In this final post of 2016, Tania Pattison reflects on her year as a freelance ELT writer and editor and looks ahead to 2017. The MaWSIG blog features guest posts by members – please get in touch if you would like to write for us.
For those of us who are freelance ELT writers and editors, and those among us who would like to do more materials development, the end of the year is a good time to look back at what we’ve done this year and think ahead to where we want to be a year from now. As 2016 winds down, I’ve been doing a lot of reflection on my own materials development career; the conversations I’ve had with myself have gone something like this.
1. Who are you, anyway?
Louise Harnby, author of Marketing Your Editing and Proofreading Business, stresses the importance of the elevator pitch − can you say in 20 seconds who you are, what you do and why someone should hire you? Early in your materials development career, you may be happy to accept anything you’re offered. I know I was. There was a steady stream of writing, editing and curriculum design, but I felt I was being pulled in different directions, and I dreaded meeting people in elevators. When asked whether I was primarily a writer or an editor, I never knew what to say – I still don’t. The answer is to keep both writing and editing, with some teaching and curriculum design in the mix, but to focus on a few specific areas. I know what kinds of materials I am most comfortable with (anything academic) and what I would be hopeless at (anything involving young children).
In 2017, I resolve not to take on projects that don’t fit into the big picture of how I see myself as a writer and editor.
2. What have been your highlights of the past year? What has not been so good? How did you deal with the negative times?
This year has brought some interesting projects and quite a bit of work-related travel. Going to Kazakhstan to train editors was not on my radar at the beginning of 2016, but I had a great experience and made some new friends. On the downside, the Brexit referendum and plummeting pound have meant a decline in my income (I live in Canada and do much of my work for clients in the UK). Luckily, I am currently working on a Canadian curriculum design project, which will go some way towards offsetting the nosedive in my finances.
In 2017, I resolve not to panic. I cannot control the exchange rate, so there’s no point stressing about it.
3. Are you getting the projects you want? If not, what can you do?
In her book My So-Called Freelance Life, Michelle Goodman advises freelancers to come up with a list of ‘dream’ clients and to keep trying to connect with those clients. I would urge a little caution here; it’s easy to be dazzled by a big name, but I have found that the project itself is far more important than whose name is on the contract. Having said that, there are a couple of ELT publishers I’d like to connect with, simply because they produce the kind of material I’m interested in.
In 2017, I resolve to make contact with my dream publishers. This could mean asking a colleague for an introduction, visiting their stand at the next IATEFL conference or sending a cold email.
4. Are you finding opportunities for growth?
Are you venturing to the fringes of your comfort zone (and even beyond it) and adding to your skills? A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to adapt a series of ESP books for the Middle Eastern market. I knew precisely nothing about the construction or transportation industries in that part of the world, but I did my research, I rewrote sections of the texts based on my new-found knowledge and I still consider that one of my most rewarding jobs. When you’re offered a project, think about whether it represents an opportunity for growth.
In 2017, I resolve to seek out opportunities to work on more EAP/ESP materials with content that both interests and challenges me.
5. Are you getting your name out there?
The ELT writing world is full of people who are very active on social media; I am not one of them. I’m on Facebook (though I don’t post a massive amount) and I have a decent enough LinkedIn profile, but that’s about it. I did update my website in 2016, and I gave a conference talk to prospective writers and editors, positioning myself as a resource person. But I don’t have my own blog, and while I have a Twitter account, I still don’t know what I’m supposed to do with it.
In 2017, I resolve to take a seminar or workshop on marketing through social media. When I’ve done that, I resolve to revamp my website and start blogging.
6. Are you investing in your own professional development?
Continuing professional development is just as important for writers/editors as it is for teachers. This could mean attending large conferences like IATEFL, or it could mean watching webinars or reading blogs. In 2016, after enrolling in an online course and then not doing any of the homework, I admitted to myself that I don’t have time for extensive study. Workshops and conferences, though, I can do.
In 2017, I resolve to keep up with professional development through MaWSIG events and blog posts, and through local Editors Canada workshops and webinars.
7. Are you finding the right balance in your life?
At the beginning of your materials development career when you are building a CV, you don’t want to turn down any offer of work − but you need to be realistic. A couple of years ago, I spent a summer writing my own coursebook, working on a number of editorial projects, and designing a curriculum for a college EAP program. These were all great opportunities, but I was burnt out by the end. Think about where materials development fits into the rest of your life, and remember to allow time for yourself.
In 2017, I resolve to schedule my time more efficiently during the week, so I can take the weekends off. I’m getting better at this, but I’m not there yet.
8. Are you being paid what you’re worth?
For me, this question relates more to my work as an academic editor than to my work with ELT publishers. While UK publishers’ rates are fairly stable, when it comes to individual clients, anything goes. It’s tempting to lower your rates when a potential client tells you she has had several quotes, all of which are lower than yours – I have done that. While you may need to take the occasional low-paying job, think about how you’ll feel doing that job. Think also about the message you’re sending about the value of writers and editors in general.
In 2017, I resolve not to compete on price.
9. Where do you want to be a year from now?
It seems an obvious question, but until recently it was one I’d never asked myself; for my first couple of years, I was happy just to have enough work to replace my teaching income. Liz Dexter has a regular feature on her blog in which she interviews freelancers from various walks of life. She asks all of them where they want to be in a year’s time. It’s a good exercise; I’m now setting goals and working towards them rather than reacting to whatever comes along.
By the end of 2017, I hope to have written another coursebook, grown my academic editing business and put a plan in place for my long-term goal of self-publishing.
10. Are you enjoying your work?
Not every materials development project will excite you, but if you’re going to put a lot of time and effort into something, the rewards should be more than financial. While I have not ruled out the idea of ever going back to full-time teaching if the right opportunity presents itself, at the moment I am enjoying my writing/editing career too much. There have been some good EAP jobs advertised recently, any of which would provide job security and a Brexit-proof income − but I haven’t applied for them. Ask me again in a year.
In 2017, I resolve to keep enjoying what I do! Those are my reflections and resolutions as we move into 2017. How about you? I’d love to hear your hopes and plans for next year.
Tania Pattison’s freelance career has included ELT materials writing and editing, academic editing, curriculum design, EAP teaching, teacher training and, most recently, editor training. She is the author of Critical Reading (Pearson Canada), editor of IATEFL Conference Selections and Deputy Publications Coordinator for MaWSIG. Her website is contextacademics.com.
Nice post, Tania, too often we forget to pause and take stock.
My main aim for 2017 is to get the balance right. I recently started a part-time MA course and so far, I haven’t quite cracked the work-study juggling act. So my challenge for 2017 is to try and tailor my work schedule around my studies better.
I’ll be looking out for you on social media too …
Thanks, Julie. I’d love to hear more about your MA course! Do you have specific hours when you need to be in class, or is it by distance?
Great post Tania. I’ll be interested to hear how you manage to keep resolution 7 while working on all the others 🙂
Yes, me too!
Thanks Tania for starting off an interesting discussion. 2016 has been a very productive year for me. I’m currently working in the University of Macau, having relocated here from University of Nottingham Ningbo China three and a half years ago. 2016 has been a year where things have come to fruition as I was shortlisted for an ELTONs award this year for the Academic Presentations coursebook I co-authored with Averil Bolster while working in China.In my time in Macau I’ve also been involved in a lot of curriculum and course design and this year Averil and I have also developed a one semester EGAP course based on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. We’ve just finished the first pilot of that course and while it’s been a challenging project it seems to have come together well. We will actually be presenting on using Backward Design to develop the course at IATEFL in Glasgow so will hopefully catch up with some of you then as we will also be at the MAWSIG day. Perhaps the biggest decision of 2016 has been the one to leave University of Macau and relocate to Europe. It’s something of a leap in the dark moving back as we have been working outside Europe for over a decade but it’s quite exciting to be looking forward to the next opportunity. With that being the case, I think the resolution for next year is going to be to continue to work hard and plant seeds. There’s a journal article we want to write about collaborative writing and the scaffolding students need to support them in writing a group essay effectively and some edits we need to make to the SDG course to get it ready for publication. I think 2017 is also going to be a year to keep learning, particularly in terms of brushing up some web design skills to be able to do clever things with texts. If anyone knows of some good courses (or project opportunities) that would be great.
Thanks for your comment, Peter. You’ve certainly had a busy and productive time, and congrats on your ELTons nomination. Your IATEFL talk sounds interesting; I will look out for it when I get the schedule, and I’ll add it to my list. Yes, do come and see us at the MaWSIG day, and perhaps at the PCE, too; you’ll find plenty to interest you in the talks we have planned. Best of luck with your relocation; it sounds as if you have lots of look forward to in 2017!
Lot of food for thought here, Tania. I agree with you that using your time efficiently is the only way to make sure that you have enough down time. I’ve recently started using Toggl to measure exactly how much time I’m spending on everything, and it’s quite a revelation. I had no idea how long it took to write keys for the material I’m producing for example, and now that I know, I’m scheduling that for the end of the day so as not to waste my most creative hours (usually mornings).
Thanks, Rachael. I’ve heard good things about Toggl; I should try it. That’s a good point about scheduling the tasks that require creativity for your best times of the day and leaving more mechanical tasks until later. I used to be able to work late into the night and sometimes even to the early hours of the morning – that is becoming increasingly difficult as I get older.
I completely agree, Rachael about using your most productive times for more creative work. I’m not a ‘morning person’ and I struggle to get going, so I tend to leave the monotonous stuff, like answer keys, for mornings. I also find it’s an easy way to review what I was doing the day before and to get back into the material.
Thanks for the mention!
My pleasure, Liz. I love your blog!
A great, thought provoking post, Tania. I’ve now booked out some time in my diary to ponder these important questions, which all too easily slip down the priority list. After all, the greatest advantage we have as freelancers is that we are very much in control of our destinies! I look forward to seeing you in January.
Thank you, Helen. I’m looking forward to seeing you, too!