Damn! In my hotel room the night before the pre-conference day, I realize I completely missed signing up for a conference buddies group, a program the organizing team had arranged for out-of-towners. Intrepid, I send an email and to my amazement someone responds. Wow! They are on the ball, these conference organizers. The tone is set for the weekend, then, in lush downtown Vancouver, and the next morning I dive in to a three-hour practical session on PDF editing. The rest of the weekend is a panoply of fascinating sessions, food, meeting new people, and connecting with some existing editor friends and colleagues.
What I love most about going to conferences are the insights that emerge from happy accidents and unexpected presentations. These gatherings become a time for me to identify or fill in some blind spots, look for fresh ideas, just generally get enthused again about what I do. During my graduate studies I attended many academic conferences, but every time I was presenting a paper. While these conferences were rich experiences, attending them was always tinged with anxiety. Since becoming an editor, the professional conferences and workshops I’ve been to are just plain fun. I aim for a collection of sessions that will provide me with a mix of useful skills, general information, and exposure to some big personalities.
So, this time around the skills sessions allowed me to:
- get the low-down on design and printing jargon and practices. And realize that as a substantive and stylistic editor (most of the time) I probably don’t really need to know this stuff in detail. Still, it’s certainly valuable to get a sense of the big picture.
- learn more about editing on PDFs. I discovered that the tools I mostly need I can access for free. Didn’t know that.
- listen to tips for building an ace professional website. Okay, okay, I have to quit procrastinating and make it happen!!! (And I know—my editorial voice is also saying “too many exclamation points here,” but since this is an opinion piece, I’m giving myself some latitude. Maybe they even signify motivation…!!)
- find out more about useful software to tidy up some of those editing edges. So glad I already have one program on board. This session fired me up to get another few in my toolbox.
The more general sessions I attended meant I:
- heard about tricks to avoid the insane highs and lows of the freelance life. This informative session is now spurring me on to pursue avenues I have previously avoided. I appreciated the comments about the importance of sometimes just saying NO to difficult clients.
- confirmed my experience and approach to indie authors and their work. So, it is indeed quite typical to be as much a writing coach as an editor with this group of writers. My experience is not singular.
- reaffirmed my desire to take this life on the road. It’s possible from time to time to actually become a “digital nomad,” eating tapas, while watching the waves of the Mediterranean, and editing a manuscript. In other words, my Spain plans sure got a boost from this session. It was useful to hear some practical ideas and just all-round confirmation that others can and do make this happen.
It was delightful for me to see and hear, live and embodied, these four well-known editor personalities. Maybe it’s just my own quirk, but after this in-person engagement I’m more interested in reading what they’ve written. I’m sure their work is no different than it was before, but I am different after this experience. In my imagination, I now filter their writing through their voice, tone, and bodily gesture:
- Mary Norris discussed some of the stories in her book Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen during the opening keynote. Did you know she advocates hyphenating hubba-hubba?
- James Harbeck writes the Sesquiotica blog, which I’ve followed but only half-read. I wasn’t so enamoured of its esoterica, but I’m in the game now. Since the conference, I’ve fully read each new post. His erudite talk reminded us all of the subtle relationship between writer and audience, and at the banquet, he literally sang his way into presenting the OOPS awards.
- Greg Ioannou hosts the Editors’ Association of Earth FB page, and gave some juicy accounts of editors’ lives that have taken some hairpin turns. He looked a bit like he might have taken a few himself, but I kinda liked it.
- Bill Walsh, copyeditor for the Washington Post and author of three amusing grammar books, gave the closing keynote. He chanted a mantra of “you’re the editor,” framed by the admonition that “not wrong ≠ right” and echoed this message in some hilarious video clips. A fine finish to the conference in my view.
Alas, with every conference, I always find I have to give up a few sessions I’d love to go to, so as to get to others that edge up slightly higher on my wish list. This time I missed a session on coaching that looked great, and another on academic knowledge transfer; then, of course, there were the sessions on web-editing and copyright issues that would also have made some good alternatives. I’m sure others would have their own favourites and I know I have next year to fill in the gaps. My true take-home this year is that these people are my tribe.
Looking forward to Ottawa in 2017.