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Celebrating Two Freelance Years

Posted in: Copyediting, Copywriting, Grammar, Proofreading by Sally Evans-Darby on 22 October 2014 | 5 Comments

Time flies when you’re having fun.

That’s why I can’t believe it was exactly two years ago today that I woke up on a Monday morning to begin my new freelance life. Having handed in my notice at my day job a month before, I was now free to embark on what I had aspired to do for so long: working for myself full-time as a freelance editor, proofreader, and writer.

I can tell you, it was scary at first. The defeatist in me told me I would fail. Who was I kidding? I was no bright young entrepreneur bursting with the latest marketing techniques and unwavering self-belief. I worried that this lifestyle wasn’t sustainable, that things would dry up after the first few jobs, that I would have to tell everyone I’d gleefully told I was “going freelance” that it didn’t work out. I’d be sitting at the local supermarket checkout in a few weeks’ time mournfully pointing out spelling errors in the signage to anyone who’d listen.

Okay, so I wasn’t an entrepreneur as such, but I had determination. It might have been born out of desperation, but it was determination all the same. I had skills that I was simply burning to put to use. And I had discipline. A lot of people say to me they could never work freelance as they would end up sitting on Twitter/Facebook/[insert time-frittering website here] all day. Sure, I had days when procrastination took over and I suddenly found I’d spent half an hour staring open-mouthed at a story online that didn’t even interest me very much. But on the whole, I was good at structuring my days and keeping my nose to the grindstone when I needed to – my new life depended on it.

And so the days went by, then the weeks, then the months, then the years – two of them. And it really has been a blur because it truly has been fun. I’m fortunate enough to say I love my job and the freedom it gives me. I’m immensely grateful to all my clients over the last 24 months who have allowed me to spend my days being a word nerd/grammar geek/pedantic know-it-all.

As it’s a bit of a milestone for me, I thought I would share ten things I’ve learned while being an editorial freelancer over the past two years. Hopefully, some tips may come in helpful for those just starting out. Please do say hello or let me know your thoughts in the comments box below!

1.    Get moving

Before I went freelance I cycled to the train station every day, so even though my diet left a lot to be desired, I stayed fit and healthy. When I went freelance, at first I tried a bit of dog-walking, yoga, and indoor aerobics, but that all slid to the wayside when the deadlines started coming thick and fast. After a year, I’d put on weight and was feeling sluggish – I’d fallen prey to the sedentary lifestyle. Nowadays, I make sure I get on my exercise bike at least once a day, I eat more healthily, and I play badminton once a week. Sure, I could still do a lot better in the fitness department, but I’ve realised how essential it is to keep yourself moving as a desk freelancer.

2.    Be kind to yourself

Give yourself an afternoon off on a Monday if you’ve worked all weekend to meet a deadline. The world won’t end and you’ll feel like you’re back in control. After freelancing for a while, you get a feel for when you can afford to take your foot off the gas a little every now and then and go on an impromptu day trip or even, heaven forbid, have a lie-in. I always remind myself that I don’t get allocated holiday, sick pay, or any of the other benefits you get in regular employment, so it’s up to me to look after my own wellbeing.

3.    Get an accountant

For someone like me (i.e. as bad with numbers as I am good with words), it just isn’t worth trying to do your tax return yourself. Invest in a good accountant and let a pro take care of it!

4.    Get plenty of Vitamin D

It’s easy to go all day without going outside when you’re up against it. I’ve learned to be strict with myself – even if I’m up to my eyeballs with a punishing deadline, it’s essential I take time to go outside, breathe in some fresh air, and see daylight. Otherwise, I would simply become troglodytic. I have a sun lamp too to combat those grey English days.

5.    Embrace variety

It’s easy to stick with what you know and shy away from the unfamiliar. Obviously, I would advise to stay within your skillset, but I’m glad I’ve taken on a variety of projects and learned about lots of different things over the past couple of years. From philosophical theory to urban infrastructure to jazz music, from fantasy novels to journal articles, I love that my job allows me to dip my toes into an ever-changing kaleidoscope of subjects.

6.    Invest in a decent diary

Or some other sort of scheduling tool. Mine is always at my side on my desk and I rely on it absolutely for all my deadlines and generally scheduling my life. As soon as you begin a new project, look at the days until the deadline and plan how much you’ll have to do in increments to stay on top of the work. It’s easy to think ‘oh, that deadline’s miles away, I don’t need to start that yet!’, but of course the thing about deadlines is that they have a nasty habit of arriving all too quickly.

7.    Listen to music

This is a bit more of a recent one for me. Different things work for different people. I used to think I had to work in silence to get things done, but listening to some instrumental music (at the moment it’s mostly Liszt and Dave Brubeck) can actually really help me concentrate. It’s also good to blast out something feel-good between jobs and blow off some steam!

8.    Connect with like-minded people

This one is mostly a reminder to myself, as I’m embarrassed to admit I haven’t yet gone along to a local SfEP meetup. I’ve spent the last two years with my head down at my desk and just haven’t found the time. But there’s no excuse – you have to make time! I’m planning to go to the next Oxford SfEP group meetup next month, am meeting some local ladies for National Freelancers Day, and have also signed up for the SfEP ‘Efficient copyediting’ course in London in December. It’s a start!

9.    Learn to say no

At first it’s hard to do this as every bit of work that comes your way seems like gold dust, and you’re keen to snatch it up. Luckily with time there comes the luxury of being able to choose the work you do. If it’s more trouble than it’s worth, or it’s way outside your skillset, or you just have too much other work on, it’s okay to politely decline. Know your strengths.

10.    Don’t take it for granted!

I’m guilty every now and then of complaining about the volume of work I have, or the haste with which deadlines are approaching, or the length of time today I’ve spent staring at this computer screen. But then I pinch myself and remind myself how fortunate I am – to be completely my own boss, to have a level of job flexibility and freedom I’ve never had before, and to be doing work I’m good at and enjoy. Being a freelance editor is the tops!

Can editors read for pleasure?

Posted in: Copyediting, Language, Proofreading, Words by Sally Evans-Darby on 21 February 2014 | 5 Comments

As any proofreader or editor will know, there’s a clear difference between reading for work and reading for pleasure. With my proofreading cap on, I’m interrogating the text, seeing each word individually and scanning it in the context of its fellows to check for sense, accuracy, and the like. If I find myself swimming merrily from sentence to sentence and enjoying the content, that’s a warning sign to stop and begin the passage again, because it’s likely that in losing myself in the story I’m missing any number of pubics for publics, principles for principals, polices for policies.

While proofreading is about sustained analysis of every word both individually and how it relates to the words around it, reading for pleasure is a very different story. Our eyes flit hungrily over the words, generally only picking up the major semantic components of a sentence to garner meaning – sometimes even scanning down the page to see where that dialogue is snaking or what devastating revelation is going to precede that paragraph’s final full stop (I’m guilty of this when a book truly has me in its spell).

The trouble is, when proofreading is your job, and every day is spent looking at any text that lands on your desk with a squinted eye and a loaded red pen, you start to look at all text that way. You begin to become one of those people who can’t help gleefully pointing out that errant apostrophe on a shop sign, that quaint misspelling on a menu.* This is all well and good until you come to pick up your favourite novel at the end of a long day, and find yourself unable to concentrate on the content because your constant checks for subject-verb agreement and capitalisation consistency are just too distracting.

So my question to all you editors and proofreaders is this: do you still read for pleasure? Do you find that after proofreading all day you can’t find an off-switch when you just want to casually flick through a magazine or pore over a novel? Do you perhaps find that after looking at text all day you just can’t face looking at another printed word? Or do you consciously switch your reading style when ‘off the clock’, glossing over any words you read that might detract from your enjoyment of a piece?

I’ll throw my experience into the pot to start things off: there are certainly days when I feel I would be doing my poor, tired eyes a disservice to make them look at any more text, so I do something less ocularly strenuous (watching a film; sleeping). But then there are days when I’m keen to start the next chapter of a book I’m reading, and in doing so I find that I have to switch ‘proofreader laser vision’ off. I find myself sometimes scanning back through a passage to see if there ever was a closing comma to that parenthetical phrase, but have to tell myself to stop that, and just concentrate on enjoying what I’m reading, letting the words flow into my consciousness in a very different way to when I am proofreading.

It certainly seems a shame that as editors and proofreaders we might read less for pleasure than before we struck off on this career path; particularly as most of us would have been avid readers first, and editors/proofreaders second.

Leave your thoughts below; it’ll be fascinating to hear about other editors’/proofreaders’ reading experiences.


*On a side-note, people who feel the need to go about correcting grocer’s apostrophes as if they are conducting a public service are probably barking up the wrong tree; see this interesting study about apostrophe snobbery.

Why being an editor is the tops

Posted in: Blog, Copyediting, Copywriting, Proofreading by Sally Evans-Darby on 26 November 2013 | 12 Comments

The alarm goes off, it’s dark and wintry outside, and my hands are stiff with cold as I fumble with the kettle. And yet, it’s another day in paradise. Why? Because I am one of the very lucky people who happens to love her job.

Trust me, it hasn’t always been this way. I’ve had my share of work despair; snippy colleagues, dull-as-dishwater* tasks, slogging commutes. But by some very fortunate circumstances I now work freelance, running my own editorial business, and life has never been sweeter.

I hesitated to take the plunge, as many do. That lack of security that comes from a snug employer and regular payslip was definitely scary. I felt like I was teetering on a precipice, about to throw myself over the edge without so much as an abseil to guide me. What if it didn’t work out? What if I couldn’t pay the bills? What if it turned out I was a big, fat failure? These were all very real worries.

But I did plunge over the precipice (I had a sort of abseil, after all, in that I made sure I had enough freelance work to keep me afloat – just – in the first couple of months). Here are the three major reasons I’m glad I did.

I get to work with words all day

You may have guessed I like words. I wax lyrical about them often. Words are a source of constant fascination to me. In all their different incarnations, whether an academic paper, web copy, a novel – even emails – I love the written word. And as an editor/proofreader type, I get to surround myself with them all day long, adjusting one or two here, adding one or two there. And that is pretty cool.

I get to learn loads of stuff

In the space of one working day, I could be proofreading a book about the philosophy of art, editing a manuscript about the genetic classifications of Lepidoptera, and writing a review of a jazz festival in Gibraltar (this was a real day’s work a few weeks ago). I get to dip my toe into a plethora of different subjects, worlds of ideas, discussions and debates. I like to think this will make me a Trivial Pursuit mastermind one day.

I get to be my own boss

This had to feature somewhere. There’s no denying it, I’m just better suited to being my own boss than having someone tell me what to do. Not because I’m some renegade square-peg-in-a-round-hole who’s too cool for authority. No. More because I simply prefer to set my own goals that I can get truly excited about. I like to have my own deadlines to stick to. I like to be inundated with a variety of things to do rather than twiddling my thumbs. I like to decide what work I will do and when I will do it. Okay, and I also like being able to bunk off on a Friday afternoon sometimes when I manage to turn in a piece of work early.

Everyone works differently, and freelance editorial work suits some people better than others. But it sure works for me. I just wanted to raise a virtual glass to that fact. Anyone care to join me?


*Or ditchwater. I think the jury’s still out on that one.

What makes a freelancer tick? 2

Posted in: Blog, Copyediting, Copywriting, Proofreading by Sally Evans-Darby on 3 August 2013 | No Comments

It’s been a year (time flies!) since I featured on my colleague Liz Broomfield’s Small Business Chats series, where I talked to Liz about how I created Write Sense Media. A year later, I talked to Liz again about how things have progressed since summer 2012, what I’m doing now, and what I hope to be doing in a year’s time. You can read my interview with Liz here, and my original interview from July 2012 is here.

It’s been great having a chance to reflect on how Write Sense Media has progressed during 2012-2013 – a year of being busier than I probably ever have been in my working life! I’m passionate about my work as a copyeditor, proofreader and writer, and as a small business owner I hope to be able to continue and build on the success of Write Sense Media for years to come.

You can also read all of Liz’s interviews with all kinds of different small businesses owners here.

Editorial Survival Kit

Posted in: Blog, Copyediting, Grammar, Proofreading, Punctuation, Spelling by Sally Evans-Darby on 27 January 2013 | 5 Comments

Editorial Survival Kit: 6 Things I Can’t Live Without

Ask any freelance editor, proofreader, or other form of word-wielder: there are some things in the world of editorial freelancing that we just can’t live without. They make up the editor’s survival kit: often a mish-mash hodge-podge of stowaway items that make life just a little bit easier. The editor/proofreader’s desert island miscs.

As an editorial freelancer, there are a few things that I would be pretty lost without, and I’m curious to find out what would go into others’ survival kits too. Here is a top 6 list of mine; leave a comment below and let me know what you can’t live without.

1. OED, King of dictionaries

This one has to come at the top of my list because without its reassuring bulk I would feel ever so slightly bereft. It sits at the left of my computer and I’m forever thumbing through it looking for Oxford’s view on a particular stylistic issue or to find out, say, if premiss really is an alternative spelling of premise. (Turns out it is. I still prefer –mise.) It can also be a source of pleasurable procrastination, between jobs for example: open the dictionary at random and see how many new words you can learn.

Of course any editor worth her salt needs more than one dictionary to reference depending on the client and style guide, but the OED happens to be my personal favourite, even with its penchant for ‘-ize’ endings.

2. Helpful references

As well as my trusty OED I have a collection of editorial and language reference books, which I’m constantly adding to. Such texts are a must-have if you need to quickly check the received wisdom on hyphenation or gather a consensus on whether it is okay to use ‘different than’ as well as ‘different from’ (it is). Plus there’s simply something pleasurable in surrounding oneself with books on the subject you are interested in.

My favourite go-to books at the moment are: the New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors (Oxford University Press, 2005), and the Penguin guides to punctuation (R.L. Trask, 1997) and grammar (R.L. Trask, 2000).

3. Googling away

Okay, so this might not be the most fashionable thing to say, but I love Google. I love that it allows me to quickly check facts with minimum fuss. For things like checking the state abbreviation for Maryland (it’s MD, but I always think it’s MA) when editing a reference list, it’s immensely helpful.

And no, I don’t mind that ‘to google’ is now a verb listed in the OED. It’s a nice word and there’s nothing wrong with it being there (such a travesty must rest heavily on the minds of those like Simon Heffer).

4. Wordly wisdom

Word has many features that seem specifically and helpfully engineered for the jobbing editor (macros, format painter, and the most obvious: Track Changes). But the one that really comes in useful for me is its customisable dictionaries. When working with more complex or scientific texts, customising the in-built dictionary so that it lets me know that ‘gluecopyranosyl’ should be ‘glucopyranosyl’ is pretty useful. It’s much easier to read and spot the errors in a verbose document without red squiggly lines under every out-of-the-ordinary word.

5. Perfecting it

I was rather sceptical about such software at first, but I can now admit that I am a PerfectIt convert. PerfectIt is a nifty little Word add-in that performs a last-minute consistency check of your document, pointing out things that are easy to miss (especially in longer texts) such as use of capitalisation, hyphenation, how bullet lists are formatted, etc.

My first reaction to such a whizzy idea was along the lines of “but it’s my job as editor to spot those things; I shouldn’t be relying on a bit of software to do it for me”. The thing is, as long as you don’t come to rely on it, it can be a very helpful quick last check of a document before sending it off to the client.

Some might feel their editorial egos will be punctured if a computer programme is doing this for them, but I prefer to look at it this way: I do all the work, spotting inconsistencies and incongruities down to crossing the last tee – then, just to make sure that I haven’t missed anything (I am human after all), I perform a PerfectIt check before sending it off. Why risk missing something out of pride? Also, it’s rather gratifying to perform the check and have it return no inconsistencies.

6. Caffeine ahoy

Finally, coffee is something that I just can’t live without. I know, it’s probably bad for me (on the other hand, maybe it’s really good for me). But in those first few hours of a Monday morning fug, nothing beats it.

So what would you put in your editorial survival kit? Let me know by posting below.

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Email Etiquette for Freelancers

Posted in: Blog, Copyediting, Copywriting, Proofreading by Sally Evans-Darby on 28 October 2012 | 4 Comments

As a freelance editor/proofreader/writer, chances are a considerable chunk of communication with your clients is done by email. Depending on how you and your clients use it, email can either be your best friend or your worst enemy. Here are a few quick ways to make it work better for you and your freelance business.

Hit the reply button

It’s something that should go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. Reply to the emails you receive. If someone sends you an email, regardless of whether they’re a prospective client you can’t wait to get back to or an enquiry you don’t think is going to lead anywhere, have the courtesy to reply. Even if you don’t have time right away to respond fully, at least acknowledge the email and let the enquirer know you will get back to them soon.

Take care of your cc

If it hasn’t happened to you, it’s bound to have happened to someone you know: the dreaded email sent by mistake thanks to a mis-typed cc. Only last week this was highlighted when a humiliating email was accidentally sent to an engaged couple by their wedding planner, telling them what she really thought of them.

Before you press send, make sure you are only sending the email to those you wish to. Emails generally can’t be brought back, however much some email programmes might make you think that by pressing the magic ‘recall’ button your email will zing itself back to your outbox.

Get on the right terms

Take care when it comes to how you address your email. It’s generally good practice to take your client’s lead on whether to use ‘Dear’ or ‘To’, or ‘Hi’ or ‘Hey’ on the informal end of the scale. And always double-check you have spelled your client’s name right.

Also, watch out for possible gender confusion when using a title (Mr or Mrs) to address an email. I once addressed an email to a ‘Mr Chris Taylor’, mistakenly assuming Chris was a Christopher. Turns out, Chris was a Christine, and didn’t very much appreciate being called a Mr.

Sign off with style

Make sure your emails look as professional as possible by creating an automatic signature to sign off your emails. This does not mean writing your name in 20pt pink letters with an ‘inspirational’ quote from your favourite song underneath. It really just needs to be your name in full, your trading name if you have one, your web address and phone number, and perhaps your postal address and a few social media buttons for good measure.

Proofread it!

This becomes particularly salient if you are a freelance proofreader; a proofreader whose emails are littered with spelling mistakes is not the sort of proofreader anyone wants to hire. Always check your email for sense, common typos and grammatical ambiguities before you hit send. All too easily, confusing messages such as ‘it is not ready’ instead of ‘it is now ready’ can slip through the net. And that goes for every last word down to your own name at the bottom. I’ve almost signed off my emails as ‘Salty’ rather than ‘Sally’ on many an occasion – so take care to check thoroughly.

Do you have any tips for freelancer emailing? And as we’re nearing Halloween, how about sharing some of your favourite email horror stories? Leave your comments below.

Editorial freelancers: next steps

Posted in: Blog, Copyediting, Proofreading by Sally Evans-Darby on 28 August 2012 | No Comments

Kicking your freelance editing career into gear

This week, I’m proud to be featured on the Publishing Training Centre blog with an article on getting your freelance editorial business moving full steam ahead once you’ve successfully completed your training.

I completed the Basic Proofreading by Distance Learning course with the Publishing Training Centre, and can thoroughly recommend it to anyone seeking a career in proofreading or copyediting. I say copyediting too because it’s a great foundation for any sort of editorial work, featuring as it does such very thorough and uncompromising grounding in the proofreading side of the publishing industry. It’s also a widely recognised and respected qualification so is likely to boost your chances of securing freelance editorial work, or progressing your career in-house.

If you’d like to read my thoughts on what to do next after completing your PTC training, you can read the article here.

Is Freelance Editing For You?

Posted in: Blog, Copyediting, Copywriting, Proofreading by Sally Evans-Darby on 8 August 2012 | 8 Comments

Four reasons why freelance editing could be the right career for you

People arrive at careers in freelance editing from all walks of life. Of course there are many who work in publishing for decades, turning their years of experience into an invaluable marketing tool when they decide to take the freelance plunge. Others might start out as teachers, salespeople, academics. Or even butchers or bakers or candlestick makers. But they all have one thing in common: they are all in love with words. That love affair’s been going on for quite a while now. It’s getting pretty serious.

If you’re thinking of getting into freelance editing, you’re already straddling the first hurdle (you’ll need a bit more of a push to clear it completely). That first hurdle is seeing your own potential as a person who is skilled with words, and realising that you could make a freelance career out of that skill.

So how do you tell if freelance editing is right for you?

1. You are prepared to work your socks off

There’s no two ways about it: freelance editing is hard work. It requires hours of deep concentration, spot-on judgement and great linguistic skill. And if you’re working freelance, the actual editing work you do is only one part of the bigger picture.

Much of your time will be spent building, sustaining and enhancing your editorial business. Because, let’s not forget, that’s what you’ll be if you decide to go it alone as an editorial freelancer: a business owner. You might be the only employee, but you’ll have a whole slew of new work to attend to that just doesn’t come into the picture when you work for an employer: marketing, advertising, accounts, tax returns, administration, ongoing training. Don’t underestimate the amount of work this will add up to, especially if you haven’t worked in these areas before.

And you’ll want to be giving the best editorial service possible, so you’ll be pounding the keys, hunched over and squinting at that Arabic numeral that just doesn’t look right, at all hours of the day and night – at least you will be in the early days before things take off.

If you’re not ready to throw yourself in at the deep end and work like you’ve never worked before, you’re probably not ready to become a freelance editor.

2. You don’t like being around people

Okay, this isn’t wholly true – of course, to be a successful freelance editor you have to be an excellent oral as well as written communicator, you have to attend networking events and learn from your colleagues, you have to be prepared to meet a prospective client at their offices or for lunch to strike up a new working relationship. If you’re hoping to hide away in your study and not have to come into contact with those blasted fellow humans, you’ll be disappointed.

But it’s fair to say that you will be spending quite a lot of time on your own. However much networking and hobnobbing you do, your core business will still involve sitting alone in a room, undisturbed and utterly absorbed in your editing work.

This may be something you’ll have to come to terms with if you’re usually a social butterfly, or if you’ve ever described yourself as a ‘team player’ in a job interview without a hint of irony. There’ll be no more watercooler chats about last night’s soaps or elevator exchanges about how rubbish the weather is lately (you might be able to tell this isn’t something I miss).

In all seriousness, though, social interaction is essential for everyone’s mental and emotional wellbeing. No man is an island – you’ll have to cast lifelines to civilisation if you want to stay sane. This is certainly something to take into consideration if you’re thinking of going freelance.

3. You have a tough hide

To cut it in the world of editorial freelancing, or any kind of freelancing, you have to have a thicker-than-average skin. It’s not going to be plain sailing. There will be times when you lose faith in yourself and your abilities, however momentarily. No-one is going to hand you your freelance career on a plate and thank you politely for your efforts.

There has to be an element of struggling against the odds, of difficulty, of uphill heaving. Sometimes, things won’t go perfectly to plan. Sometimes, things won’t go your way. You’ll have weeks when nothing seems to be going your way.

If in these situations you think you might be apt to fold your hand and duck out, telling yourself you’re not cut out for this, your freelance career is going to be shortlived. In times of adversity you’ll have to come out fighting, with one singular aim: to keep going, and never to give up. This might sound a little melodramatic, but when you’re relying on yourself and your own abilities to get by, you have to have inexhaustible amounts of resource and strength. You have to be able to take the hits, learn from them, and move on.

4. Words make your heart sing

I touched on this earlier, but it really is the most important thing to appreciate if you want to live in the world of editors, writers and proofreaders. You can be a whizz with words and enjoy pontificating over the finer points of grammar with the best of them, but to be a freelance editor you need something more than that. You might love words with your head, but you need to love them with your heart, too.

As a freelance editor (or writer or proofreader) you will live and breathe words every single day. You will be constantly surrounded by phonemes and morphemes – you will figuratively, as well as literally, live off them. They will be your constant companion, whether you like it or not.

And some days, you won’t like it. You’ll be sick of the sight of all those crowding, noisy letters jumbling your field of vision, vying for your attention. Words will become your work, and everyone needs a break from work sometimes. If you don’t love words truly-madly-deeply, you’ll want to turn your back on them when the going gets tough. But if you love them enough, you’ll stick with them through thick and thin – because deep down you know you can’t live without them.

Do any or all of these points resonate with you? If so, freelance editing could be up your street. It’s hard work, it’s something you have to give yourself to wholeheartedly – but if it fits, it’s a wonderful profession to be in. I certainly wouldn’t have it any other way.