By Cat London
Reentering the professional world after being in the trenches as the primary caregiver to young children for eight and a half years is a bit like coming out of a cinema after a daytime movie: you emerge, blinking, surprised to find that the sun is shining and the parking lot is full of cars. Well, the analogy may not be perfect, but as my youngest child approaches three, returning to in-person professional development and finding new opportunities to meet and learn from my colleagues after being focused on my work and my kids has been a pleasure I had not anticipated.
Having recently joined the SfEP, I decided to attend the Toronto mini-conference and so I took a train to my onetime hometown of Toronto. I wasn’t able to attend the pre-conference workshop, led by Dr Malini Devadas, a neuroscientist, editor and coach, but I was fortunate to get an abridged version via Cloud Club a couple of days earlier. Malini, having just arrived from Australia, took the time to answer questions about changing your mindset to increase your income, and to talk about confidence, rates, efficiency and marketing. Her thoughts were very useful to me as I have been starting to think about what my business will look like going forward when my son begins at school.
I have been editing from home in yoga pants for so long that I was quite nervous about being in a room full of talented colleagues and learning from such luminaries as Paul Beverley and Jennifer Glossop. I wasn’t 100% sure I remembered how to talk to actual grownups face to face. However, the organisers and volunteers were so kind and welcoming, the space so full of natural light and the attendees’ conversation so interesting that I quickly felt at ease and excited for the day.
Paul Beverley, the famed Word Macro Man, had flown from the UK to talk to the group about Word macros. He demonstrated some of the huge array of tools he has created and gives away at no charge, with instructions on how to put them to best use. I use a couple of macros regularly, but during Paul’s session I was reminded of how much time I can save every day by mastering macros at a greater depth. I have thus far ignored his DocAlyse and other analysis macros, but have now realised how badly I need them! I also hadn’t realised that there’s a macro that can change the screen background colour according to whether Track Changes is on or off. If you’ve ever had to redo work because you hadn’t tracked the changes (hand up!) you’ll realise how exciting this is. During the break, Paul took the time to look at a macro I had been having trouble with, and even emailed me the next day with follow-up suggestions. Janet MacMillan, one of the organisers of the mini-conference, had mentioned to me several times how kind and giving the general culture of the SfEP is, and Paul is the perfect case in point.
After Paul, we heard from Jennifer Glossop, a Canadian fiction editor I hold in esteem bordering on awe. Jennifer has been working in publishing for over four decades and has edited such authors as Margaret Atwood, David Suzuki and Tim Wynne-Jones. Books she has edited have won or been nominated for many awards, including the Governor General’s Award and the Giller. Jennifer talked about ‘finding the missing parts in a narrative’, about how cutting what is too long is sometimes a simpler task than knowing what is not there and how to put it in. We talked about how to find what might be missing in the areas of plot, character and senses, including missing or offstage scenes, missing emotions, and gaps in timelines. I could write a whole blog post on Jennifer’s thoughts on consequences and how they can work forward and backward in a book (a scene can have consequences down the road or be caused by something that has already happened); the conversation gave me new tools for how to handle some of the challenges I have met in books I have edited, and new ways to explain some of these ideas to authors.
Erin Brenner, an editor from the US with more than 20 years’ experience, titled her session ‘Copyediting 2.0: Editing in the Age of “Post It Now or Lose Your Audience”’, and her talk left me wincing. Not because it wasn’t excellent – it was – but because she helped me realise how many tools and tasks I’ve been ignoring because I’ve been ‘too busy to work smarter’. Erin talked about how easy it is to procrastinate or disregard important tasks like reviewing style guides and finding ways to speed up your work using tools such as PhraseExpander, shortcuts and even the simple yet noble sticky note, as well as how to triage when you don’t have enough time to do everything you would like to do to a document.
Heather Ebbs, a Canadian indexer, writer, editor and teacher, gave me insight into something I knew almost nothing about: indexes. As she put it, ‘indexes are about aboutness’ and it was fascinating to learn more about how indexers work and how to do a better job when tasked with editing an index. When the session ended, I felt a profound sense of certainty that I could never be an indexer, and a more profound sense of gratitude for the professionals who have the skills and experience to do this job with expertise.
Amy Schneider, an editor who has worked on all kinds of books and other projects since 1995, came from the US as well. Her talk, about customising your workspace with templates, dovetailed with Erin’s and reminded me once again that there are many ways to work an awful lot smarter instead of harder, and that it’s time to plunge into them. Amy showed how she uses templates for her work – changing documents to screen-optimised fonts and ensuring that different styles stand out so they can be better edited more quickly – but more importantly she showed us how to take that information and apply it to just about any project and work style.
The sessions ended with a Q&A with all the speakers. The theme that emerged from the day was clearly how to work smarter and more efficiently. Erin challenged us all to do better when it comes to efficiency, and I’m told Malini’s workshop the previous day challenged attendees to pick one thing and do it. So, here I am, publicly pledging that I will be setting up the DocAlyse macro and getting to know it (and maybe HyphenAlyse and ProperNounAlyse) this week.
The conference organisers were like ninjas, or perhaps wizards, conjuring trays of fresh food and pots of hot coffee into convenient locations at regular intervals. Each aspect of delegate attendance was handled thoughtfully, from pronoun stickers to a policy for immunocompromised attendees, to ensure that everyone felt comfortable. There were opportunities to get tech help from Paul Beverley and to learn more about Queen’s University Professional Studies from talented editor Corina Koch MacLeod, who is an educational designer with Queen’s. I don’t want to write an uncritical review, so I’ve been trying hard to come up with something negative to say about the day. I suppose next year it would be nice if organisers could arrange for the weather to be a bit warmer. After the conference we retired to a pub across the street, from which I was sorry to have to dash for the train.
I’m grateful to the organising team of Maya Berger, Kelly Lamb, Janet MacMillan and Rachel Small for bringing together such a welcoming, international group of supportive, interesting and generally lovely people for a day of learning. It was the perfect way to return to in-person professional development, and no one asked me for a snack or told me that their brother was hitting them. I hope to be able to attend some of the SfEP Toronto group meetings in the future, and I am looking forward to next year’s mini-conference.
Cat London recently joined the SfEP as a Provisional Advanced Professional Member. She does developmental editing, copyediting and proofreading of fiction and non-fiction, primarily for publishing companies, and also works as a photographer. A certified copyeditor through Editors Canada, Cat has edited a great deal of gritty fiction and maintains an extensive library of style sheets cataloguing various slang, expletives and obscenities. She lives in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, with her husband, dog and altogether too many children.
Coming up in 2020:
- The SfEP’s local groups will meet regularly throughout 2020 – have a look at the calendar.
- The next annual SfEP conference will be at Kents Park Hill, Milton Keynes, 12–14 September 2020 – booking will open in spring 2020.
Proofread by Victoria Hunt, Intermediate Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.