This page is dedicated to my experiences as a new freelance writer and proofreader.
Grace & Green
I recently started writing blog posts for Grace & Green; an exciting new company providing women with environmentally-friendly menstrual products. The opportunity to research and write about topics which are important to women is something I’m very grateful for and thoroughly enjoying!
I have also guest-posted on several other websites.
For Modern Life Blogs, I wrote a piece offering advice to the newly unemployed partner in a cohabiting relationship.
The following was written for The SITS Girls:
Starting Out Vs Stressing Out!
I recently resigned from a full-time job that was making me incredibly miserable and am now in the early stages of setting myself up as a freelance writer.
It’s an amazing feeling, but stressful too!
Every day is spent writing, researching, networking and pitching my work in an attempt to put myself in the best possible position to start offering my services as a writer, and I have so many ideas running through my head but no loose ends tied up!
Although it’s still very early days for me, I’ve discovered a few things that make the every-day life of an aspiring freelance writer a little easier…
- Getting up with the other members of your household (or setting an alarm if you live alone)
With no boss to answer to, you could lie in until 11am every day if you wanted to! Personally, I find that getting up when my boyfriend goes to work means that I’m able to make the most of the day ahead. If you live alone, setting an alarm for a decent time will stop you over-sleeping and wasting valuable writing hours!
- Making a healthy lunch the night before
Every evening, I make myself a salad for the next day. Not only does this mean that I don’t have to take time out of my day to make lunch, but it stops me falling into the habit of eating sandwiches, pasta or other carbohydrate-based meals that I really shouldn’t be eating when I’m spending most of my day sitting down! Which leads me nicely on to…
- Taking time to exercise or just go outside
I don’t want to preach about how unhealthy it is to sit at a computer all day, but I will preach about the power of a 10 or 20-minute exercise DVD or online workout! Better still is a brisk walk, as this removes you from your writer’s den for a while!
- Not working late into the evening
When you’re researching, writing, networking etc. from home, it’s all too easy to carry on late into the evening. I’ve found that I have to make a conscious effort to wind down at night, or I’m too wired to sleep. And on the subject of over-working…
- Not feeling guilty about doing other things during the day
In all fairness, the ‘other things’ I’ve been doing are generally household chores or food shopping, but at least they get me away from the computer. I’ve tried to get back into the habit of reading for pleasure too, which was my way of winding-down when I had a full-time job. Self-employed or not, no one can work flat-out without a break.
- Embracing the writer cliché
I’m a bit of a traditionalist and carry a notebook and pen with me, even though I could record things on my phone. For me, life is far less stressful when I can physically write down my thoughts and ideas and know where to find them.
- Exploring different avenues
Whether I’m adding posts to my blog, working through a proofreading course, attending a creative writing workshop or reviewing books for charity, I’m putting my all into everything I do. At best, something amazing will come of one of these things, and at worst, I’ll have a wealth of experience under my belt.
Ultimately, I have taken a massive leap of faith and, although it’s not easy getting started, I intend to continue focusing all my efforts on achieving my goals, and hope other aspiring writers are able to do the same.
Wordsworth Reading Ltd
I wrote the following two articles for Wordsworth Reading Ltd, who provide a professional proofreading service for businesses, healthcare providers, writers and students.
Publishing your work
You’re finally at a point where you feel ready to send your book to publishers.
Where do you go from here?
For simplicity’s sake, let’s assume you’ve written the text for a children’s picture book and that you don’t have an agent.
The first thing you need to do is compile a list of children’s picture book publishers; particularly those who are currently producing similar work to yours.
Many publishers will only accept ‘solicited manuscripts’; those which have been specifically requested and usually come via an agent. However, there are publishers out there who will accept unsolicited manuscripts; you just have to look for them! (For an extensive list, get yourself a copy of The Writers and Artists Yearbook, 2017).
So now you have a list of publishers who accept unsolicited children’s picture book manuscripts.
What do you do next?
Make sure you have the following three things:
1) The manuscript itself
This should be:
- Checked thoroughly for errors
- True to the picture book format
- Written in Times New Roman, size 12 regular, or Arial
- Double spaced
- Free from illustrations, as publishers will source an illustrator for your book if they want to publish it
2) A title sheet
This should contain:
- The title of the story
- Your name and contact details
- A brief synopsis of the story
- The word count
3) A covering letter
This should be:
- Addressed to the commissioning editor. Look online or ring up the publishing house and ask for the name of the commissioning editor for picture books
- Formally written
- Your opportunity to introduce both yourself and your work to the editor (without waffling on too much!)
Each publisher will have a set of rules regarding the submission of work from an author. Many accept manuscripts electronically (for example, as a Word document via an attachment) and some even prefer this method, but others will request a hard copy. If this is the case, ensure that you do the following:
- Along with your manuscript, title sheet and covering letter, enclose a stamped, addressed envelope for feedback.
- Use a paper clip to keep your work together rather than a staple, ensuring that your name, the title of the story and page numbers are recorded in a ‘header’ or ‘footer’ in case the pages get separated.
The most important thing is to find out how publishers prefer to receive manuscripts and in what format, and submit your work accordingly.
Whilst some consider it bad practice to send your manuscript to more than one publisher at a time, this is hugely impractical and you’d be forgiven for sending your work to multiple publishing houses; especially when the waiting time for a response is at least six months!
Now keep a record of the publishers you have submitted to and get cracking on your next project whilst you wait…!
Transferring your main character from your mind to paper
It’s time to bring your main character to life, but how do you begin to transfer your jumbled thoughts onto the page?
The first step is to create a character profile. This involves recording basic facts under headings, such as:
- The protagonist’s gender and age
- What they look like
- Where they live
- What they do for work/where they go to school
- Important relationships (e.g. with parents, siblings, partners)
- Their personality traits
Once you’ve established the key facts about your character, you can flesh them out a little by asking yourself questions such as:
- What are their pet hates or guilty pleasures?
- What are their hopes for the future?
- Do they have any secrets that may or may not be revealed as the plot develops…?
You will also want to consider their background and how this might have influenced the type of person they are today.
It’s worth noting that, if you are writing for children, whilst adults will engage with multi-dimensional characters, young children require one-dimensional protagonists of a similar age to themselves (and any secondary characters should be kept to a minimum).
You might find it helpful to keep a notepad or pen with you so that you can jot down anything interesting you notice about the people you see and which could aid your character formation.
For example, you might come across an eccentric gentleman with a bizarre attachment to his umbrella, a teenage girl who talks ten to the dozen and wears miniskirts even in the depths of winter, or a young man who waits at the bus stop every morning but never catches a bus. Taking an interest in those around you can help you to develop your main character, and the act of combining the attitudes, actions, dialogue and appearances of a range of people allows for the creation of a more rounded protagonist. This technique can also help you to avoid accidental stereotyping or falling into the trap of basing your main character on someone you know.
Novels are rife with conflict, so consider how your character’s personality traits might make for an interesting storyline. For example, if they love animals, could they steal a dog after discovering it was being mistreated and end up on the run from the police? Or, if they are terrified of hurting the feelings of others, could they find themselves in a relationship that isn’t right because they didn’t want to upset the other person?
Readers need to relate to your main character and witness their trials as well as triumphs, so don’t be afraid to introduce a few minor character flaws. Your protagonist might possess a quick temper, be terribly impatient or have a crippling phobia that they can steadily overcome as the novel progresses; just don’t make them perfect, as no one is!
Ultimately, your protagonist must be credible and relatable, whilst evoking and maintaining the interest of the reader.
Write Club Society, OU
I belong to the Open University’s Write Club Society, and was asked to write the following article for the magazine:
Proofreading for Beginners
A few months ago, I took the plunge and left my full-time job in order to launch a freelance writing business.
In terms of the services I was planning to offer, I’d been blogging for six months and written for the website of a local business owner, so was keen to continue writing web content. With a background in creative writing, I decided I would like to provide personalised wedding poetry for couples, too, and when my best friend and her fiancé were really touched by the poem I’d written for theirs, the deal was sealed.
The third service I’d been considering was something that many freelance writers seemed to be offering, and which had always appealed to me: proofreading.
As a complete newbie in this field and wanting to get some training under my belt, I did a lot of Googling and discovered that the Society for Editors and Proofreaders have very good reviews (as have The Publishing Training Centre), so signed up and completed the first course. There is a fee for joining, but once you’re a member, you receive a discount on the courses. (It’s worth noting that whilst the SfEP and the PTC are reputable companies, many are not, so do be careful!)
As an incredibly fast reader and constantly finding typos in the many books I read, I thought proofreading would be a bit of a doddle.
I was wrong.
It turns out there is a lot more to proofreading than being a bit of a geek. You need to be on the look-out for any subtle changes in font that have occurred somewhere along the line, cross-check references against bibliographies, raise a ‘query’ with the author if you’re unsure about something and, in the words of the SfEP, ‘be smarter than the spell-checker’! I also had to re-condition myself to read slowly and carefully, as I was used to devouring novels like there’s no tomorrow…!
For hard-copy proofreads (when you have a print-out to work from), the SfEP suggest using proof-correction marks known as BSI (British Standard Institution) marks, and there are an awful lot of these! Marks are made both in the text itself and the margin, which means that the exercises are quite time-consuming as you not only have to identify errors, but establish which marks you need to use for each one!
For on-screen proofreading, I downloaded Adobe Acrobat Reader and used comment boxes to make alterations, but you can also use Track Changes in Word. (I won’t bore you by going into too much detail at this point…!)
In the real world, clients should provide you with a brief, which will include their preference for UK or US spellings, how they would like numbers and dates to be written, if they have a ‘house style’ and so on.
Proofreading can be done ‘blind’, where there is no accompanying text to work from, or ‘against-copy’, and as the SfEP recommend gaining experience before taking their second course, I signed up with CustomEyes and joined a remote work experience programme run by Wordsworth Reading Ltd to gain experience in both types.
CustomEyes is a wonderful charity which turns published books into large-print for visually impaired children and young people. This type of proofreading is against-copy, as volunteers are provided with a hard-copy of the text and asked to alter a document on-screen to match. (Simply put, in the process of turning a book into large-print, computers get a little confused and make errors; hence the need for human proofreaders!)
Wordsworth Reading Ltd provide proofreading work across four client groups; writers, students, healthcare providers and businesses. The work is done blind, and has been challenging at times; especially since, for many of the students, English is their second language, which calls for quite a few grammatical changes. Once you’ve sent in a proofread, you receive feedback, which is very helpful.
Do-it.org is a great place to find proofreading opportunities, and there are some extremely worthwhile charities on there.
If you’re interested in proofreading and have bucketloads of patience and an eagle eye, I would recommend learning the basics with a reputable company and then practising like crazy, but ultimately, it’s a case of doing whatever works best for you.
It’s not easy, and you’ll kick yourself for missing ‘obvious’ errors, but I’ve found my proofreading experience fulfilling and enjoyable, and you might, too.
Learning to be patient
They say patience is a virtue.
If this is true, it’s a virtue I’ve never possessed.
I’ve been impatient since I was born; a day early and with little warning. Ever since then, I’ve struggled with sitting still and always want to be doing something.
Once I’ve got an idea in my head, it must be actioned immediately.
It turns out S is the same. We bought a house within months of discussing it and (something which was more recent, but slightly less of a big deal), took off across the country to buy a big-ass Dutch tent the day after S first saw it online.
However, since I’ve started freelance writing, I’ve had to search deep inside myself for an ounce of patience.
I keep a record of the work I send to publishers, websites and magazines and when they say it can take up to 6 months for a response, they’re not kidding.
Even when I’m told that my work has been accepted, there is still a long wait before I see it in print. One of my poems was selected for an anthology back in March, but I won’t receive my copy until August. For an impatient person, this is hell on earth.
At first, I eagerly checked my emails for a response in the days after submitting my work, or hovered by the front door for the postman.
It soon became apparent, however, that I would have to bide my time and find things to occupy my mind with in the months following a submission.
These days, I’m much better at sending something off, making sure I’ve had a confirmation email and then waiting…
(…kind of patiently…)
It recently occurred to me that I’m inspired to write at extremely inconvenient times. These include:
- In bed, late at night, when S is asleep. Seeing as I’m not completely evil, I can’t whack the light on and start scribbling in my notebook, so I hide under the duvet and write notes on my phone, trying not to wake S up with the glare from the screen. Fun times.
- On the back of our tandem. My best creative writing ideas come to me when we’re speeding down country lanes, and although I can take my hands away from the handlebars long enough to take a selfie now (very proud of that), I don’t think I’ll risk penning a novel from the back of a bicycle made for two.
- At other people’s weddings. Yes, this is very awkward. I can’t exactly whip out my notebook or phone just as they’re saying ‘I do’, can I?
- When other people are reading out their work at my monthly creative writing workshop. Again, bit rude.
- When I’m driving. One word: DANGEROUS.
For the above reasons, you’ll often see me with bizarre-looking codes scrawled hastily on the back of my left hand. These are notes-to-self, made when I have only a pen and my own hand as a means of recording my thoughts.
Ironically, when I’m sitting at my desk with all my writing tools in front of me and an entire day to devote to writing, I’ll be completely uninspired and get absolutely nothing written.
Ah well. Such is life.