Something I heard on the radio recently made me think about how the language we use can signal a positive or negative approach to a particular topic.
Following a programme dealing with new advice on healthy lifestyles, the announcer said, ‘Well, the news seems to be full of doom and gloom about diet and exercise, but let’s find out whether the weather is any more cheerful.’
The announcer’s comments automatically cast the advice on diet and exercise in a negative light. She could have used positive language (‘Well, after that great advice on maintaining a healthy lifestyle, how’s the weather looking?’), or even left things fairly neutral (‘Well, lots to think about there. Now let’s look at what the weather has in store.’). But the suggestion was that maintaining a healthy lifestyle necessarily involves a level of suffering and privation, rather than being an active choice to follow healthier habits.
Now, I’m not saying it’s always easy to stay in an optimistic frame of mind – I do my fair share of grumbling and catastrophising! But when it comes to editorial freelancing, there are definitely ways of seeing the positive side of situations. Here are a few examples.
1. Running a business
To pick up the ‘healthy lifestyle’ theme, as freelancers we often need to take action to keep our businesses in a healthy condition. That sometimes means doing things outside our comfort zone – marketing and networking spring to mind here – or tackling tasks that seem boring or mundane, such as planning or accounts. Other activities might seem expensive or time-consuming (or both!): taking a training course, perhaps, or setting up a website.
But turning this around, running and growing a business can be seen as a challenge, with rewards – both personal and financial – for those who do it successfully. Rather than viewing marketing, networking, planning and training as chores, perhaps we should try to approach them with enthusiasm. After all, just as with diet and exercise, we have a great deal of flexibility in the choices we make and in the way we pursue them. And as with diet and exercise, optimism, imagination and the willingness to put in some effort will usually pay dividends.
2. Losing a client
All businesses have their ups and downs, and losing a regular client can feel like a devastating blow. Sometimes it’s out of our control, such as when an organisation takes the work in-house or overseas. Sometimes it’s a matter of money – the client is no longer able or willing to pay our rates – or a mismatch in expectations about scope of work or turnaround times. Whatever the cause, replacing the lost income is likely to be a priority, especially if the shortfall means a struggle to pay bills.
It can be a surprise to realise that losing a client can have a positive side. Sometimes it’s tempting to stick with one type of client, with a particular fee level, or with specific working arrangements. Losing a client can give us the opportunity to reassess our situation and ask some fundamental questions. Is it time for a change of direction? Are there new types of client, or new types of work, that we’d like to pursue? Could this be an opportunity to raise our rates? Depending on the circumstances of the loss, it might also be a chance to assess what went ‘wrong’ (if anything), and whether there are things we can do to protect ourselves against this in the future.
Working as a freelance editor or proofreader has its own lifestyle challenges, and it’s important to take heed of the advice that’s available. Maintaining health and wellbeing involves – among other things – taking regular breaks from the screen, making an effort to get some fresh air and exercise, and thinking carefully about food and drink consumption.
Rather than see these as tedious ‘rules’ that have to be followed, we need to see them as an investment in our physical and mental health, and, hence, the health of our business. We can enjoy time away from the screen, whether we’re doing something else that’s useful or taking time out to relax. Laura Ripper has some excellent suggestions on her blog. Fresh air and exercise have obvious physical benefits, and they also offer a chance to think – or to switch off completely if that’s what’s needed. And our choice of food and drink can have an immediate effect on productivity – who can edit efficiently after a carb-heavy lunch?
4. A ‘can do’ attitude
Of course, it’s important to be clear – to ourselves as well as to our clients – about how much we’ll charge for a particular piece of work, and when we can complete it. And if a client’s demands seem unreasonable, or they simply can’t be accommodated, there’s nothing wrong with saying ‘no’ to a project.
But if the work looks interesting and there’s some flexibility in what can be done, we can sometimes present a positive alternative. We can discuss with the client what we can do within an agreed budget – for example, edit the language but not format the references. Similarly, clients are sometimes willing to wait until there’s a suitable gap in our schedule: rather than saying ‘No, I definitely can’t do it this week’, try saying ‘I could certainly fit this in next week. Would that work for you?’
5. Approaching our work
It’s worth thinking about the ethos of our editing and proofreading services. Is it helpful to tackle our work with a sense of superiority? Should we see ourselves as ‘Grammar Nazis’ who are driven by the desire to find mistakes in other people’s writing? It’s all too easy to become disillusioned when we’re editing and proofreading. Surely everyone should know how to use an apostrophe! And why, oh why do some people still put two spaces after every full stop?
It sometimes helps to think about things from the other side of the fence. An author has put in time and effort to produce a piece of writing (which is not an easy task), and it’s our job to make it the best it can be. Yes, it sometimes seems like an uphill struggle, and we might feel as though our work goes unnoticed. But we should feel confident in our skills and expertise, and take pride in our own contribution to whatever project we’re tackling. There’s a lot to be said for being an unsung hero!
As I say, I don’t see the world through rose-tinted spectacles, and I’m not suggesting that anyone else should, either. But I certainly think it’s worth considering both sides of any situation and trying to appreciate the benefits as well as the drawbacks. Freelance editing and proofreading can be a rocky path, so it’s essential to make the most of the positives (of which there are many!).