoga, a fifteen-minute run/walk and, believe it or not, skipping with a rope! (It is astonishing how tiring it is now compared to when I was a child!) For a longer break, I walk for at least an hour.
I practised working with Word and using Find and Replace to make searching a text quicker. I had read about using Templates and Styles and added them to my To Do list. Macros were new to me but I downloaded Paul Beverley’s Macros for Editors and installed the Macro Starter Pack which I knew at some time in the future would make my proofreading much, much quicker. When I found that Louise Harnby had made a set of BSI stamps available free to use with PDFs, I immediately downloaded a set and had a go; I wanted to practise using the marks I’d spent months learning before I forgot them.
Ten-minute run break…
I had now joined the CIEP and so began my descent into another internet black hole: the CIEP forums. These are online discussions where members can post questions and read about anything to do with proofreading or editing, whether it be a grammar question, finding work or dealing with clients. It is a hugely supportive network of experienced professionals. Another valuable asset is the archive of Editing Matters, the SfEP’s bimonthly magazine. [Since April 2020, CIEP members have received a bi-monthly e-newsletter, The Edit.]
Yoga mat aside, I thought about the need for finding a niche. My specialisms are gardening and horticulture but I am also a trained primary teacher so educational books may be a good way to go. From the library I borrowed the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and noted the contact details of educational publishers and publishers that produce books about horticulture. There is also a section on book packagers, another possible tack that is new to me. My To Do list continues to get longer.
I reach for my skipping rope in between the emailing…
Carolyn Clarke is a bookworm with a sharp eye! She is a freelance proofreader who specialises in horticulture and primary education but will happily proofread a range of fiction and non-fiction. Connect with Carolyn on LinkedIn.
A longer version of this post is available in the May/June 2019 issue of Editing Matters.
The CIEP has a wide range of courses for new and experienced proofreaders and editors, and CIEP membership benefits include discounts on the ‘must-have’ resources and software.
Proofread by Emma Easy, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.