SfEP Scottish Mini Conference

A first for me: an editing conference. The SfEP Scottish Mini Conference, held in Edinburgh. Slickly organised by Lesley Ellen of the Edinburgh branch.

Actually, now I come to think of it, it was my first any-kind-of conference.

I got there early.

I asked the man at the reception desk where I was meant to go.
“Can you tell me…”
“The editors? Up there.”
“Is it that obvious?”
“You’ve got that nerdy look.”
“I’ll take that as compliment.”
“It’s OK, I’m a nerd too.”

My early wasn’t early enough. Pretty much everyone had already got there before me. I was relieved to spot a few familiar and friendly faces, but it wasn’t too hard to chat to some new people. Well, I suppose, I was the new person really. That’s how I felt anyway. After a bit of mingling and shortbread we took our seats.

The venue was excellent. City of Edinburgh Methodist Church in Nicolson Square. Light and bright. And the first time I’ve seen roller blinds used in a church… I observed… usefully.

SfEP chair, Sabine Citron, swiftly opened proceedings and introduced our first speaker.

Geoff Pullum, Professor of General Linguistics at Edinburgh University, gave an entertaining talk on the myths of “correct” English grammar entitled Freedom and tyranny in English grammar: what the sophisticated copy-editor should know. The tyranny is from prescriptive rules that, despite having not made sense for decades, are still held dear by your pedantic grammar-correcting Facebook buddies and Simon Heffer. Geoff’s writing on the subject is enjoyably snarky (read his excellent post on the split infinitive) and he is a very engaging speaker. He reminded us not to be set in our ways as editors, rigidly following nonsensical rules. Don’t be dinosaurs.

Some people worry more about being judged for not being seen to follow certain grammar and punctuation rules, than they do about being clearly understood. It’s like following etiquette rather than being polite.

He said that almost all grammar books are outdated, and pointed out some howlers in newspaper style guides and creative writing guides too. If you’re interested in writing you’ll have encountered famous guides that tell you to eliminate all adjectives and adverbs from your writing to sharpen it up. Try it. Your writing won’t make sense.

We had some excellent and challenging questions from the audience about singular “they” and gender, and about whether you really could treat the study of language in a scientific way.

Jane Moody, the Professional Development Director of SfEP, was up next, talking about Professional Development and the upgrading process. I discovered that I do probably have enough points to upgrade to advanced professional. So that’s my goal after the holidays – collating all my evidence. That can take quite a bit of time. In the audience, a member mentioned that she was highly experienced but because her main employer does not, as a policy, give any references she was unable to upgrade. Perhaps there has to be a road to certification for members like her who have the experience but are missing the necessary paperwork to show it.

After coffee came the bravest talk of the day. Introduction to commercial super-macros for editing by Ashley Craig of SfEP Northeast Scotland group. Ashley gave us a live demonstration of some editing software and did so without a hitch. I’d have been a nervous wreck. I’m going to try to make macros part of my working routine, the thought of using them is currently somewhat daunting, but I think they could make a huge difference to efficiency. Ashley carried out the demonstration very smoothly and fielded a few difficult audience questions too.

Lunch was next. The venue had a great little garden area – a sun trap. I sat outside and enjoyed chatting to a few more people while my skin fried a little. We may all look like nerds, according to my friend at the reception desk, but we come from many varied backgrounds and use our editing skills in lots of different areas of communication.

Which leads nicely to the talks by Laura Poole of Copyediting.com, all the way from North Carolina – Authentic Networking: how to present yourself in a natural way and talk comfortably about whay you do. I found Laura’s talk very inspiring. She’s a wee powerhouse of energy with a great attitude to work and business development. She got us all talking to each other and working on our “elevator pitches”. Mine needs work.

Laura’s second talk was called Taking charge of your freelance life: tools and techniques. It was a lively talk at a time in the afternoon when everyone’s energy is typically dipping. Laura kept everyone engaged and wanting to ask questions. Her book Juggling on a High Wire: The Art of Work-Life Balance When You’re Self-Employed covers most of the topics she discussed, about challenges faced by freelancers for keeping motivated, making good choices, and for still having life outside work.

Afterwards, I joined some of the gals from the Glasgow group for drinks. The sun had started to disappear, but we bravely sat outside at the Devil’s Advocate pub (they have blankets for this purpose) and killed some time before they all headed for their trains. I’d treated myself to a weekend in Edinburgh – which always feels like a holiday though it’s only a few miles from Glasgow – so headed to the Doric to meet my husband.

It was a very useful day. It was also very cheap. Only £40 to attend this informative day was exceptional value and shows me how good Lesley Ellen was at organising the event, and how much the SfEP is concerned with personal development and creating professional standards, rather than fleecing its members.

I’ve signed up for the September SfEP conference in Bedfordshire. It has some topics I’m really interested in, and I’m both nervous and excited at the prospect of more time to chat to other members and maybe meeting some people I ‘know’ from social media.

The best thing for me about all these experiences is the chance to meet fellow editors. Editing can be – has to be – quite a solitary exercise sometimes, so it is good professionally, and psychologically, to seize an opportunity to be sociable while you learn new things.






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