Outsourcing

I took a pretty huge step this week and started working with a business coach. The main reason this is a huge step for me is that I really dislike parting with money. So what’s one of the first things my coach talks to me about? Outsourcing.

Yes, apparently one of the secrets of success is to identify all the things you don’t like or don’t need to do yourself and pay someone else to do them, freeing you up to do more paid work. The thought of paying out yet more money to more people does give me the heebie-jeebies, I’ll admit. But then it occurred to me that by working with her, I am outsourcing something I really need to outsource.

When my coach was talking about outsourcing, she mentioned things like marketing and admin. Now, we all know I am not exactly in love with this marketing thing, but the marketing I have managed to get to grips with is social media networking (which is the fancy name for pissing about on Twitter and Facebook). But the thing about that is that it’s obviously a very personal thing. That’s un-outsourceable. Same goes for this blog. There are plenty of very talented copywriters out there who can write blog posts, but my blog has always been about sharing my own thoughts in my own way. I can’t hand that over to anyone else and remain authentic.

As for admin, I worked in admin for over a decade. I actually love the bits of my job that let me faff around with spreadsheets and filing systems. Developing admin processes that are efficient and easy was pretty much what I spent my whole arts career doing, so that side of self-employment has never felt too onerous to handle myself.

So what do I need to outsource? Well, the great thing about running a business is that you get to be your own boss. And the difficult thing about running a business is that you have to be your own boss. Many people are quick to associate bosses with oppressiveness, with a controlling, authoritarian presence that stops you doing what you want to do. But that’s not the only things bosses are. A good boss is more than the person who tells you what to do and when. They’re the person who looks out for you, who helps you figure out what you want from your job and how you can get it. They help you find opportunities for you to develop your career, and push you to improve and grow. They support and encourage you when things aren’t going so well.

I was blessed with some brilliant bosses in my former career. My new one, well, she’s a bit shit at times. She doesn’t always believe in me, and she tends to be a bit too gentle on me when I don’t feel like stepping out of my comfort zone.

I can be my own accountant. I can be my own marketing department. But actually, what I really need help with, what I really need to outsource at this point in my career, is being my own boss. I need someone to help me identify my goals and the steps I need to take to get there. And, crucially, I need someone to notice and care when I’m not taking those steps, and tell me off for it.

So I’ve hired someone to do those bits of bossing for me. I’m not abdicating responsibility for myself and my business (and I highly doubt my coach would let me!), but I am recognising that I need a bit of a push. I’m hoping it will be the start of good things. And maybe one day I’ll be so busy and financially successful that I will hire someone to write these blog posts for me instead of just doing my usual brain-blurts. I bet you’re all looking forward to that.

You don’t have to blog

My last post was about not blogging, and hey, guess what? So’s this one. This is probably not a very good blog post for me to write, but I’m going to do it anyway.

I have some news for you.

You don’t have to blog.

This is probably not really news to anyone. But perhaps it is news to you. I know I’ve read countless things that say that if you’re going to have a blog, it needs to be updated regularly, and you need to focus relentlessly on what your potential customers want to read, and yadda yadda yadda. I’m not saying that’s not good advice, because really, you should do this, if your blog is supposed to be part of an effective content marketing strategy.

It’s also true that if you run a business, marketing is part of your job and you have to put time and effort into it if you want your business to succeed. I am very good at making excuses not to do this, because I love editing but hate marketing, which is why this probably isn’t a very responsible blog post for me to write.

But still. You don’t have to blog.

Is it better to blog regularly than not, from a marketing perspective? Sure it is. The more quality content you put out there, the more likely people are to find you and hire you. If you have a blog, you should carve out time in your week to work on it. But here’s the thing. Sometimes there just isn’t time.

As well as running a freelance editing business, I’m trying to run a home with two children under ten in it. I’ve just organised a conference. I’m a member of the school’s PTA. I have a husband I like to talk to now and then. I have, in short, a life. And I have editing work, and sometimes my deadlines are hellish. And sometimes, when all those things are piling on me, as they have been recently, the guilt of not blogging sits on top of them, making me feel terrible.

So I tell myself this: you don’t have to blog.

Not blogging, if having a blog is part of your marketing plan, is bad. But there are things that are worse.

Getting RSI or a migraine because you haven’t taken long enough away from your computer is worse.

Not eating lunch for three days straight because you don’t have any goddamn time is worse.

Doing a sloppy job for a client and then losing that client because you rushed through the work is worse.

Barely seeing your children’s faces except when it’s to yell at them for disturbing you is worse.

I’m not saying that when you’re busy you shouldn’t worry about doing marketing. But I’m also not entirely not saying that either. There are only so many hours in the day, and there is only so much any of us can give to our work before it becomes detrimental to our lives. Nobody can be a perfect business owner all the time, especially if you have other responsibilities. Priorities have to shift, and something has to give. Let that be the least critical thing. At times, that’s going to be your blog. Accept that, don’t let the guilt be one more thing taking your energy, and make a firm plan to address the problem when the storm of busy passes.

And there are things you can do to address it. Jot down ideas for blog posts whenever they come to you. When you have time, flesh out those ideas into drafts, so that next time you hit a pressure point you have something more than a blank page to start from. Ask colleagues if they’d like to guest blog for you sometime. And while you are busy, you can still squeeze in smaller marketing tasks – posting quickly on social media or forums, sending out a quick email to past or prospective clients. I must stress again – I’m not saying it’s OK to opt out of marketing your business.

But your blog, and your business, will survive being temporarily neglected. Your clients, and your mental, physical and emotional well-being may not fare so well. Your blog may be an asset, but your business’s biggest asset is you. Look after it.

The posts I didn’t write

My poor little blog is feeling a bit neglected, but I’ve been pretty busy and my brain is apparently not in the mood to conjure up any useful and inspiring content. So here, for a bit of Friday fun, are some the blog posts I could have (had I but words enough, and time) written lately:

Working from home: editing while your seven-year-old composes a new song inexplicably called “Holders”.

The curse of a developmental editor: how becoming too attuned to pacing ruins your enjoyment of certain pop-culture events.

Troubleshooting Microsoft Word: why is it acting like a massive tit?

The control freak’s guide to organising an event with eight other people.

Starting conversations on social media – just mention cake!

Editing envy: how to cope when the characters you’re working with are living their best lives but you’ve been wearing the same jogging bottoms for four days.

Managing cash flow: getting through the month on seven pence when you know you have five outstanding invoices that are all due the day after the bills are.

Freelance health: how many biscuits are too many?

Effective blogging: start seventeen draft posts, discard ideas for twenty-three more, then end up posting nonsense like this.

Self-edit like a pro: Notes, notes, notes

In this series of blog posts, I look at how you can approach editing your own work in a similar way to how professional editors approach their clients’ work.

One of the things a lot of people misunderstand about the professional editing process is what it is we actually do. Everyone seems to know we correct typos, but some people think there’s no more to it than that. Many would be surprised to learn how much time we spend on ensuring continuity.

Stories can run away from you, even you the author. You can get carried away with writing a wonderful scene, and it’s only later you realise you’ve referred to the brother of a character you’d already described as an only child, or changed someone’s eyes from blue to green. A good editor will be all over that, so if you want to be a good self-editor, you need to be all over it too. Sharp-eyed readers will notice when you have been inconsistent, and it will weaken their connection to the world and characters you’ve created. So you need to make sure you can find and eliminate inconsistencies, and you can make that much simpler by keeping really good notes.

Some people who are plotters and planners might do a lot of this from the start anyway (I have a client who has vast spreadsheets of every single detail about every character and location she writes about), but if not, your first editing round is a good time to put together some supporting documents which will save you a whole lot of time and stress later. Many editors create these as part of every editing job, and it’s a great habit to get into for yourself.

Develop a detailed character list – their names, ages, occupations, physical characteristics, who’s related to whom, etc. If you don’t like doing this kind of thing, putting this together can be, quite frankly, boring as shit, but looking up all these details in one short, well-organised document is much easier than having to dart about all over a whole novel. And you’ll be so grateful if you go on to write a series, trust me.

Another good record to keep is a timeline, so you know what’s happening when. This is especially important if you have multiple timelines or lots of flashbacks – you need to make sure everything fits together. Even if you don’t mention specific dates in the text, it can be useful to assign dates to events anyway, so you can check things like the weather, sunrise and sunset times, whether there’s a major holiday like Christmas in the middle of your story that you’ve completely ignored. If anyone’s having a baby, make sure you have the pregnancy maths right – it’s not quite as simple as many people think it is!

You might also want to record notes on your locations, or any companies, groups or organisations in your story, depending on how complex they are and how likely you are to need that information again in the future.

This stuff is, for most people, not the fun part. It’s not the telling of thrilling stories or the crafting of beautiful prose. But consistency is vital for ensuring the reader believes in the world you’re laying out for them, and you can make that consistency much easier to achieve by collating all that information and checking your work against it as part of your self-editing process. And should you go on to hire a professional editor at some stage, it’s also a great way of making that editor LOVE you. Just saying.

Self-edit like a pro: Look differently

In this series of blog posts, I look at how you can approach editing your own work in a similar way to how professional editors approach their clients’ work.

Writing and editing are two very different beasts. Writing is very intense, very personal, a way of expressing all those thoughts that are in your head. Editing, to be effective, has to be a little less personal. You have to look at your work differently, which is difficult when those words on the page are the result of your hard work, sweat and tears (hopefully no blood. I’m not sure you’re doing writing right if there’s actual blood). And one of the best ways to look at your work differently is to, well, look at it differently.

Changing the way you physically read your manuscript can also alter the way you approach it, and this is why many editors, including me, will do at least one read-through of a manuscript in a different format (if time and budget allows). One of the things that makes editing and proofreading so difficult is that you have to train yourself to see what’s actually on the page and not what you think should be there. Your mind is a clever thing – it fills in missing words, takes out duplicate ones, rearranges letters. As an editor, you need to stop your brain from doing what it wants to do, and for some reason, changing the format seems to help with that. Mistakes leap out at you that you missed the first time.

My preferred method of changing the format is to email the Word document to my Kindle (instructions for this are available here), but you could also print it out (although I wouldn’t recommend this for long manuscripts because the environment, and also, cripes, printer ink is expensive). Failing that, even just changing the font and the background colour can help change the way you read.

And it’s not just useful for helping you spot typos and other little mistakes your brain hid from you while you were writing. Changing the way you read can get you into a totally different mindset – when you’re at a desk, tapping away on a keyboard, you’re very much in writer-mode. But if you curl up on your sofa with your Kindle or paper printout, it can be easier to put yourself in the place of a reader, and that’s who you really need to have in mind at editing stage. Physically taking yourself out of the position of the author and into that of a reader will help you get a much better idea of how your story flows, what your pacing’s like, whether your characters are coming alive.

Another thing you might want to try, particularly when you’re editing for style, is reading the manuscript aloud, or having the computer read it back to you. This will highlight things like unintentional rhymes, alliteration and repetition that can spoil the flow of your writing.

What all these things do is create a little distance between writer-you and editor-you, helping you edit more objectively and effectively.

I’ll leave you with a quote from this article about how our brains ignore mistakes:

“…a normal functioning human is one that sails blithely past mistakes in a text while understanding perfectly what it means.

The next natural step in this line of reasoning is that anyone whose job it is to catch these mistakes – editors, copyeditors, subeditors, proofreaders – has to be an abnormal and malfuctioning human.”

I wanted to add that becasue* it made me laugh, but I’ve just noticed a typo in it. Now I can’t decide if that’s a perfect example of what the article talks about or the Guardian purposely fucking with us.

*This typo was not the typo I was talking about. A reader just drew my attention to this, more than a month after I published this post. It’s like some kind of mind-boggling typo-Inception.

 

Self-edit like a pro: Get to know your tools

In this series of blog posts, I look at how you can approach editing your own work in a similar way to how professional editors approach their clients’ work.

Whether you write in Word, Pages, Scrivener, or another piece of software, chances are there is at least one feature of it that you’ve never discovered that will make your life a little easier. Maybe a lot easier. Most of us aren’t taught how to properly exploit the capabilities of everyday software like Word, but if you’re a writer, that’s your tool, so you need to train yourself to use it without causing death or injury to yourself and those around you (a little easier said than done, sometimes, if only because of Word-induced rage).

Most of the professional editors I know are always eager to learn ways of using our software to edit more efficiently – I recently gave a talk about this very subject at a conference for fiction editors. That’s because the quicker we can edit, the more work we can take on, therefore increasing our earning potential. But getting to know your tools and using them more effectively has other benefits besides speed. The more time you spend puzzling over how to do something, or going through several laborious steps to make a change, the less focused you can be on the actual text.

I’m not really going to give out technical tips here – I don’t know which software you’re working with or which version of Word you have, if you have that (I have Word for Office 365, which means I get all the latest features, whether I want them or not. I’m looking at you, “Editor” function). I don’t know what you already know, or what particular things would help you to speed up and smooth out your self-editing process.

But I do want to encourage you to find that out for yourself. Luckily we live in the age of the internet, which means there are tons of resources available at your fingertips. The easiest one to find is Microsoft Word’s own Help – considering how frustrating Word can sometimes be, the Help is actually quite comprehensive and straightforward. If you can’t find what you’re looking for there, though, there are many great blogs out there that talk about what Word can do, and a good place to start is WordRibbon.Tips.Net. You can also check out YouTube for tutorials if you’re a video kind of person.

But I think one of the best ways to explore your software is to open up a fresh document and click on everything you see. Explore all the menus and drop-downs and see what they all do, and make a note of anything you think you might be able to use. (Do pay attention, though, if you’re doing anything that looks like it might change a setting – you want to be able to go back and unchange it if you need to!)

Although the purpose of this post isn’t, as I mentioned, to give out technical tips, here are a few things that might be worth exploring in Microsoft Word – things that I and many professional editors use every day:

  • Keyboard shortcuts – they’re usually quicker and much easier on the wrists than clicking. Cut, copy and paste are the most useful and probably the best known, and where would we be without Ctrl+Z (Undo), but using the keyboard rather than the mouse to navigate around and select text can be really helpful too.
  • Headings – format your headings using Word Styles to make your manuscript easier to navigate.
  • Track Changes – learn how to use this if you don’t already, so you can see what you’ve changed and undo it if you change your mind, and use the comments function to leave notes for yourself. If you do end up getting your work edited for publication, the editor will use Track Changes, so you might as well familiarise yourself with it from the beginning 😊.
  • Customising your Autocorrect – Autocorrect has a list of words it corrects automatically, but you can add to that, so if you know there’s something you mis-type a lot, add it to the list (in File>Options>Proofing>Autocorrect Options. I wish I’d known this before I did a degree in “Thetare” Studies and “Musci”.). You can also use Autocorrect to assign a kind of shortcut to a word or phrase, because all it does is recognise strings of characters and then change them into other strings of characters. So if you have a character called DCI Blitherington-Smythe, you could pair that with something like “DCBLI” – when you type that, Word will change it to the full name. (Just make sure your shortcut code is not something you’d type in another word. You don’t want a Hugh Jackilometresan situation)

That’s obviously just scratching the surface of Word’s useful features, and other programs have their own things to discover. Go forth and explore!

Networking works

This week I’ve been to a fiction editors mini-conference, superbly organised by the lovely Carrie O’Grady and Sarah Calfee. It was a great opportunity for a lovely day of CPD and networking. I can hear some of you scoffing at the placement of “networking” and “lovely” in the same sentence. I get it. Networking used to be a word that put the fear of God into me. What was it? How the hell was I supposed to do it? Why should I do it? Thankfully, as a not very senior member of staff in a very inward-facing department of my old company, it wasn’t something I had to do very often. On the rare occasions I was made to go to a conference or other event, I usually stood around talking to the people I’d come with from my own team, wondering how many free glasses of wine or canapés we could take before someone noticed.

But now, all is different. I’m supposed to be a Proper Businesswoman, and, whether I like it or not, that means I have to do networking. It turns out I like it a lot. Gone are the days of awkwardly nursing a glass of terrible chardonnay while men in suits talk to each other about things I neither understood nor cared much about. It seems that networking, if you love what you do and don’t often get a chance to chat in person about it, and are pretty plugged in to an online community, mostly involves squealing “It’s you! I know you from Twitter!” at people and telling the kinds of stories that are only remotely interesting to those in the same profession as you.

These days, I take any opportunity to network, because it’s SO MUCH FUN. I’m aware that it’s not quite so much fun for everyone – many editors are much less gobby more introverted than me, and I know networking can be a struggle. If that’s you, you may need to figure out strategies to make the whole thing less horrifying (the SfEP blog has a great guide to surviving a conference as an introvert). But I think that’s definitely worth doing, if you can. And that’s not just because of the aforementioned fun. Networking is a valuable part of marketing your business, because you are your business. If you want to grow your business, you have to make sure people know you exist, and that doesn’t just include your potential customers. Editors are generally helpful, kind people, and when an editor can’t take on a job, perhaps because they’re too busy or don’t feel they’re the right fit for the project, they often want to be able to point the client in the direction of someone else. If nobody knows you, that person is not going to be you. But if you’ve made an effort to get to know people and let them get to know you, you never know what opportunities will come your way.

Oh, and should you be within easy reach of Newcastle and would like to test out my Networking is Good theory, why not buy a ticket for the SfEP NE mini conference on 22nd May? It’s going to be fabulous, and it will be even better if you’re there. Yes, you 😊.