Earlier in September I drove exactly 150 miles to join approximately 150 other professionals for the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) conference near Cambridge. The theme this year was Context is key: why the answer to most questions is ‘It depends’.
The sessions and conversations with brilliant colleagues filled me with inspiration – all I wanted to do was get home and put some of those new ideas into practice! Here are ten of the things I learned. I hope you find them useful too.
- Content marketing is for everyone. The trick is to think about how you can help other people solve their problems, explained Louise Harnby and John Espirian during their workshop, and to do that in a way that reflects who you are and your expertise. There’s no shortage of inspiration for your blog, podcast or video, from questions your clients often ask to conversations on Twitter. We all have our own take on a particular topic and we all have our own audience. Louise’s write-up of the session provides more detail and some excellent ideas for getting started.
- Speed networking is fun! Yes, even for those of us who prefer to communicate in writing. On my journey to the conference I wondered what I’d been thinking, signing up for such a daunting activity. It sounded suspiciously like speed dating. Perhaps I could hide in my car and pretend there was a huge tailback on the M1? But I’m glad I didn’t. It was all timed – each ‘date’ was seven minutes long – so there was no need to worry about when to move on. I got to meet people I might never have spoken to if I hadn’t been at this session, which was great preparation for the conference itself.
- It’s worth setting aside a little time to yourself. Any conference is pretty full-on when you’re used to working in a garret with only two cats for company. I ignored my FOMO (fear of missing out) and made myself go for a walk, on my own, in a coffee break each day. Being outside and doing something that’s part of my normal routine gave me time to absorb everything I’d learned and stopped me getting overwhelmed. If that sounds like your kind of thing, this article on restorative niches by Abi Saffrey suggests plenty of ways to avoid conference overload.
- PhraseExpander could save you oodles of typing time. Many of us use technology (such as PerfectIt and macros) to improve the efficiency of our editing work. In the session on rates of pay, Katherine Trail mentioned PhraseExpander, a tool I hadn’t used before. It allows you to take text you use regularly and create a code for it, which you then type to make that text appear. It’s useful for comments you often add to a file (for example, ‘Please add this source to the reference list’) and explanations you find yourself typing up for more than one author. You can use it for emails and on social media too. I’m having a play with the trial version at the moment.
- It’s lovely to meet in person the people you know online. Most of the time, I communicate with my colleagues through the SfEP forums, Facebook groups, Twitter and email, so I was excited to actually meet them. All of them are – I discovered – approachable, kind and generous. Meeting each other face to face adds something to the relationship that continues long after the event.
- We can motivate and support each other to get things done, especially when something’s outside our comfort zone. In her session on accountability groups, Denise Cowle explained how to find a small group of people who trust each other and are willing to open up. I love the idea of including people who work in areas outside editing, such as marketing or IT, so that the members of the group benefit from a wider range of skills and experience.
- Tracking your work is important. In their session on rates, editors Katherine Trail, Janet MacMillan and Erin Brenner shared their experience and thoughts on increasing the hourly rates we command. It might seem obvious, but at the heart of this was the power of tracking and evaluating the time spent on each piece of work. How many hours did that plain-English edit take? What about the stylistic edit on that journal article? How many words per hour does that equate to? Once you’ve collected these statistics over time, analysing them helps you to quote more accurately and adjust your rates, or find ways to be more efficient so that you earn the hourly rate you want.
- The robots aren’t going to do us out of a profession… but according to Astrid DeRidder from Cambridge University Press, we do have to use them to do the routine work so we can do more with our creative and social skills. For example, PerfectIt, macros and other Word tools can speed up many mechanical tasks, Feedly gives you a way to collate all the blogs you want to follow, and invoicing software frees you up to spend more time on paid work.
- It’s OK to split infinitives. And to use ‘people that’. And the singular ‘they’. And to begin a sentence with ‘and’ (or ‘so’, or ‘but’). They’re stylistic choices. But it’s not always easy to justify this to someone who believes you’ve broken the rules. Linguist Geoff Pullum cited authoritative resources and statistics (from Google News to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage) that can help us editors make the argument in as objective a way as possible.
- And of course … it depends! From deleting a comma to changing a passive construction into an active one, the editing suggestions we make always need to consider the context – the reader, the author’s voice, the purpose of the text, the level of formality, and so on. But in a wider sense, the SfEP conference has most definitely given me plenty to think about – there’s no ‘it depends’ about it!