I’m Presenting at Perspectives 2022
I will be speaking at Perspectives 2022, a virtual conference about content design, about my experience of being a content designer with ADHD.
I will be speaking at Perspectives 2022, a virtual conference about content design, about my experience of being a content designer with ADHD.
I’ve always seen myself as a word person. From ordering dictionaries from Scholastic during my school days to taking courses in book publishing to writing about editing , working with words has always been at the core of my identity.
So it’s with a mix of pride and surprise that I’m announcing my a new job as…. a designer? Really?
When I wrote my last blog post about how I managed this site, I certainly wasn’t planning to let this whole thing lie fallow for the next few years.
So, what on earth have I been up to since 2015?
Well, in early 2015, I got a contract through an agency working on digital copywriting for Rogers, one of Canada’s big 3 telecommunications companies. I was so busy there that I let maintaining my presence here slide.
Then, about a year after I got the contract, a posting for an in-house job showed up for exactly the role I was already doing there. So I went for it — and I got it! I officially started as a Rogers employee 3 years ago today.
The past 3 years have been busy, but I’ve got a lot more tools in my copywriting toolkit now. Over the course of working at Rogers, I’ve learned about:
On top of that, in 2017 I did something that was on my professional development checklist for a long time: I took one of Editors Canada’s very difficult, very involved editing certification tests.
The wait to get my test results back was nerve-wracking, but I found out last May that I passed the copy editing test — so now I’m a Certified Copy Editor to boot!
I want to ease back into blogging because being a professional copywriter and not posting on here for four years is laughable. So for the next little bit, I’ll republish some tweet threads that I rescued from Storify. See you soon!
Sometimes, being in a hotel full of people who radiate enthusiasm and happiness really makes you consider what you’re doing and the choices you make.
I just spent the past weekend at Ad Astra, Toronto’s annual sci-fi and fantasy convention. I’ve gone to Ad Astra twice before, and really enjoyed it both times. This year was fun, but I felt somewhat disconnected from it. I was much more involved in the sci-fi and fantasy community over the previous two years (reading slush for magazines and anthologies, listening extensively to fiction podcasts, and subscribing to multiple magazines) than I am now.
This has been a conscious choice on my part — as a result of devoting my personal resources to business blogging and other corporate projects, I’ve left off posting about a lot of the things that I consider my hobbies: reviewing books and trying new varieties of tea. I’m even taking time off from my writing critique group (which I joined last year and still love) to focus on the freelancing. In short: I’ve realized I need to stop juggling too many things.
However, being around so many familiar faces who mean a lot to me has made me realize just how much I’ve missed having the time and energy to focus on reviewing books and tea, and to talk about more personal life events.
As a result, I’m seriously considering the idea of setting up a separate website just for those hobbies. The site you’re reading is where I want to connect with other freelancers and entrepreneurs, and talk about the business/marketing side of content. But I would still love to have a space to review the books I enjoy and talk about what teas I like, and other aspects of those things, like what works or what doesn’t in the books I read.
The question is: can I afford, not only in time but in mental resources, to make such a new space for myself?
I’d love to say “yes.” I’m desperately yearning to say “yes.” But I know myself well enough by now to know that the answer is a “maybe” at best.
This thought makes me sad, but it also makes me somewhat proud because I am finally learning to recognize my own limits, and step back from bad patterns of behaviour from my past. I have had a habit of taking on too many projects at once out of fear of missing the perfect opportunity. However, that leads to things inevitably slipping – and I really don’t like that feeling. Changing those bad patterns is a work in progress. But at this point, it’s better for me to finish what I’m doing and do it well than to chase the shiny new objects in my path and, Atalanta-like, drop them all in favour of the next golden apple.
So: I’ve made a choice to leave off the juggling. That tea and books review site is sitting there in the back of my mind, waiting for the right moment. But it’s not now. And knowing that is a sign of growth, I think.
One of the things I emphasize as a writer when I work with other companies is to post blog updates on a regular basis. So, you can imagine my chagrin to have not posted here on my own site for over a month.
It’s a classic case of the shoemaker’s children running barefoot.
However, I like to think of it as a sign of the fact that I’m actually getting work done for others. And as a result, I’ve got some nice news to share.
For one thing, I’ve got a speaking event coming up in Toronto that I’m very pleased to share:
What: Blogging for Businesses, hosted by Canadian Small Business Women
One of the challenges of being a business owner is finding effective ways to promote your business. One way is blogging: at this event you’ll learn the importance of blogging for your business, as well as some tips on how to make it work for you. I’ll talk about:
When: March 4th, 2015, 6:30 to 9:30 PM
Where: North York Central Library, Room #1, 5120 Yonge St, Toronto
Secondly, I’ve added new client work to my portfolio. In particular, I’m quite proud of two new pieces I’ve written for others; here are some excerpts to whet your appetite.
What Bloggers Can Learn From Good Print Advertising
The first thing you’ll notice about this ad (despite the blurriness – a result of taking this photo while riding public transit) is that although the main image is in black and white, it grabs your interest.
For one thing, the contrast between the black background and Parlby’s face and neck make the ad stand out. For another, her picture isn’t centered, which creates room for the main quote. In fact, this ad in general makes good use of a design principle called “the rule of thirds”, which adds visual interest to photos by positioning items of visual interest a third of the way into (and not in the centre of) a photograph.
This balance of image and text creates harmony, while the flashes of yellow in the corners add visual interest. Overall, the design here is a winner.
Yes, LinkedIn Can Help Freelancers Make Money. Here’s How.
The most important thing to remember is this strategy works best over a long period of time… The person you contact today may not get back to you until the following week, arrange a phone call the week after that, and then request you follow up a month later. In other words, it will probably take weeks or months for that first touch to result in paying work.
…To many freelancers, LinkedIn is intimidating because the general tone is a lot less personable compared to other social networks. However, for those who know where and how to look, LinkedIn can be a gold mine of freelance possibilities.
Happy new year, everyone!
I hope you all had a chance to spend time with your friends and family, and that you got to relax, think, and make some good plans for 2015.
Remember the last post when I talked about my goals for 2015? Well, I’ve refined those goals even further, and written about them as a guest post on the blog of Aprille Janes, a business coach. Here’s a snippet from that post:
Of course! So much of my inability to charge what I’m worth stems from a sense of guilt, of a belief that it’s wrong, even unfeminine, to focus on money. But now I felt myself moving from recognizing the problem to finding the solution; I felt I was approaching the edge of something, ready to peer over it and see the perfect word to encapsulate 2015 waiting for me.
I started writing notes down frantically about all the things I wanted to accomplish in January 2015 and all the loose ends from 2014 I wanted to tie up. At the bottom of the list, I spontaneously wrote this:
I need to become convinced of my own monetary value and self-worth. It is of no use to anybody if I’m too timid to charge what I’m worth, become overworked, burn out, and then shut my business down. Assertiveness means survival.
Check out the whole post, “Why 2015 is My Year of Assertiveness“, on Aprille’s site right now.
Some more awesome news: A few days before Christmas, my writing debuted on xoJane! I can’t wait to write more for them. Here’s an excerpt:
Do I still mess up a lot? Yeah. Do I still need things explained to me about how I’m using the same thought processes as the people derailing the conversation? Yeah. Do I still have a lot of ingrained sexism inside myself that even my increased knowledge hasn’t fully extricated, like the assumptions I make about who the manager of a retail store is? Yes. Do I still unconsciously make my voice sound higher when I’m around unfamiliar men? Yup. Do I still sometimes commit the cardinal ally sin of apologizing just to let people know I’m oh-so-sensitive and that “I’m not like that”? Unfortunately, yes.
Are there people way more articulate out there than me who can deconstruct sexist and racist arguments with mastery because they have to live with that bullshit on a day-to-day basis while I don’t? Hell fucking yes.
Check out the whole thing at “xoGEEK: How Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors Made Me a Better Feminist“.
It’s weird to realize that the holidays are now upon us; I can’t believe how damned quickly 2014 rushed by. But it’s time to face facts: it’s the middle of December, and that means that it’s time to look back on this year, analyze what I learned, and make goals for 2015.
So, what was 2014 like for me? It was tumultuous, but in a good way. Here’s why.
I started slush reading for a new magazine.
I joined a writer’s critique group (though I’m currently on hiatus as I get my business in gear).
I hired a business coach.
I made a small profit this year while freelancing. I landed some big clients (like the Yellow Pages), landed some clients very close to my heart (like Trent University), and even got published in a print anthology!
I think 2014 was the year that I really started to take myself seriously as a business person. It was the year I realized that the reins to my future were in my own goddamned hands, and that I needed to grab them hard and steer.
Let me back up a bit.
I first decided to freelance way back in 2009, and some of my archived posts talk about the progress I made then towards my goal. So in some ways, I consider myself to have been freelancing for 5 years.
Despite this, for years I was working in-house and freelancing on the side. Even after I was laid off, I still took short-term contract gigs in order to get some stable money coming in. I was on the fence, refusing self-employment opportunities like the OSEB program in favour of contract work.
This year was different, though: I finally got off the fence and stood on the “self-employed” side. No short-term contract gigs because I was worried about major upcoming expenses like my wedding. No waiting and hoping that a stable, permanent job would somehow miraculously be offered to me.
And my god, that change has meant a lot of effort. I thought I networked before when I started to freelance, but I realize now that I was a dilettante at the whole thing. Now I put a lot more effort into networking, and take the follow-up process much more seriously.
However, the biggest change was the fact that I hired a business coach to guide me through this transition. Because I had a coach, I invested in my own personal development to an extent I had never done before. And as a result, a lot of the in-built pessimism and negativity I don’t really discuss online melted away. I’ve consciously learned how to feel grateful and be mindful. I felt like I had more control over myself, and that was (and is!) a really good feeling.
So how will this deeper sense of control manifest in the year to come?
I have a habit of making big, grandiose plans for the new year and not following through. But I really do think I’ve made enough changes in how I operate to make the following goals feasible:
There are other goals, but these are the ones I feel comfortable sharing for now.
What about you though? What are your goals for 2015? I’d love to hear your comments and thoughts below.
Unfortunately, one caught my eye last week for the wrong reasons. It was such a jumble of information that I had no idea what to focus on when I read it — which means it’s a valuable educational tool.
So, today, I want to talk about what you shouldn’t do when designing print advertising, using this flyer as an example.
I made a copy for you, too — download it and follow along. There’s even a screenshot on this page so you know what to expect.
Note: This is not the actual flyer. This is a mockup that I made to show the flyer’s poor design elements while also maintaining the privacy of the organization that made it. While some phrases from the original flyer remain in this mockup, all identifying information has been removed.
The first thing you’ll notice about this flyer is that aside from the header and footer, it contains 3 columns of nearly continuous text. The columns contain subheadings, lines, and the occasional bullet point, but those features disappear when you squint your eyes.
The thing is, studies have shown that people rarely finish big walls of text online. Instead, they skim and pick out the information that most applies to them. Considering how much the online world has affected our media overall, I’m sure that those reading habits hold true in print, especially for advertisements.
This is related to, but not the same thing as, Mistake #1. It’s possible to have a lot of text and still use white space judiciously to encourage readability. White space calms the eye and encourages readers to keep on reading. However, this flyer doesn’t do that. Instead, it’s an avalanche of information, and it gives readers very little opportunity to rest their eyes and reflect.
Contrast that with print advertising examples like this, where the use of white space to convey visual interest and additional information is what makes several of those ads so remarkable. Granted, this flyer wasn’t designed with memorability in mind, but research has shown the importance of white space to readability.
In this flyer, I have no idea which information is the most important. Where am I supposed to start, and where am I supposed to end? Should I just read everything in order from the top of the leftmost column to the bottom of the rightmost column in order to find the one piece of information that might help me?
Put another way, there’s no sense of hierarchy. No textual element immediately grabs my eye to help me get my bearings.
As a result, I have no idea where to focus my attention. There’s no underlying visual path to lead me through the maze of the text. In contrast, here’s a great example of a print ad with dense text that still has a coherent visual path.
You’ll notice that the mockup contains phrases like “employment counselling,” “skill development,” and “language instruction.” Those phrases are one of the few indications that remain of who originally created this flyer, and why. The flyer is meant to promote community services to people in need.
This means that the mistakes outlined above lead to the worst problem of all: they show that the organization behind the flyer was more interested in listing everything it did rather than addressing the needs of its target audience. Chances are this choice was made with the best intentions — Every program we offer is important, and we can’t omit any information! I hear them think.
However, imagine who benefits the most from the kind of employment, education, and settlement programs that this organization offers. These programs are meant to help people who:
In other words, this organization helps the kind of people who are least likely to be able to understand this flyer’s wall of text and most likely to benefit from better readability because they’re experiencing bandwidth poverty.
In that context, think about what a missed opportunity this flyer is. The people it means to help are those most likely to be overwhelmed by its breadth of information. Do you think that was the plan?
I certainly don’t. And I certainly think it’s a pity.
I’m not a designer. But even so, I think several things could be done to make this flyer more effective. These include:
Of course, a lot of other things could be done to make this print advertising more effective. These are only a few. But you need to walk before you can run.
Amid all this talk about plain language and writing web copy, it seems like a smart idea to pull back and look at things from the other side. A lot of the myths about editors out there exist because people don’t really know what editing entails.
So what do you do if you think you’re looking for an editor, but aren’t completely sure? What exactly do editors do, and what types of editorial tasks are there?
The Editors’ Association of Canada lists 12 types of editorial skills on its website — the variety might surprise you. However, broadly speaking, most editing is broken down into 4 types: substantive editing, line editing, copy editing, and proofreading. Also broadly speaking, the stages of the editorial process are approached in the order outlined above as a piece of text moves from beginning to end, from creation to publication.
Let’s look at each in turn.
This type of editing is also called “structural” editing. This is the stage of the editorial process where, if you’re writing a piece of fiction, your editor will look at things like character development, pacing, dialogue, and plot. At this stage an editor will analyze how your story holds together and determine if there are any issues (eg: plot holes or unclear character motivation) that you need to address in a future draft. In non-fiction contexts the process is very similar, though I personally have not worked with book-length non-fiction. An excellent source for information about non-fiction substantive editing is Scott Norton’s Developmental Editing: A Handbook for Freelancers, Authors, and Publishers.
Substantive editing involves looking at the bones of your work, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, and seeing if any of those bones are fractured or dislocated. During a substantive edit, editors will ask themselves questions like:
If you’re a fiction writer who is part of a critique group, you’re probably familiar with this process — many of the comments you might receive from your group members mirror those that a substantive editor would give you. (This is something I’ve had personal experience with as part of a critique group.)
This is also known as “stylistic” editing. Not many traditional publishers have dedicated line editors anymore; instead, both substantive and copy editors may handle various aspects of this process. Instead of looking at things from a section-by-section level as substantive editors would, line editors focus on the text line by line and paragraph by paragraph to ensure smoothness, clarity, and flow. During a line edit, editors will ask themselves questions like:
Again, if you’re a fiction writer in a critique group, line editing concerns often pop up in critiques, and for good reason. For example, you might have a certain stock word or phrase you’re unaware of.
Hey Bob, can you give this a quick proofread for me? I think there’s a word missing here.
Chances are that when a colleague or friend asks you this, what they’re looking for is not a true proofread, but a copy edit. Copy editing (or rather, what those not in the know consider proofreading) is all about checking text for errors in grammar, syntax, and punctuation. However, there’s more to copy editing than just mindlessly shuffling through a dictionary. Copy editing is about consistency just as much as correctness, as this short post by Ken Follett illustrates:
First [my copy editor] checks spelling and punctuation. Now, my spelling is not bad, and I always look up difficult words such as Khrushchev (three aitches) or Willy Brandt (not Willi Brand). But she always finds some errors.
Then she checks consistency, just like the continuity person on a movie set, who makes sure that if the actor is wearing a green sweater when he goes to the front door, he’s wearing the same sweater two weeks later when they film him coming out of the house. A copy editor makes a note that Rebecca is thirty in 1961, and checks that when we get to 1971 I don’t absent-mindedly say she’s forty-five.
There is a whole host of things that copy editor check for aside from the usual culprits of grammar, continuity, and punctuation — a topic so large it warrants a post of its own.
So if checking for grammar issues isn’t proofreading, what is?
It’s checking page proofs — but let’s step back a bit to understand what “proofs” really are.
After a manuscript has been edited, it’s then sent to a typesetter/designer. This person takes the edited text and actually does the physical/visual layout of the book, making sure that all of a work’s textual and visual elements — tables, images, page numbers, captions, running heads and footers, and so forth — form a harmonious visual whole.
However, the initial typesetting is far from perfect. There may be pages where only one word is printed, dangling there, separate from the rest of the paragraph on the previous page. Sometimes the spacing between certain elements (eg: subheadings and the following text) is inconsistent from page to page. In other situations, a word or phrase change significantly in meaning if there’s a bad line break in the text, like in this stunning example. When typesetters actually save the page design (usually using a program like Quark or InDesign), they either print the files out or export them to a digital format like PDF. Those files are what we really mean when we say “page proofs.”
Proofreading is all about looking at those proofs as a visual whole and pointing out issues in spacing and placement to the typesetter. In addition, proofreaders correct any (hopefully few) remaining errors in the text that the copy editor didn’t catch.
Because proofreading is one of the final editorial stages before the actual printing process, a good proofreader (or a good author!) will not introduce major changes to the text unless absolutely necessary. This is because adding a completely new chapter — or even a completely new paragraph — runs the risk of upsetting the visual flow of the entire document, potentially introducing further new bad breaks or spacing issues. Proofreading is not the time to add “one more thing”. Instead it’s the detail work, the final sculpting of your text before the clay dries completely.
Chances are that the further away your text is from publication, the more editing your text needs. As you refine your writing with the help of an editor, you’ll get closer and closer to the proofreading stage. Understanding that fact is a great place to start when you’re looking for editorial help.
Introversion is currently having a bit of a moment on the internet. Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts unleashed the floodgates, and now it’s nearly impossible to spend a day or a week online without seeing some sort of Buzzfeed article or numbered list about what it’s like to be an introvert, things extroverts don’t understand about introverts, and so on.
If this moment had happened a few years ago, I would have been full of justification and pride. I was right all along, I would have said. Being an introvert is super hard, and no one has understood how I’ve felt until now! In fact, traces of this attitude are visible in the review I wrote of Susan Cain’s book in 2012.
However, because of the effort I’ve put into into running my freelance business this year, all of these articles talking about how introverts are sensitive little snowflakes that the world just doesn’t understand have started to rub me the wrong way.
What I mean is that over the past year, I’ve realized something important: extroversion is a muscle you can strengthen; you just need to flex it enough.
I remember years ago that whenever I attended WCDR events, I would come home happy but exhausted. All the people! All the conversations! But as I volunteered with the organization more and even began to be responsible for checking people off the registration list when they came in, I noticed that it became increasingly easier to be giggly — effervescent, even — and make small talk. It wasn’t so easy that I didn’t need time to recuperate afterwards, but I became comfortable in the role, slipping into it like a warm bath.
Fast-forward to this year, when I finally committed to taking self-employment seriously. All of a sudden, the events where I was interacting with people and presenting a shiny exterior increased in number from once a month to twice a week. (I still go to networking events twice a week, in fact. Sometimes even thrice, depending on the way things are scheduled.)
I get the sense that deliberately putting myself out there like that would exhaust a lot of people, especially those who wave the introvert flag with pride. It would have exhausted me a few years ago. But it doesn’t, now, because I’ve trained myself enough that these events are a new kind of normal.
Let me make one thing clear: I still consider myself an introvert. I still need time to recharge after a long day filled with new people. But in case the “muscle” metaphor doesn’t work for you, I also liken my increased skill at socialization to flipping a switch — I can deliberately change my mindset for a few hours (or even a whole day) so that the intimidation and weariness I would normally associate with large events doesn’t affect me.
I’m sure there are lots of other people out there who are frustrated by the current special-snowflake paradigm when it comes to introversion. So what can you do if you’re one of those people, but don’t know how to break out of that mindset? Here are a few suggestions.
One of the best things I did was join the WCDR. Eventually, I joined the Board of Directors; as a result, I volunteered on a regular basis and checked people off the registration list at every monthly meeting. This was beneficial in several ways:
I’m attending so many networking events now because of my business coach. When we started about six months ago, that was one of her first pieces of advice. I admit that it helped to have someone to “blame” my new activity on, but my coach made it clear to me that doing this, even though it would be painful at first, was essential to making my business succeed.
I don’t know about you, but I like to eat. And if going out day after day to meet people will let me keep on eating, I’m all for it.
So if you want to be more at ease around new people, ask yourself “why” first. If it’s just because you want to conform to societal expectations, your plan won’t work. You have to have a deeper meaning in play.
Like I said above, I still get tired. There have been times when I’ve bailed and not left the house. But thankfully, those are few and far between. Remember that bit about the WCDR volunteering? I checked people in for at least a year before I started attending to other types of events. Building that socialization muscle takes time, and that’s natural.
I wasn’t planning on making this an advice post, but here you go. I’m trying to change, and maybe you can too.