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Reflections on the ELT Freelancers' Awayday

Every time I come to a CPD event in the UK, I can guarantee that I will be asked the same question by someone: ‘Did you come all the way from Canada just for this?’ I have now been to the ELT Freelancers’ Awayday three years running, and yes, I do come all the way from Canada for the event. This year was a bit different because I combined business trips with my husband, who also needed to be in the UK for work; but I have come alone in the past, and I will do so again. There is so much to be gained from this event that I have made it a crucial part of my annual calendar. Why do I travel 3,500 miles for this event? There are several reasons.

I learn a lot

The Awayday is always a good learning experience. The first session of the day was a panel discussion with Sarah Patey (SfEP), Jo Sayers (ELTjam), Karen Spiller (independent) and Deborah Tricker (Richmond). The theme was ‘Broadening Horizons’, and the message was reassuring – there is going to be work for those who want it. People who can demonstrate special skills – project management, scriptwriting, video creation, working with digital tools – are going to be particularly in demand.

From the panel discussion, I also learned that the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) is planning to offer an online course in editing theses and dissertations. This is something I definitely want to follow up on; I do a lot of academic editing, and I hope to do more in the future. It would be nice to have a formal qualification in it. (I also learned from Karen and Denise that I really need to get off my lazy behind and upgrade my SfEP membership – I will, I promise!)

The session from Integra, sponsors of the drinks reception later in the day, made me realise that a lot of work in the future is going to come from newcomers to the ELT game. I’m taking a bit of a break from editing right now to focus on some writing projects, but it’s interesting to know that when I return to editing, I am just as likely to be working for DaDa ABC as I am for OUP.

After lunch, I opted out of the session on wealth management for UK-based freelancers (I’m not based in the UK… yet); I did, however, enjoy chatting with other non-UK freelancers in a breakout group. Next on the agenda was a series of ten-minute talks: Julie Moore inspired me to try Monco (; Diane Nicholls provided useful tips for working with software developers; and Karen White looked back on her ten years of freelancing and shared what she had learned along the way.

The Awayday sessions were useful, but it was especially nice this year to see that a day of workshops had been added before the main event, making this a two-day meeting. I signed up for all three workshops on offer, and all were excellent. In small groups, we really got to grips with issues that freelancers deal with every day. Karen’s session on CPD has inspired me to actually do something with that Twitter account that I’ve had for a while but have rarely looked at. I’m now checking Twitter several times a day, and one of these days I might actually Tweet something inspiring. Jemma’s session provided loads of tips on how to organise my time – something I’m not very good at. I now have a Toggl account, and next time I’m working on a project where I need to track my hours, I will use it.

Helen’s session on using Word convinced me that macros are not really scary. From Helen I learned that designers like it when editors use Styles. With this in mind, I went through a book manuscript that I’m sending directly to a designer and added Styles to my headings. There were even small things to learn: as a brand-new Mac user, I learned in Helen’s session that an en-dash is formed on my laptop with Option + hyphen. That alone will save me hours of time!

I meet my own people

I live in a small town in Canada, and I don’t know any other ELT freelancers in my region. I know plenty of editorial freelancers, and I know people who write ELT materials, but I cannot think of a single person in my area who does exactly what I do. When I come to the Awayday, I meet loads of people who are doing the same things that I do – my tribe, so to speak. A while ago, I took part in a video for MaWSIG called ‘How do you describe your job to Muggles?’. At the Awayday, there are no Muggles, no need for explanations. We all speak the same language.

I am reassured, too, by the fact that other freelancers share the same concerns that I have. These range from finding work to learning new technology to staying healthy when you’re sitting at a desk all day. Working alone in one’s home office can be a lonely experience, and having an opportunity to share experiences and concerns with others in the same position is not only valuable, it’s a necessity.

I find leads on work

I’ve been back in Canada for just over a week, and already I have received an offer of work from someone I met at the Awayday. Sadly, I had to decline (the job had an immediate start and I am on deadline with another project), but I’ve made a good contact. I have another possible project in the pipeline as a result of the Awayday, and even if that doesn’t work out, I’ve still met some great people. If just one project comes through, my trip to the UK will have paid for itself.

I have fun

Like a lot of freelancers, I don’t get out much – especially in Canada in January! The Awayday is a chance to get together with people I don’t see very often. I missed the Awayday dinner this year because I was travelling with my husband, but it was still fun to use the break times and lunchtimes to catch up with people I don’t see very often.

So that’s why I travel such a long way for a short event. I’m looking forward to next year already – see you in 2019!

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