The sound of silence

Happy new year! I know, I know, we’re fourteen days in now and everyone’s already broken their resolutions and is counting down the days until summer. But today marks the real start of the new year for me, because it’s the first day I’m alone. My kids were off school until the 8th, and my husband had a whole load of leave to use up so he has been off work until today. Which means that the last few weeks have been a merry-go-round of family visits and fun things, followed by a good bout of tidying and cleaning and generally trying to organise a house that now has ten extra tons of toys in it.

Normally, a good January clearout makes me very happy. I like the feeling that I’m starting the year with at least a little bit of my shit in order. But last week, I was really fed up, and it took me a while to figure out why. Part of it was that I’ve had a bit of a low-level annoying cold, because January. But I think another big part of it was just too much company.

I’m not an introvert by any stretch of the imagination. Ask anyone who’s met me ever. And I’ve spent the last three weeks in the company of the people I love best in all the world, so it’s not like that’s a massive hardship. But I really have struggled lately. My life as a freelance editor is largely a very solitary one. Once my daughters are at school, I usually have six whole hours before I have to speak a word to another human being. (I shout at my computer a lot, but that doesn’t count.) I’m a pretty sociable person, but in the last three years I’ve become very accustomed to being on my own. Christmas, with all its lovely family togetherness, is now something of a shock to the system, even more so when the togetherness keeps going for a couple of weeks after the tree comes down.

This year, although I imagine I will have forgotten this by the time Christmas comes back around, I must make sure to carve out more time to be alone. Due to some shifts in my schedule, I ended up having no paid work to do, so I didn’t have that to take me back into my office. It felt like a great opportunity at the time – woo hoo, lots of lovely time off with nothing to worry about! – but I didn’t anticipate how much I would miss my little bubble of isolation.

But I’m back in it now, and so 2019 can truly begin. Here’s to the silence!

It’s Chriiiiiiiiiistmas!

Forgive me, content marketing gurus, for I have sinned. It’s been 23 days since my last blog post. And I can’t promise that this one’s going to be any good, because I’ve just returned my last piece of paid work of the year, and I suspect that my brain has raced ahead and is already hitting the mulled wine despite the admin and blogging I still have to do.

What a year it’s been, eh? Things that happened at the start of the year seem so long ago, yet the whole year seems to have disappeared in the blink of an eye. So, in traditional end-of-year style, let’s have a look back over 2018.

Here are some of the things I did:

Obtained a reputation for swearing, thanks to my very sweary dictionary.

Spoke about swearing at a conference.

Edited over million words. Some of them weren’t even swear words.

Was voluntarily filmed as part of ALLi’s Self-Publishing Advice conferences.

Became an actual author!

Spent too much time on Twitter

And was allowed to witter about that on a blog that wasn’t even my own.

Thought less, did more.

A pretty successful year, all told. There were ups and downs, but there always will be in this freelance life. And there were far more ups than downs this year, business-wise, so that was pretty nice.

Oh, and I forgot the best thing! I have finally uncovered the source of the flickering lights in my house. They’d been driving me mad for months, and my prone-to-catastrophising brain was convinced I was either going to have to rewire the whole house or it was going to blow up. Turns out there was a dodgy USB socket on my desk lamp.

I’m sure there are more wise and insightful things I could say about my year, about things that are much more exciting than a desk lamp. But my brain has now finished the wine and is breaking open the tin of Celebrations, so I think I’m going to down tools and follow it.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

All in the name of research…

My husband made the mistake of walking into my office the other day when I was trying to figure out a delicate author query. So along with my usual request for a cup of tea (he makes the best tea in the entire world), he also got asked a very strange and personal question about a sex thing (no, I’m not telling you what it was).  It is a measure of how very weird my job is sometimes that he did not even bat an eyelid, just answered the question and went off to make the tea. But it reminded me, as if I needed reminding, that there is so much more to editing than fiddling about with commas.

Here are some of the other things I have done in the name of research:

Watched a video of someone trying to shoot down a tree with a shotgun. (Takes quite a long time, apparently.)

Googled cruise ship itineraries and put up with the resulting Facebook ads for cruises for several months afterwards. (Made me jealous.)

Made use of my dad’s degree in Swedish by asking him to check a translation (thereby proving it is not quite the most useless degree for a retired computer network engineer to have).

Started a large discussion in a Facebook group about whether there are regional differences in the placement of the word “fucking”. (Not really, it seems.)

Put on a very thin t-shirt and made my husband cuddle me to see if I could discern the texture of his shirt through it (nope).

Asked my husband to pretend to punch me in the face while holding one of my arms behind my back. (This man is an angel for putting up with me.)

Drawn on all my (not that extensive) knowledge of classical music programming to explain why the concert an author had written needed to be changed (mainly because it would be about five hours long).

Looked through the entire episode list of California Dreams to see if there was ever a comedy Swiss character. (There wasn’t.)

Attempted many, many odd actions, facial expressions, and combinations of the two. (It feels surprisingly weird to roll your eyes and shrug at the same time.)

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever done in the name of editorial research?

The second-least technical Microsoft Word Styles tip you will probably ever see

Here is the second of my posts on styles. See, I promised I wouldn’t leave you with funkily formatted headings forever. (If you missed the first one, it’s here.)

You’ll need to pay a bit more attention and click on more things for this one, but only a little bit. Don’t run away! It’s easy! Honest.

OK, so thanks to my last post, your chapter headings now allow you to zip around your document with the greatest of ease. But chances are they don’t look how they used to (my default Heading 1 settings make them Calibri Light, 16 point, and in blue), and the weirdness is making you itchy. It’s fine – we’re going to fix that right now.

Go to your Heading 1 style in the Styles Pane, and right-click on it.


See where it says “Modify”? Click on that.

You’ll get this dialogue box:


From here, you can change the font, size, colour, etc. If you can’t see what you want to change (for example, if you want to remove or add an indent), click on the Format box on the bottom left for more options.

IMPORTANT BIT YOU NEED TO LOOK AT BEFORE YOU SAVE YOUR DOCUMENT: If the “Only in this document” button is checked, the changes you make will apply, funnily enough, only in the document you’re currently working on. If you select the other option, it will change the template (which is probably your Normal template), which means that all the new documents you create from that template (which, if it’s the Normal one, is likely to be all of them) will have these new settings for the Heading 1 style. If you select that second option, when you exit Microsoft Word, it will ask you if you want to make changes to the Normal template. This message looks scarier than it is – if you want your newly customised Heading 1 style to apply in all your new documents, click Yes. If not, click No.

If all the stuff I just said about templates scares the bejeezus out of you, ignore it all and just keep “Only in this document” checked. It’ll mean that if, say, you like your headings in Times New Roman but your default setting is Calibri, you’ll have to change it for every new document individually, but at least you won’t have to understand anything about templates.

Once you’re happy with your style, click OK. Now go and look at your first heading. Ta daaa! It should have reformatted itself. Now, and here is the good bit, go and look at your second chapter heading. Ta double daaa! That should have reformatted itself too. Even if you have seven hundred chapters, if you’ve applied the Heading 1 style to them, they should all now be formatted with your preferred settings with just one click. (Although if you really do have seven hundred chapters, there’s a chance you might need an editor to help you address that. I know a good one.)

This is why styles are brilliant. They are bundles of formatting that can save you tons of time and effort if you need to make multiple changes to multiple bits of text. If you’re starting to come around to the idea of styles and would like to understand a little more about how they work and what you can do with them, then check out the posts below. If not, here is a picture of a baby hedgehog.

hedgehog-468228_640 (Some software user guides are extremely unhelpful, but Microsoft Office’s are generally much easier to follow than you might think.)

The least technical Microsoft Word Styles tip you will probably ever see

For many years, I had no idea what Word styles were. All I knew was that if you happened to move your mouse over those funny little boxes at the top of the screen, your text went weird until you moved your mouse back to the page. But that was fine – all I was really using Word for was to type up minutes for meetings, and considering hardly anyone ever read them and even fewer people ever actually completed any of their actions (I will never stop being bitter about this), my skills didn’t need to be very fancy.

But then I became an editor, and I finally discovered what those little boxes were for and how bloody awesome they were. And now I’m going to tell you.

They’re bloody awesome.

I could, if I were so inclined, explain what styles are, how they work, and some of the different things you can do with them. But some people get a bit overwhelmed by styles, and it’s evening here and I’m too tired, so instead I’m going to show you how Word styles can change your ENTIRE LIFE (or at least make any bits of it you spend writing/editing a book a little more pleasant) even if you don’t understand what you’re doing in the actual slightest. Honest.

I’m using the example of a book with chapters here, but this tip applies to any document that’s split up into titled sections. I’m also assuming you’re working on something that’s just for your own use for now, so it doesn’t need to look perfect. (Styles are actually brilliant for making things look perfect, but that stuff doesn’t fall under the “very quick tip” scope, so I’m ignoring that for now. I’ll tell you how you can make it all pretty again another day, because that’s slightly more involved, but only slightly.)

So, you’ve got your book manuscript. It has a lot of chapters. You might need to move around this document a lot, working on one chapter, checking something against another chapter. Wouldn’t it be nice if you didn’t have to scroll through hundreds of pages to find where you need to be? Well, there is a way, my friends! Just do this:

Find your first chapter heading. It’s probably at the beginning, called something like Chapter 1.

Right, here come the very technical instructions. Pay attention.

Click on “Chapter 1”. You don’t have to highlight it; just click somewhere on that line.

Find the mysterious boxes. This is called the Styles gallery, and in Word 2016 it’s on the Home tab and looks like this:


See where it says “Heading 1”? Click on that.

Argh! Your chapter heading has probably gone blue, if your default settings are anything like mine. Don’t worry about that for now (like I said, I promise I will explain how to fix it later), because as well as it being blue, something cool has happened to it.

Look in the Navigation Pane to the left of your window. If you don’t have the Navigation pane open, click “Find” on the Home tab.

You should now have something like this:



Now find Chapter 2 and do the same thing, and you’ll get something like this:


Now click on Chapter 1 in the Navigation Pane. Like magic, you’ve gone back to the beginning! That’s pretty cool, right?

You can now do that with all your chapter headings, and it will let you zip around your document to your heart’s content.

And you can do something even more fun. Let’s say you’ve realised you’ve put all your events in the wrong order. Jeremy gets killed in Chapter 7 and married in Chapter 8, and that should probably be the other way round. You could cut and paste all the text from Chapter 7 to after Chapter 8. Or, now you have your fancy-pants chapter headings, just go to the Navigation Pane, and drag and drop the heading into its new position. Voila! That whole chapter has now moved. The only way that could be more fun is if you could do it with your hands like in Minority Report.

Even if you never learn anything else about Word styles, this is a thing worth learning, if for no other reason than to save your poor scrolling finger. If you ever need to restructure a document, this will save you untold amounts of heartache. And maybe now you’ve realised that styles aren’t so scary after all, you can join me on the path to becoming a fully fledged convert. Happy styling!




Conferences, confidence and comfort zones

Once upon a time, there was a girl. She always got picked for the big parts in school assemblies and plays: always the narrator, never the lead with an actual good costume. She always spoke eloquently and confidently, and everybody said she would do great things. She was probably really bloody annoying, to be perfectly honest with you.

Fast forward a couple of decades, and that girl … well, she’s certainly not failing at life, but she hasn’t exactly done those great things either. Somewhere along the line, all that confidence she had drifted away, worn away by the comfort of a nice little job and a nice little life. And when she … okay, it’s me, we’ve figured that out now, right? So I can switch to first person? When I had to set up my own business and make it on my own, that lack of confidence, along with my well-documented fear of failure, meant imposter syndrome often came calling.

But gradually, I’ve been learning to fight that monster and get my groove back. So I was asked if I’d like to give a session about swearing at this year’s SfEP conference, I, being in the middle of my Saying Yes kick, said yes. (And also because you got a discount on the conference and I’m a notorious cheapskate.)

Almost the minute I’d agreed, I wondered what the hell I’d done. Giving a conference session? Me? An editor who’s only been in the game a couple of years? Who’s going to take me seriously? Why on earth should they? But I’d said yes now, so I started to prepare. It was hard. I had to learn how to use PowerPoint, which surprised me – how the hell do you work in an office for 11 years without ever having to use PowerPoint? I had to research and refine my thoughts and ideas into something coherent, entertaining and informative, and then I had to practise saying it. And the more I practised, the more I remembered that annoying, confident girl. And when I stood up in front of that room of people, I felt her back with me again.

The session went really well – not perfectly, but then nothing does, and I count it as a huge measure of personal growth that I’ve barely given the mistakes a second thought since (except for “fucktion”. That was pretty funny). And – and here’s the bit that keeps surprising me – people said, and continue to say, really nice things about it. People said they had fun, that my session was funny and entertaining, and I’m so grateful for that. But even better are the comments that picked up on the more serious points I was making (yes, there were a few. I can do serious sometimes). Yes, it was about swearing; yes, it was silly; yes, it involved the creation of a game which is basically Cards Against Humanity for word nerds. But I genuinely have to edit a lot of swear words, and those words deserve as much editorial care as any other word I deal with. So I was glad people recognized that and, even better, didn’t laugh at the fact it was little old me telling them about it. It’s boosted my confidence, in both my editing and my public speaking skills, immeasurably.

Comfort zones change over time. But unless we’re vigilant, they only grow inwards. They shrink, without us noticing, until they’re far too cosy to break out of easily. But breaking out of a comfort zone isn’t always trying new things. Sometimes it’s trying old things, breaking out of who you’ve become and reminding yourself of who you were. Of who you still can be. And of those great things that are still within your reach.


(Sorry, I get overexcited by these things.)

September, as I’ve said before on this blog, is a time of new beginnings for me. And what better way to start this new year than by attending my second Society for Editors and Proofreaders conference? When at the very beginning of last year’s conference I saw that the date of this year’s coincided with my birthday, I decided I wasn’t going to go. But by the end of the conference (recounted at great length here, here, here and here), I was already doubting that decision, and by the time this year’s conference rolled around, not only had I completely changed my mind, I’d also agreed to lead a short session.

I’ll talk more about the experience of swearing at a roomful of colleagues for forty-five minutes another time (my session was about swearing, by the way. I didn’t just forget what I was supposed to do and start being rude to people), but for now here are my probably not very coherent thoughts about the sessions I attended.

First up was the Whitcombe Lecture, delivered by Lynne Murphy. I love Lynne’s blog, and I am absolutely cursing myself for not having picked up a copy of her book, but I could hear my alarmingly large TBR pile shouting at me all the way across the Pennines. Her talk on the differences between US and UK editing cultures was fascinating. Although I interact with a lot of US editors online, I hadn’t realised there was such a difference in style, and I’d certainly never thought about how that might relate to the more general cultures of each country – Lynne discussed the US’s preference for written rules in general, compared to the UK’s reliance on tradition. I’d also underestimated just how much more grammar education people get in the US compared to the UK – my generation was lucky if we got told what a noun was.

After coffee and biscuits (cherry cookie, pretty nice) I attended Eleanor Collins’s session on editing narrative openings. As a writer, I think I’m quite good at writing openings – for me, they’re often where the whole idea for the rest of the story grows from – but it’s clear that a lot of authors struggle with where and how to start their books. When editing, I can usually spot a problem with an opening and identify a better solution, but Eleanor’s session has given me a stronger framework and vocabulary to better explain the solutions to clients. Although it seems I’m in the minority in absolutely hating the opening to Enduring Love by Ian McEwan. I don’t care about your bloody salad, mate, tell me what’s happened to this balloon!

Lunch was next (controversial opinion: the dumplings weren’t really all that bad, once you knew they were dumplings), and then it was time for Maya Berger’s session on editing erotic fiction. As someone who regularly edits erotic romance, there wasn’t a great deal that was new for me here – this is the eternal conference dilemma: go to sessions that are relevant to your work and risk going over old ground, or learn something new that you might never need. But I really enjoyed the session anyway – Maya discussed what can be a delicate or embarrassing subject with tact, wit and professionalism, and there is always something to learn – for example, Maya had useful resources and tips for finding work editing erotica.

The last session of the day was mine, and once that was over I popped briefly in to the social media social, which is a lovely way to put real live faces to the names and avatars you’ve spent all year chatting online with. That evening was the gala dinner, including a great speech by Sam Leith, a hilarious performance by the Linnets, and friendly and funny conversation with my table-mates. And wine.

On Sunday morning, after packing up my titchy little room (it was very weird sleeping in student halls for the first time in…more years than I care to think about) I headed for Laura Poole’s session on making more money. I was very much looking forward to this one, as it’s the part of my business I need to do the most work on. Laura has so much energy that you can’t help but feel inspired by it, and the session definitely encouraged me to think more carefully about what my financial goals are and how I might achieve them. It’ll take work though – as Laura started her session by saying, “The dream is free; the hustle is sold separately.”

Next was Erin Brenner’s session on using business data to increase profits. I really enjoyed this session, although it did make me wonder: Why aren’t I better at data? A huge part of my old job was about capturing data and trying to make people use it to make better decisions, so I don’t really know why I’ve neglected to do this for my own business. I do track my time, but Erin’s session also looked at tracking and analysing enquiry and client information, which I currently don’t do anything with. I feel a new spreadsheet coming on…

The last elective session of the conference was Sarah Grey on inclusive language. This session was amazing, although sadly cut short due to time constraints and technical gremlins. Sarah’s main point was the radical notion that we should treat people – ALL people – as though they are people. Inclusive language welcomes people into a text, while exclusive language makes people feel as if it is not for them, and surely that’s something most authors would want to avoid. I’ve always felt that knowing when to flag problematic language can be a difficult line to walk in fiction – there are considerations of character voice to take into account – but as editors it’s important to think about what our responsibilities are not just to our client, but to their readers, and in particular any who may be hurt by the words the author has chosen.

The final session was the joint plenary with the Society of Indexers conference, given by Kathryn Munt of the Publishing Training Centre. She gave us a really interesting insight into offshoring in the publishing industry. I could feel a few hackles around the room being raised, but Kathryn was keen to point out she wasn’t trying to sell an idea – this is something that is already happening. It raised interesting questions about how we as editors – both collectively and individually – can engage with this process, and encourage the outsourcing companies to engage with us to ensure that quality doesn’t suffer.

It was a thought-provoking end to a fantastic conference. I learned a lot, I was inspired to do things differently in my business, and, of course, I loved meeting up with online friends old and new and making connections with people I’d never interacted with before. I’ve said it before, ad nauseum, but I’ll say it again, the SfEP community is incredible and I’m so proud to be a part of it.

And I’m especially proud that I was on the winning quiz team. Granted, I knew absolutely nothing about any of the literature questions and had to leave all those to my friend Nikki and the incredibly brainy Society of Indexers members who were on our team, but I knew my encyclopaedic knowledge of cheesey pop lyrics would come in handy some day. The next quiz (and, you know, the next conference) will take place in Birmingham on 14th September 2019. I’ll see you there.