Proofreading, copy-editing and dreaming about vegetables during lockdown

The early days – a proofreading shortage turns into busy weeks and months

So it’s 26 August 2020 and we’ve been in lockdown for five months. I’ve barely left the house, apart from a few trips to the supermarket early on and a walk every day. I’m very grateful to have a garden, which I’ve enjoyed working on even more this summer. I’ve even gone as far as to buy and put together a raised vegetable bed recently, and I’m ridiculously excited about planting a few things in the autumn and then planning for next spring.

I’m lucky that I work from home anyway, so my life hasn’t changed as much as many other people’s. My commute still consists of walking across the landing, and I spend quite a lot of the day on my own in my office. I’m missing my family and friends a lot. My social life is non-existent apart from meeting a friend once a week in a park and visiting my parents in their garden.

After a bit of a wobble on the work front early on in lockdown when my inbox went completely silent, I’ve been very busy copy-editing and proofreading since then. Working has been invaluable as a distraction from the incredibly stressful few months we’re going through (as well as helping to pay the bills!). We’re all worried about the virus, our family’s jobs and futures, and the situation that people around us and globally find themselves in. Empathy can be exhausting in this situation, when the extent of suffering of all kinds seems so overwhelming and there seems to be no end date.

Thank goodness for family, friends, and colleagues

Having colleagues that I’m in touch with, as well as family and friends, has been really beneficial. At the start of lockdown, I was reassured, though saddened, to hear that many colleagues were also finding that work had dried up when in normal times they would have expected to be pretty busy. Since then, they too have become as busy as they usually are, which is a relief.

We’ve been in touch a lot and have checked up on each other’s mental health and general well-being and asked about personal issues, like family members who are going through difficult times because of a ill health, or job-related problems, or a death in the family. I’ve felt very supported by these colleagues and know that they’re happy to chat if I feel I want to vent about this or that. We’ve had ongoing emails about work-related issues too, so that’s brought some feeling of normality to our daily email chats.

Familiar faces

I met all of these colleagues at my local proofreading and editing group in Leamington Spa around eight years ago. The group was then part of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders, but in March this year the society gained chartered status after several years of hard work by the people who hold or used to hold official posts in the society. It’s now called the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading.

I have co-run the local group (called the South Warwickshire and Coventry local group) for over five years now and have found it a fantastic support group. Since lockdown began, we’ve had Zoom meetings every two months, and they’ve been really uplifting. The simplest pleasure of them, to be honest, is just seeing a group of people that are familiar and good company, and we’ve talked about all sorts of work-related stuff but have chatted a fair bit about other things. The meetings have been relaxed and a lot of fun, with plenty of laughing and empathy and a general feeling that no one’s being judged and we’re all happy to share our knowledge and experiences. It’s such a rewarding way to learn a few new tips and just get the brain cogs rolling a little bit when new ideas or suggestions come up.

Advice and support via CIEP meetings

During the last meeting, one member thought it might be useful to talk about things like whether we record our time and if so how we record it; at what point we start to treat someone or an organisation as a client and what information we record about them and the work they need doing; and how we organise our work schedule (time-recording software, spreadsheets or scrappy bits of paper, for example). It was such a useful chat, and it was really interesting to hear about others’ methods of working.

Because most freelancers are alone when we proofread, copy-edit, edit, write or project manage, or any combination of these, there is a danger that we get stuck in our ways, so chatting about methods of organising our work that might make us change our methods to better ones must be beneficial. Having said that, though, some of us are guilty of sticking to what we’ve been doing for the last ten years in relation to certain tasks, because … we just like doing it that way. For example, I’m not about to give up my beloved pen and notepad when I’m writing notes about the text I’m working on and swap to using a Word document instead. Using a pen and a pristine sheet of paper still gives me a huge amount of enjoyment, I’m not sure why. It’s a proofreader thing…