Conference lessons 2: Doing Stuff Better

This is my third post about the SfEP conference, which seems such a long time ago now, and the second about the lessons I learned there (the first post was mainly about getting excited to see people and eating). Last week, I wrote about learning about language “rules” and how many of them need killing with fire (paraphrasing). Today’s post looks at three sessions that I’ve decided to group as “How to do the stuff I do, but do it a bit better”. (Snappy, right? Please do not take that as an advertisement for my editorial skills).

The first of these was Lynne Murphy’s session on US and UK English. I have a number of US clients, so familiarity with US English is a must for me, and unfortunately, just having grown up on a diet of Sweet Valley High books is not nearly sufficient to keep on top of the vast number of subtle and ever-changing differences between the two forms. Lynne’s blog, Separated By A Common Language, has been an invaluable resource for me ever since I started editing, so I’d been greatly looking forward to the session (and found myself geekily starstruck when we ended up in the same taxi from the station to the hotel). Lynne discussed some of the ways in which US and UK English differ. Spelling is the most obvious one, and we looked at the patterns (-or/-our, -ise/-ize, etc.) and some of the one-offs (pyjamas/pajamas, for example). When it comes to grammar, it’s not so much that the rules are different, but that the preferences are, and I noticed that while some of the differences seemed new to me in that I wouldn’t have said, “Oh yes, I know that,” it’s often these preferences in things like tense choice and adverb placement that make something sound or feel very British or American. Lynne also talked about some of the resources available, including corpora. I’d never looked at these before, but I foresee many hours being lost to them in the future.

The second of the “Do stuff better” sessions was Emma Darwin’s on fiction editing. I love Emma Darwin, as she’s probably realised from the amount of posts I tag her in on Twitter telling people to read her blog, This Itch of Writing. I’d seen Emma speak before, at the SfEP professional development day for fiction editors last year, so a lot of what she covered wasn’t new to me, but it was great to have a refresher, and be able to think about how her ideas translate to work I’ve done lately. Emma writes often about psychic distance, and I enjoyed the little exercise she set us, where we had to rewrite a description from various different levels of psychic distance. Although my brain is not used to working that hard on a Sunday morning when there was wine the night before.

The third session was by Daniel Heumann, on getting the most out of PerfectIt. PerfectIt is a wondrous thing. It’s an add-in for Microsoft Word that checks consistency, so if your client seems to swing wildly between “makeup” and “make-up” or “Dragon Zombies” and “dragon zombies” (I just made that up and now I can’t stop thinking about dragon zombies), PerfectIt will not only notice it for you, it will allow you to bring them all in line with just one click. I’ve been using PerfectIt for a while, and because it is so easy to use and amazingly useful straight out of its digital box, I’ve never done much tinkering with it, even though it’s highly customisable. I’d already watched the videos on Intelligent Editing’s YouTube channel, which cover the same material as the session, but I’d promptly forgotten most of what they said. I took my laptop to the session, which was one of my better ideas, because it meant I could try out the steps Daniel was covering as he went through them, and I think they’re much more likely to stay in my head now. Customised style sheets here I come! And also nightmares about dragon zombies.

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