Working with a coach: part 1

As I’ve mentioned before, in the second half of last year I worked with a business coach. I always intended to write a blog post about what I learned from that experience, but it turns out I learned a WHOLE LOAD, far too much for one post. So it’s going to be a little series of posts instead, if that’s OK. Or even if it’s not. It’s my blog.

Anyway, my coach. I found her via a local women’s business network I belong to on Facebook. Initially I was looking for someone to help me to, basically, stop wasting time. I found I was always getting my client work done, but all the other stuff in my business, and in my life, kept getting pushed aside. I needed a taskmaster, so that’s initially what I asked the group for. The lovely Gina Trick replied to my post, and even though she was in the process of changing her business focus to helping child-free women entrepreneurs achieve more freedom, she must have taken pity on my child-encumbered self and agreed to work with me (side note: a reminder that having a niche doesn’t mean you have to close yourself off to all other opportunities altogether).

It was really hard to take that initial step and start working with Gina. It’s a difficult thing for people like me (a typical Virgo) to admit they need someone else’s help to do things better, and another difficult thing for people like me (a typical skinflint) to spend large amounts of money on it.

I agonised over the money for ages. I had been planning to spend it on a new computer, a much more tangible benefit. I knew a new, faster computer would save me valuable time each day (by all means, Word, take five minutes to load one file). But what if a coach could help me save even more time than that? In the end, I figured that learning new ways of working and focusing was likely to be a good investment, so I took the plunge.

I was right, thank God. With Gina’s help, I found ways of taking control of my working day and becoming more productive. And I learned a lot more than that too – I learned the value of thinking strategically about what activities I invest my time and energy in. I learned to look at how far I’ve come and be proud of that, instead of despairing at how far I’ve got to go. I learned how to have more confidence in myself and what I have to offer. I learned to plan for the things I want instead of just vaguely hoping they will happen. (I’ll talk more about all these things in future posts.) So while I can’t put a specific number to the return I’ve made on my investment, I feel pretty confident in saying it’s been a good one.

I still need a new computer though.


Freelance parenting

I get/have to spend all of this week with my children. At the moment, I’m at the first option, because they’re being pretty cool. By the end of the week, when we’re all bored of each other’s company, it will lean more toward the latter, I’m sure. I’ve managed to organise my workload so I can take pretty much the whole week off (I’m shipping them off to my parents’ house tomorrow so I can get some admin things done), and hopefully we’re going to have lots of fun. (And I mean actual fun, not the usual me-sitting-on-the-couch-on-Twitter-while-they-play-Minecraft fun.)

One of the most challenging things about being a parent (I’m being careful not to say “mum” here, because I don’t want to be sexist and exclusive, but let’s face it, most of this still falls to mums) is working around school, or the lack of it. I thought childcare was a problem when they were smaller, but now I look back with ridiculous fondness on the days I could just chuck them in nursery at 8.30 and leave them there until 6. Now, not only are there the shorter school hours to contend with, there are school assemblies, meetings, “Mam, I forgot my guitar! Can you bring it in?” phone calls, and of course, the are-they-aren’t-they-ill-enough-to-stay-off-school days.

When you work outside the home, some of these decisions are, to a certain extent, taken out of your hands. My children would often claim illness on a day when I had important meetings, so I would tell them they had to try school and that I would pick them up if I had to. I invariably felt a huge amount of guilt over this (although the fact that I rarely had to then actually go and get them helped) but it had to be done. Sometimes school meetings and assemblies had to be missed, and if one of them left something at home, tough. When you work at home, you can, in theory, take care of all these situations, and because you can, you feel like you should, and so you do. And then you often end up frazzled from trying to DO ALL THE THINGS.

When I started writing the first draft of this post, I was at the end of a week that seemed to be determined to prove how tough life as a work-at-home mum could be. There was a meeting about SATs for my Y6 child, which I felt I should go to, even though I don’t really care about the SATs or how well she does in them at all (in an anti-pointless-testing way, not in an unengaged-parent way, I hasten to add). My neighbours ordered about a billion parcels that I took in for them, so I kept having to get up to answer the door. (I swear the postman doesn’t even bother trying their houses anymore and just comes straight to me.) On the Thursday, my younger daughter threw up at school, so I had to go and collect her, then scrabble around for someone to collect the elder one so I didn’t have to drag the sick one back out again. Then, because of the 48-hour exclusion policy, I took the no-longer-sick-in-any-way younger one to my parents’ the next day in the hope of getting some work done. So of course school rang me at lunchtime to come and get the other one. And in amongst all of this, my work still needed to be done. There are no colleagues to pick up the slack when you’re freelance, just you and your creeping-ever-closer deadline.

But I’m hoping this week will show the other side of the freelance parenting coin (that’s being a parent who’s freelance, not offering freelance parenting services. That’s a business idea for another time). I don’t have to pay for any childcare while my children are off school. I have been able to negotiate my own deadlines and take this week off, and if anything comes up that I really have to deal with, I can do bits and pieces while they watch some thing about a ladybird superhero on Netflix or after they’re in bed.

I’m lucky I’ve been able to do that for these holidays. It doesn’t always work out that way. And when it doesn’t, as I’ve mentioned before, I get guilt. I’ve got pretty good at protecting my family time from work – out of necessity if nothing else. But I’m less good at protecting my work time from … I was about to say my family, but that sounds terrible, doesn’t it?

Ah, fuck it. I need to be better at protecting my work time from my family. Working outside the home puts a barrier around your work time. Sometimes things barge their way through it, but in general it stays intact. When you work at home, that barrier is mental, and it only exists if you put it there and refuse to apologise for it. So this week, I will not apologise for my day off from parenting. I might not have any paid work to do, but the admin of a business is never-ending, so tomorrow I will see my admin day as something necessary and valuable. I might even enjoy it. There’ll be spreadsheets, after all.

Scammy editors, cautious editors, and the clients in between

Unusually serious post (with a rather unwieldy title) today; sorry about that. Joking and swearing will resume before long, I’m sure.

Recently, I received an email from the client whose manuscript I was working on. It said: “Just touching base to see if we are still on track for delivery of my manuscript by xx?”

I had given the author no reason to believe we wouldn’t be, so I could have, were I the type to take things overly personally, bristled at the implied questioning of my professionalism. But I hadn’t been in contact for a while (she’d sent the manuscript well before Christmas, but I wasn’t due to start until January), and I knew the author was on a tight schedule, so I sent a quick message back to say yes, still on track, and if I got done a few days early I’d send it back immediately.

I received an another email straight away: “Wonderful. Thanks for the update. With the last editor, I sent a similar message and never heard back. It was a relief to even just see your name pop up.” Then I remembered – the reason this client came to me was because they had been horribly let down by another editor, who had just disappeared on them after taking payment.

Editors like this exist, unfortunately. Outright scammers, or just unreliable people who have no idea how to act in a professional manner. They can be found in every profession, and ours is no exception.

Most of the online editorial circles I move in are filled with people who would never dream of taking advantage of a client. They would be ashamed of doing a half-arsed job. They could never imagine ignoring a client for weeks on end. This kind of behaviour is so far from their own experience of being an editor that I think many of them don’t quite understand just how often this happens to unsuspecting authors, and how devastating it can be. So when they start working with a client who questions all their procedures and ways of working, or who bombards them with emails and requests for progress reports, those editors can see these things as signs of an overbearing client. To be fair, that’s sometimes exactly what they are. But sometimes they’re the sign of someone who’s been badly burned. Every editor, and every business owner, for that matter, should remember that not all clients are approaching the relationship with the same expectations and baggage.

I think that as editors we could sometimes do better when it comes to understanding our clients’ concerns. There are people out there doing great damage to the reputation of our profession, in the indie world at least, and there’s a lot we can do to undo some of that damage and restore our collective good name.

Freelancing is full of risk. Good business owners do what they can to protect themselves from those risks. But we need to be aware of the effect this might have on our potential clients. For example, you could ask the question “Should an author pay an editor in full before receiving the edited manuscript?” in an editors’ group and a writers’ group, and you’d get two different sets of answers. Editors would lean towards “Always get payment first”, backed up with horror stories of being ripped off by clients. Authors would lean towards “Never pay first”, backed up with stories of being ripped off by editors. Both things happen. Both sets of concerns are legitimate.

The problem comes, then, when we start seeing the expression of these concerns as red flags, when they might be nothing of the sort. An editor might be the perfect person for an author’s work, but if both have been cheated with regard to payment in the past, and so the editor refuses to release the edits before payment, and the author refuses to pay before seeing the edits, they’re at an impasse. A potentially brilliant working relationship could be lost before it’s even begun.

I think the solution lies, as it so often does, in empathy, honesty and communication. Our clients are investing sometimes huge sums of money with us, and handing over a piece of work that could have taken them years. That’s a lot to trust a total stranger with, so we should respect that. Where we have developed practices to protect our businesses from risks, perhaps we could be better at explaining to clients why. We don’t have to, of course – we are entirely free to run our businesses as we see fit and only work with clients who accept that unquestioningly. But honesty and openness are generally good things, and we could be opening up great opportunities for ourselves by bringing more of those things into our interactions with potential clients.

And perhaps there is also room for compromise. Again, no one has to compromise on anything if they don’t want to. But are there ways we can protect ourselves while also allowing our clients to protect themselves? For example, I have recently decided to move to asking for payment before delivery of the full edited manuscript. But I recognise that this might make some new clients nervous, so I offer to send an edited chapter on request, any chapter of the client’s choosing, so they can be reassured I have actually done the work.

It can be a difficult thing, to give people the benefit of the doubt when the stakes are high. A non-paying client, or one who oversteps boundaries, can cause huge problems for an editor. But we aren’t the only party who has something to lose. I wrote once about editing with kindness. We can do business with kindness too.

What the SfEP has meant to me

Four years ago today, I applied to join the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. And in just a few weeks, I will no longer be a member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. No, I’m not abandoning my editing career or flouncing from the society in a huff. The SfEP has been granted chartership, so on 1 March it will become the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (I just had to look that up AGAIN. I promise I will remember the new name properly by March). Woop! Party poppers all round!

So to celebrate my SfEPiversary, and the end of the SfEP as we know it, I’m taking a look back over what membership of this society has meant to me over the last four years.

Doing things properly

Joining the SfEP was one of the very first things I did when I decided to become an editor. Like, really, one of the very first things: I quit my old job at Christmas, and one month later I had joined. I stumbled across the existence of the SfEP during one of my epic googling sessions as I tried to figure out how the hell I was supposed to change my whole career in my mid thirties. The truth was, I’d wanted to be an editor for a long time, ever since my sister asked me to look over her friend’s book “to check the spelling and stuff” (said friend is now a successful author and regular client, so I must have done something right). But I didn’t know how to achieve that dream. Part of my inertia had been because I’m the kind of person who likes to do things properly. I could have just got myself a website and called myself an editor and started taking bookings, as many people do, but that’s not me. The thought of making it up as I went along filled me with terror. I wanted to do things right. Of course, I’ve since learned that there is no one right path to building a business, and there has to be a certain amount of making it up as you go along, but at the time I needed some kind of framework. The SfEP, with its reassuringly professional acronym, its standards and its training courses and its reputation, was just what I was looking for.


But joining the SfEP doesn’t make you an editor. I might have had experience of “checking spelling and stuff”, but that wasn’t enough. I needed to learn some shit. So I started with some of the SfEP courses – they were short, online so I could complete them at my own pace, and relatively inexpensive compared to some others out there. I invested in Proofreading 1 and Copyediting 1, both of which solidified for me that I wanted to be an editor. I was quite surprised to discover through these courses that proofreading wasn’t for me – I like to get my hands a bit dirtier, editorially speaking. The courses showed me I had some skills already, but hoo boy did they show me how much I had to learn, too.


As well as providing that initial training to get wannabe editors started, the SfEP also provides its members with a framework for continuing professional development. There are courses designed to develop your skills and help you learn new ones, professional development days, local CPD events, and of course, the annual conference. (I love conference. Have I ever mentioned how much I love conference?) The SfEP encourages its members to keep learning and progressing. This is reflected in its system of membership grades, from Entry level to Advanced Professional. One of the proudest moments of my editing career, maybe my entire career, maybe my actual life, was last spring, when I found out that after amassing hours of experience, gathering references, completing training, and passing the editorial test, I’d been awarded Advanced Professional status. Well, I was proud for about half an hour (there was shrieking). Then I checked the date, realised it was April Fool’s Day and spent the next few hours convinced this was some kind of evil joke.

Other opportunities

Through the SfEP, I’ve also reconnected with some of the skills that had been lying dormant somewhere in my brain for a long time. I rediscovered my public speaking skills to lead sessions at conferences. I dusted off my event organising skills to plan the north east mini conference. I’m currently channelling the me who used to love writing up procedures to help out with revamping some SfEP guidelines. And, most importantly, my pop trivia skills have been brought of out retirement to smash the first-lines round of the SfEP conference quiz two years in a row.


But the absolute bestest, most wonderfullest thing about the SfEP is the community. I know, I’ve banged on about it before. And I’ll never stop, ever. From the moment I first posted on the SfEP forums, everyone there made me feel nothing but welcome. Established editors gave me their time, advice and support for free, and without those people I’d be nowhere. If there’s one thing about the move to chartership that’s a slight shame, it’s that “institute” doesn’t feel quite as homey as “society”. Because that’s what the SfEP has been for me – a place to call home, with people who make it feel that way. But I’m sure that as we move forward into this new chapter, that sense of community won’t change, because all those awesome, generous, kind, talented people will still be there, for me and for all the lost, frightened newbie editors who find their way to the CIEP.

Thank you, SfEP, for everything.

New Year, New Resolution

I’ve broken my New Year’s resolution, which was to stop making New Year’s resolutions, because I always break them. My resolution-breaking resolution is this: in 2020, I’m going to stop breaking my resolutions.

Confused yet? I know. Give me a minute.

This year, I need to make my business grow. It has been growing, over the past four years since I started on this path, but this year I need to put even more effort into that, because my family’s circumstances are changing a little (Mr Kia Thomas Editing, or Mr Thomas, as he could more sensibly be called, has a new job), and also because when you have a business, that’s the kind of thing you really need to be doing.

And to make my business grow, I need to stop breaking the promises I make to myself. My work with a business coach in the second half of last year taught me a lot, about running a business and about myself, far more than I could ever hope to encapsulate in a blog post (although I’ll try to write about some of it over the next few months). One of those things is that it’s no good saying I want to do something, or even that I’m going to do something, if I don’t actually do it. (I know most people don’t have to spend money on a business coach to figure that out, but I am not most people.)

That’s why I’m writing this blog post – I promised myself I would blog this week, and it’s almost 7 p.m. on Friday evening and I have not yet done it (although I obviously will have, by the time you read this.) I don’t want to start my first business week of a new decade with a broken promise.

Is this the best blog post in the world? Fuck no. Is it something anyone else needs or wants to read? Maybe not? Is it valuable content to my potential customers? Doubtful. But to me, it is something bigger than that – it is a promise kept. May it be the first of many this year.

Out with the new

The decade is almost over. This is hideous and I am only accepting that it’s true for the purposes of this blog post.

I end this decade in a very different place to where I started. At the beginning of 2010, I was on maternity leave, having not long had my first child. I would go back to a nice, undemanding job with the company I’d been at for the last 6 years (I started there on this day in 2004, in fact – happy former job anniversary to me!). I planned to do that job for a while, have another baby, then get back to building my career in the arts.

And that went according to plan, for a while. But the arts in the 2010s will not be remembered for its job security. So by 2016, I found myself starting a business in a field I knew very little about.

It’s been a ride. The last four years have been a hard slog, full of ups and downs, great times and hideous times. Now I find myself approaching the 2020s (oh god, it’s horrible, why did I say that?) with the feeling that I’m not a “new” freelance editor anymore. I know I’m still pretty wet behind the ears compared to many of my esteemed colleagues, but I no longer feel like a total newbie.

I only really realised this when I started thinking about my goals for the next year. They’ve gone from “work enough to not starve” to all kinds of strategic things about rates and processes and marketing channels and investing in my business. The steps I plan to take terrify me, true, but they would have been utterly unthinkable a couple of years ago, because I simply was not capable of thinking about my business in this way.

A lot of this shift in mindset is down to my business coach, the wonderful Gina Trick, who has been dragging me kicking and screaming out of my comfort zone for the last six months. But some of it is also down to time.

It takes time to establish a business. Setting one up is terrifying; keeping it afloat is scarier still. So many new businesses fail, and it’s hard not to think about that when you can never be sure where your next job is coming from. Eventually you realise that your business is surviving, and then you can take a step back and look at where you want to take it next. But sometimes it feels as though that day will never arrive.

People in survival mode don’t always make the best decisions, or at least it can look that way to those on the outside. I see many of my editing colleagues offering advice to newbies, and it’s always with the best of intentions – they want to share their hard-won wisdom with those who are following in their footsteps, because editors are by and large wonderful, generous people. The advice is always aimed at helping people avoid things they may regret – don’t work for that kind of client, don’t work for that rate, invest in this, run away from that.

But when you’re in that very early, very scary stage of your career, you’re not necessarily thinking about what you might regret. You’re thinking of building up a body of work, bringing in some income – any income – and keeping yourself in business. You’re often thinking short term, because you don’t know if there’ll even be a long term.

Every business decision involves risk, and no one can really assess those risks but the person whose business it is. So if you’re still building your business, and you’re being bombarded with advice that feels too scary to take, don’t beat yourself up about it. It won’t always be like this. The time will come when you feel more confident about saying no to things, or saying yes to others. You may end up taking on jobs you regret, but there’s something to be learned from every mistake. Even if that lesson is “never ever do that again”.

Writing as an editor

Some of you may have seen on Twitter that something very exciting happened to me this week. I passed the 40k mark of my work in progress, which means that technically, if you go by the very minimum measurement, it will be an actual novel.

I’ve always wanted to write a novel. I originally thought that Wings, the novelette I published last year (and, you know, if you wanted to, like, buy it or something, I suppose I can’t stop you), would be a novel, but it turned out to be only 15,000 words long.

Those 15,000 words took me more than 5 years to write. Now, everyone writes at their own pace, and there are no rules when it comes to writing speeds, and all of that, but by most standards, except maybe George RR Martin’s, that’s … pretty slow.

I can put a lot of the slowness down to the fact that over those five years I had a job and two small children, and then I had slightly less-small children but was setting up a business. I can also put a lot of it down to the existence of Twitter.

But I think some of the reason I always struggle to get anything written is that my brain works in a certain way. I’m the kind of person who likes to spot problems before they arise. It made me good at my former job (in the planning team of an arts venue, a job that mainly involved figuring out how to cram too many events into not enough spaces). It makes me a good editor – spotting problems is, y’know, kinda important in this profession. It makes me a nightmare to plan exciting projects with, because I’m always that irritating killjoy going “Yeah, but what if this happens … ?”. And it makes me a very tentative writer.

I spend my professional life spotting writing pitfalls and helping authors figure out how to avoid them. The problem is, it can be quite difficult to turn that off when said author is yourself. An occupational hazard of editing is that when you’re reading for pleasure sometimes an error will leap out at you and completely stop you in your tracks. When that happens while you’re writing, it can really derail any momentum you’ve managed to build up. As editors we like to make texts as good as they can be, but if you worry too much about that before the words are even on the page, it’ll take you, say, five years to write 15,000 words.

I doubt I’m the only editor–writer (or would-be writer) who feels this way. So in the hope of helping people like me – and indeed, in the hope of helping me, should I actually decide to listen to my own advice for once – here’s how to turn off your inner editor and get shit down on paper.

Give yourself permission to write crap

I know I usually say to take all writing advice with a fairly hefty pinch of salt, but I can definitely get fully behind this one. It may be true that not everyone has to or wants to write that “shitty first draft”, as Anne Lamott calls it. But for self-critical writers like me, it’s so important to recognise that this is a perfectly valid part of the process. You can’t edit what isn’t there, so sometimes the most important thing is to get something – anything – down on paper. I often have to remind myself of some of the writing holes I’ve helped writers out of – if I can do it with their words, I can do it with my own. But you kinda have to write the words in the first place.

Harness the power of distraction

Sometimes I can’t write when I’m sitting at my desk. That’s where Editor Kia sits, and she’s not allowed to take charge yet. She stops the process moving forward by going back and fixing commas and shit instead of writing anything resembling an actual plot. So sometimes I need to take myself out of her domain. This is when it’s useful to remember that my laptop is capable of moving around the house with me. (Does anyone else who usually works with a laptop on a desk have this weird mental block? No? Just me?) Taking the computer downstairs and watching a film with the kids distracts enough of my brain that the rest of it can get on with some word-vomit. Editor Kia will get to play with it later.

Warm up your writing muscles

Confession – I used to really resent the kinds of writing exercises I found on creative writing courses: character profiles and scene-setting and prompt work and all that. It felt remiss of me to spend my limited writing time working on something that wasn’t my novel. But then I took part in a writing challenge led by an editor friend (the brilliant Sophie Playle). Every day, for ten days, we wrote ten sentences based on a prompt. Writing little snippets of nothing did something very important – it got me into a habit of writing. It became a part of my day, like brushing my teeth or wasting time on Twitter, and once it was, I found that it was much easier to work on the novel, in terms of both finding the time and helping the words to flow.

Then keep them warm

Once you’re in the habit of writing, try your best to stay in it. It’s not always possible, and I’m not one of these YOU MUST WRITE EVERY DAY OR YOU ARE NOT A WRITER people. But habits are far easier to break than they are to form, so if you’ve managed to get into the habit of writing a little every day, then try to keep doing it. Even if it’s a sentence tapped into the notes app of your phone or scribbled on the back of the gas bill, you’re writing SOMETHING.

Join a community

The best thing I ever did for my writing was join a local writers group. We only meet for a couple of hours twice a month, but for those few hours, I’m not an editor who wants to write; I’m a writer, just like them. We’re there for each other with support, advice, and constructive criticism. We’ve even started a ten-sentence challenge on Facebook like the one I mentioned above, so we’re encouraging each other to keep writing. There are countless writing communities online, too, if in-person groups aren’t your thing, so if you’re struggling to motivate yourself, look for a group of people who can help give you that boost.

So, my fellow constant-editing-brain sufferers, I hope some of that is helpful. I suppose I should probably go and write some of that novel now, hey?


October sucks

Excuse the very whingey negative blog post. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been a bit miserable lately. Normally, I really like autumn. My boots get to come out of hibernation, which is good because I love my boots. September contains my birthday, and the SfEP conference. And both of those things were very lovely indeed.

But as soon as they were over, and the weather turned cold, I fell into what I shall very professionally describe as a slump of shittiness. I was feeling very bad about this, but then an editor friend of mine shared a wonderful blog post (which I now can’t find, dammit!) discussing the same thing, and other colleagues said that they were struggling a little too, and my business coach said that most of her clients were reporting similar feelings. These last couple of months, it seems, have been a bit of a slog for many of us.

It’s hardly surprising. The weather is fucking awful. Politics is a hellscape. Clients are struggling to write for the same reasons, so work is slow. How are we supposed to keep our spirits up in these conditions?

Now, I’m not normally a glass-half-full kind of person, so my instinct is to wail “WAAAAAAAAH I CAN’T DO IT PLEASE JUST LET ME HIDE IN A BLANKET UNTIL IT’S ALL OVER”. Except I don’t know when it will all be over, and I have to pick my children up from school at 3 o’clock, so this is clearly not a viable plan. So here are some of the strategies I’m trying to help pull me through the slump. Maybe they’ll help you too.

Embrace the cold

Yes, the weather sucks now, especially if you live somewhere with such a delightful climate as the north east of England. It’s going to suck for months, so we may as well throw ourselves into it now. Do all your work from inside a nest of blankets. Take hot chocolate breaks every hour. And, most importantly, put the heating on. You get no prizes for holding out until November. It’s a business expense. Be warm.

Use social media wisely

Ah, the piece of my own advice I am least likely to take. But I really should take it, because nothing makes my mood plummet like reading about politics on Twitter. I can’t seem to stay away; it’s like some kind of horrific compulsion. I try to limit the damage by muting as many of the hot topics as I can think of, which means that even when I stray off my main timeline, most of the threads (because the horror can rarely be contained in a single Tweet these days) are unreadable, which often forces me back to where I belong. I’ve actually found that a good way to stay off the wrong bits of social media is to be more active in the right bits. If you’re happily involved in interesting and stimulating discussions about words and books and lovely things like that, there’s less chance you’ll get distracted by reading about whatever whichever idiot is in charge of your country did now.

Girl, (and boy, and enbie, and everyone in between) put your records on

Many editors can’t work with music playing, but that doesn’t mean we can’t cheer ourselves up with a bit of it between bouts of editing. Your deadline won’t be harmed by taking three minutes out of your day to blast out something that makes you feel good about life. And, if it’s too cold to #StetWalk, don’t forget there’s now a #StetDanceParty on Twitter every Friday.

Congratulate yourself

This might sound really stupid (things I say often do), but working when things are hard is HARD. So give yourself  a bit of credit for that. When I was trudging through September, not enjoying work, and not enjoying any spare time I managed to get either, I had a bit of a moan to my business coach that I felt like a failure because I couldn’t find my get-up-and-go. She asked me to think of it differently: I was feeling crappy, and the work was hard, but I got through it anyway. I met my deadlines; I fed, watered and mostly cleaned my children; and sometimes I even managed to put away the washing. I made myself do that much, and that was something. There are times to be ambitious, there are times when you need to give yourself a firm talking-to and push yourself to fulfil your dreams, and there are times when you just need to get through the week. You should never feel bad about just getting through the week, because sometimes that’s an achievement in itself.

So I’m going to go and have a cup of hot chocolate and a Twitter chat, while Taylor Swift plays in the background. I’m not sure about the heating though; let’s not get too crazy all at once.


Things that need to exist

I need someone to invent all these things, please.

  • A search engine that’s as effective as Google, but is called something like
  • An app that can differentiate between the time you spend on Twitter marketing your business and engaging with your community, and the time you spend looking at baby animals with things on their heads or reading rage-inducing things about politics. (The premium version will kick you off when it knows you’re doing too much of the latter two.)
  • A service that tracks how long it’s been since you last had an in-person conversation with an actual human you aren’t related to, and if it’s been too long, makes you leave the house in search of one.
  • A device that measures your TBR pile and won’t let you buy any more books until it’s fallen below a pre-set height.
  • A punching bag in the shape of the Microsoft Word icon.

Editing with kindness

Am I allowed to say that one of my favourite sessions at this year’s SfEP conference was… my own? Well, looks like I’m saying it anyway, arrogant arse that I am.

Although, in my defence, the session wasn’t about me and what I had to say. I was just there to lead a panel of fiction authors talking about their experiences of being edited. This is my kind of session – I didn’t have to stand there and have people actually listen to me. Instead they got to listen to the wonderful panellists – Joanna and Emlyn Rees, KJ Charles, and Alison Ingelby. They’re all fantastic writers and jolly nice human beings to boot, so you should go and read their books.

Between them, they’ve been edited dozens of times, so these authors know whereof they speak. The session was lively, interesting, and full of humour and passion. And if there’s one thing that I hope the editors present took away from it it’s this: at the other end of your edits is a human being who’s done a hell of a lot of work, and you’d better bloody remember that.

Writing is hard. Ten minutes on Writing Twitter will show you author after author talking about the long and painful process of trying to get that story out of your head and onto a page. Novels are labours of love. And sometimes hate. Authors (and I know, because I keep attempting to be one) put a lot of themselves into their work, and sending that off to someone whose job is to find every single flaw in it is not an easy thing to do.

And editors are going to find flaws. As Jo Rees pointed out during the panel, a lot of writing is about making decisions. Every word that gets onto the page is a decision to take the story in that direction or this, to evoke this mood or that, to have a character become one thing or another. Thousands upon thousands of decisions. And the author is not going to get every single one of those decisions right. (Which isn’t surprising. I make the wrong decision about what to have for breakfast most days.) It’s an editor’s job to point out the less optimal decisions (about the manuscripts we work on, not my breakfast) and suggest solutions, but I think there can be a tendency among editors to feel a little bit pleased with ourselves when we do. There’s nothing wrong with professional pride, but we must always take care that it never tips over into thinking we are better than the author for spotting something they didn’t.

The authors on the panel told us horror stories about terrible editing. Harsh comments. Imposing style choices with no respect for the author’s voice. Ignoring the author’s expressed preferences. I think these all boil down to the same thing – editors thinking they know best. Sometimes our training, skills and experience mean that actually we do know what the right answer is – that’s why we’re being paid to find those problems and solve them. But to think solely in terms of fixing the author’s mistakes is to turn the author–editor relationship into an adversarial one, when really, we should be a team. Editors should never lose sight of what we’re there to do, which is to help and support the author in telling their story. And the best way to do that is with kindness and respect.

Respect the months and probably years that the author has spent thinking and planning and writing and deleting and rewriting and worrying and thinking some more and rewriting again. Respect the emotional investment the author has put into what you’re now taking your red pen to. Even if the manuscript’s full of problems, getting those words onto the page is no mean feat.

Compliment the things the author’s done well (and there will always be something). Empower them to reject the changes they don’t feel comfortable with. And understand that you always have a choice about how you communicate with your author. If you aren’t adept enough with words to write a query in a way that isn’t cruel and cutting, then quite frankly you have no business being an editor. Tread softly, because you tread on their dreams.

Thank you once again to the wonderful author panel, the delegates who attended and asked such great questions, and anyone who can tell me what I should have for breakfast.