Easier said than done sometimes. Some of us trust more easily than others. Nature, experience, belief or habit, what makes us trust in one situation and not in another is probably an instinct primal enough to knock down fear.
If any of you reading this have read my previous interleaf, you already know I worked with a designer on my logo, branding and infant website over much of 2021. The second year of the pandemic that brought with it unpredictable highs and lows for us all. My designer (Rhian Tarling, with whose permission I’m writing this piece) and I went through work and family responsibilities, illnesses, deaths, celebrations, festivals, good days and ragged ones, vaccinations and non-work days together. All virtually. All in the space of one big project. I doubt either of us will claim it was all smooth sailing, yet we achieved something we’re both equally proud of, happy with.
I was the client; Rhian, my service provider. Given that in my editing business I’m the latter, this role-reversal came with unexpected learning. Learning to trust, my designer but also myself. What was involved, you ask?
Understanding the Process
I did some research before setting out to look for a designer. It didn’t involve comparing prices alone. I wanted to know what the process involved so that I could ask the right questions, but more importantly that I prepared everything required of me as client (the brief, for starters*) as well as possible. This involved chatting with colleagues who’d built a website or rebranded with a professional designer, reading first-hand experiences of the same, internet searches and talking to designer friends about their expectations of an ideal client. My designer was also enthusiastic about helping me understand the process from first contact. Their excitement, among other things, made me feel confident I’d found the right designer for my branding and website project. [*That didn’t go as planned, of course. I had to do it twice over before we made a proper start. Now I understand how easy it is for texts that need a developmental edit to be accompanied by a brief for proofreading!]
As a self-employed editor, I realise my clients may not have the time or inclination to understand the embroidered layers of the editing/publishing process when they are writing or contemplating publication. But as a service provider if I ensure willingness to assist them, it opens gates for a trusting relationship and makes the editing process less daunting for a new client, particularly one who’s not worked with an editor before.
If there is one thing nearly two decades of editing and my headful of greys have taught me it is to ask questions. Appropriately and as often as is necessary. Being a nervous client made me realise I had to relearn how to do this without feeling silly or that I was taking advantage. My designer was reassuring and respectful throughout. This allowed me to discuss budgets, timelines and other essentials at the start unhesitatingly. They were also open to conversation and encouraged feedback (key to design and editing processes), which made me feel comfortable about sharing honest responses at every stage.
As an editing service provider, I already know good communication is essential. Yet, it is something I take for granted in some ways. Putting on a client’s hat made me realise how big a role the service provider plays in establishing a foundation for this. Being responsive, empathetic (listening first, responding later) and intentional helps the client to trust. Ethical, mindful communication as editor–business owner shows that I am invested in the editor–client relationship.
What this involves in practice can be difficult to put into words. The things I found to overlap in the design and editing processes are setting realistic expectations, giving new ideas a chance, admitting mistakes/owning flaws and agreeing to disagree. My designer set realistic expectations of what could/could not be achieved while testing boundaries I’d drawn in my upside-down brief. I disliked the first ideas so much that I questioned my entire project and its validity in the world. Because they helped me understand the creative process, communicated with care and gave me space to reflect, I was able to let go of my own inhibitions, review their suggestions and respond objectively.
It wasn’t about me; it was about the website and making it the best we could. Together. We made a few mistakes along the way, we misunderstood each other on the rare occasion, we missed mutually agreed deadlines when other parts of life needed attention. But we were good at acknowledging our slips and remembering to communicate clearly. Like in editing, in design too the answer most often is ‘it depends’. I relearnt that collaboration doesn’t mean agreeing to everything: agreeing to disagree and finding a constructive way forward is easier when there is conviction in oneself as well as in the collaborator.
Going over this before I hit ‘Publish’ has made me realise that our editing clients – novice or mature – need to be brave, to overcome fear of all sorts, to initiate a collaboration. That requires a whole lot of unflappability and a whole lot of trust. As an editor, a seasoned one, I don’t pause to acknowledge this often enough, if at all.
Yes, I’m sensitive to the text I edit, to the author’s voice. Yes, I query respectfully. Yes, I advocate for the reader. Yes, I engage empathetically all round. Yet, that I’m knowledgeable and skilled seems to take centre stage somewhere along the way. Yes, that bit is important too. Yes, I try my best to be the best editor I can be on a day. But there’s a little bit more that can quite easily go missing, be taken for granted somewhat.
This role-reversal has reminded me there is a gentler, kinder, humane way to conduct business that we need to show our authors and our clients more often. To let them know they can trust, fearlessly, new and experienced. That they can trust themselves to let go if they choose their editor with care. That, as editors, we will guide and enhance that trust. And if we – editors and authors/clients alike – remember that the editing (and publishing) process is a lot to do with keeping calm and trusting each other equally, the outcome will be a celebratory one. It seems like a good way to journey through a year, without resolutions or firm goals but with quiet steps in harmony. At the end of the day, we want the same thing, isn’t it?!
Identity. Defined and conditioned most strongly by external worlds, yet entirely our own. Questioned and labelled unhesitatingly by family, friends, strangers, yet intrinsically of, by and for the self.
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I write for a living. Nope, not true. I rewrite every now and then, if I’m paid to. Most often, I edit. Fact.
I don’t only look up spellings and get rid of red squiggly lines in Word. (Sometimes I’m responsible for creating them.) I put a different identity’s words, ideas, hopes, scholarly discourse, discoveries, problems and solutions into a patchwork sack, shake it about and upturn it for the contents to magically emerge interwoven stronger. (There’s more art and science to it than that, I promise. If you’ve worked with an editor, you already know that; if you haven’t but need to, let’s chat.) Strong enough to face the world, to belong to the self they choose.
I edit because it allows me to re-examine my own identities. To question and label my belongingness in a world where every day that I think I’ve figured it all out, that I know who I am, where I belong, what I want to do or not do, another identity thinks it is perfectly within their rights to question mine. Sometimes, respectfully and welcoming reciprocation; other times, not.
I edit because I love the seesaw of the process. One that allows conversations to be had, relationships to be built and communities to grow, author–editor–publisher and everyone in-between. Supportive adda, lifelong bonds and reliable collectives: the backbone of humanity.
I am an independent editor who fell into the profession in 2004 in the clichéd accidental way that the traditional publishing industry wears as a badge of honour. (That it was in the booming outsourced sector in India which continues to struggle with unjustified backlash from within, quite often from the very systems that created it, would be a much later revelation and is an interleaf for another time and place.)
An editor who intended to work full-time in-house, after moving from India to the UK, but who registered as a sole trader in mid-2013, landed a first project a month later, joined the then Society for Editors and Proofreaders (now the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading, CIEP) soon after, got paid in full before the end of the year, did a couple of courses to check whether they’d been fooling everyone for a decade (apparently not), and upgraded to Advanced Professional Member in April 2015. Oh and met some smashing good people in a new country that was going to take their several decades’ old identity and turn it upside down.
One identity morphed into another effortlessly (not quite, but that’s for another day too!), without social media announcements or acknowledgement of support. Perhaps, it is why, despite several years working for myself, I continue to identify as the new kid on the block, headless chicken extraordinaire, reluctant marketer (that was nearly typed as meerkat – you see why the work I do is important?!), quietly confident learner, preferably introvert and successfully unplanned business owner among other life roles.
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Belonging, The Good Immigrant and the Self
Belonging is a formidable thing. Wanting to belong even more so. My constant longing to belong is in perfect equilibrium with my astonishingly stubborn yearning for change, for otherhoods.
I duelled the socially conditioned desire for full-time employment and the attractively risky need to be my own boss for a good few years before allowing myself to accept the loss of identity.
Books have been my go-to in times of grief, happiness, exploration. Every few years when I find I’m slipping, I resolve to read more. For me. Not for work. Not because someone said I must. Not because a list lists a title. Just for me. Something I’ve done all my life, but which seems to alarmingly go out the window with increasing frequency every passing adult year.
The Good Immigrant, a collection of life-stories – essays reflecting on race, identity and belonging – by a bunch of courageous writers identifying as Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic in the UK. A title edited by Nikesh Shukla and published by Unbound. Honest. Movingly honest. Surprisingly powerful. Surprising because I have to admit to being increasingly desensitised to closest-to-the-heart issues. Perhaps, it’s a defence mechanism as I age; perhaps, something else. I take comfort in being aware and working on keeping my feet on the ground. (Getting involved with the CIEP’s Anti-Racism Working Group has allowed me to do so in meaningful ways.)
Not sure why I came to this read so late. I wasn’t imperceptive to any of the issues written about before I came to live in the UK. Like I’ve not been imperceptive to those that consumed me in India. Yet, it’s taken close to a decade to admit to myself that my identities can be as rooted or rootless as I choose them to be. Even if the constant need to defend them remains, regardless of which side of the border I stand. That, somehow, feels empowering. A little bit like the voices in this book.
Go read it, if you haven’t. If you have, pass it on. Maybe someone somewhere will find their place.
I did mine (with a ton of help). Editor. Independent.
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Old Story, New Cover
So, what if anything have I discovered on the way?
Paper to screen: editing media have changed since my first day at work when all I had were vast piles of paper, a blue pen, a red pen, physical resources and lots of talented colleagues to consult and learn from. Nearly 20 years later, it’s all same-same but different! The working life of an editor is on a thriving digital planet.
Learn, unlearn, relearn: whether you decide to go into business consciously or find yourself there from circumstance, whether you train first, plan CPD and pick projects with care, or jump straight in and learn on the job, the learning cycle is constant. A bit like life. Read the brief when there is one; don’t panic if there isn’t one. Embracing changing opportunities makes it fun.
Q&As or FAQs: acknowledge that you can’t know everything, but learn when to ask for advice and practise where to seek resources. Assume nothing, question everything: there is no such thing as a silly query; only ones not asked that remain unanswered. Also, with experience comes the confidence to answer others’ questions generously. Paying it forward is still underrated.
Specialise or not maybe: for the longest time I was taking on any project that sounded interesting, was at an agreeable fee and that I could meet the deadline for. If I’m honest, I let fears (of missing out, of no work, of vanishing skills, of stagnation – long list!) decide for me. Today, I’ve made a happy choice. Staying calm and exploring your choices with abandon is worthwhile.
Mindset and business craft: acknowledge (errors and what works or doesn’t), adapt (upskill/reskill), act (with generosity) – made-up steps to growing in self-employment. It’s taken me ages to let myself belong as a business. To specialise and launch a first website after eight years of trading feels like I’m doing it all backwards. I have a long way to go, but changing mindset doesn’t happen overnight nor honing business craft. Both are lifelong works-in-progress just as is not living in fear of making mistakes. Beaver away on yours at your pace. You’ll know when it feels right.
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I don’t yet know what form or shape this space of mine on the worldwide web will take. Whether it will be consistent. Whether it will answer your questions or lend you the support you seek. Or whether it will fizzle out before I’ve given it the chance to explore its own identity like it has me. (Editor’s unfailing response: It depends.)
Like the many life roles and identities I’ve acquired, learnt from, cast aside, hold on to and yearn for, I hope this too will challenge, question, stand up for/against, nurture and share alike. But most importantly, that my interleaves will give you space to find your own. (Oh! And that books will be involved every so often.)
Independent editor. Business owner. Sensitively editing academic and non-fiction writing. Because your ideas are important.
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Thank you to
My clients, for trusting in me, for continuing to collaborate and for lifelong learning
Malini Devadas, and the EditBoost community, for helping me find confidence in owning my business, for clarifying my why and for teaching me to believe
Anne Gillion, for advice and a first edit of my n-th webcopy (all errors mine, as I continue to fiddle)
Edibubble, my local editing CPD mastermind group that bore the brunt of my perpetually-in-progress website
Norfolk East, my CIEP home group, and Cloud Club West, the CIEP’s international local group, for community and wisdom
Rhian Tarling, designer and owner of TD Creative, for creating my logo and this website from a contradictory, possibly gibberish, brief, but more importantly for teaching me to trust
Raghurajan Maraparambil, for headshot photographs and more
Family and friends, last but not least, for giving me space to do my thing.
And that concludes my award-winning speech. I mean the sort I will need to give if I win an award or some such. But that’s a bit far-fetched and I’d prefer to get back to work, so you’d better get back to writing.