Room for improvement?

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growth by balanced.crafts, on Flickr

“growth” (CC BY 2.0) by  balanced.crafts


Continued professional development is essential for all editorial freelancers. But is there room for a growth mindset in the publishing world?

As Karen White observes in her recent blog post, we need to find and fund our own development opportunities.  CPD keeps our knowledge of techniques and trends fresh but equally importantly, it maintains our motivation. As many educational editors and writers are also teachers, we’re familiar with the concept that learning is a reward in itself. That sense of growth keeps what we’re doing interesting and in turn, makes us more interested in delivering our very best work to the client.

The notion of a growth mindset is gaining a lot of traction in schools at the moment. Carol Dweck’s work on how to instill a belief in students that their talents and abilities are not fixed, but can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence is being examined. Her suggestions for giving feedback to students that avoids reinforcing a belief that their abilities are finite, but instead praises them for the hard work and the process they’ve engaged in, are being put into practice. For a more comprehensive explanation of the idea of growth mindset, Keith Heggart’s article in edutopia is well worth a read. Heggart develops the notion of growth in an interesting direction – if it can be used to nurture students, why not teaching staff?  He makes the following suggestion for encouraging this in schools:

  • Modelling: schools can run CPD courses that instruct teachers in how to model the growth mindset among students and in turn, how to see themselves as learners (Gerstein 2014)
  • Creating space for new ideas: schools allow teachers to try out new ideas and in doing so, inevitably fail or make mistakes on occasion. This also means that schools and teachers will need to embrace failure as part of the learning process
  • Building time for self-reflection: for example, after an observed lesson, the teacher would focus on what they have learned from a process
  • Giving formative feedback: inviting the teacher to participate in the process of evaluating their own lessons

I’m grateful that schools in which I’ve worked have allowed me to experiment with teaching techniques and technologies and encouraged me to reflect on my practice. Schools feel, in my experience at least, a fairly safe space in which to grow.

Lentil microgreens growth time lapse by Always Shooting, on Flickr

“Lentil microgreens growth time lapse” (CC BY 2.0) by Always Shooting

Can the same be said of publishing though, particularly if you’re a freelancer?

I personally think that there are ways of making room for growth, but that doing so is a challenge.

Editorial feedback: with schedules becoming increasingly ambitious, it’s tempting for a development editor to give feedback in a very ‘black and white’ way: to rewrite sections of text to save time or to pronounce that an exercise doesn’t work for various reasons. This may be true in some instances, but perhaps we need to ask questions of the author more often – to find out the thinking behind an exercise. There is, as a commissioning editor once reminded me, more than one way ‘to skin a cat’,  She counselled that having a very rigid or ‘fixed’ idea of the way that something should be done tends to stifle creativity in writers, which can eventually lead to bad feelings and ultimately to a formulaic book. It’s difficult advice to follow, particularly when writing and editorial briefs tend to be very detailed in order to avoid costly ‘mistakes’. But perhaps we should be taking more risks and trusting our initial judgement of the writer’s expertise?

Client feedback: Editors and project managers are hired because we’re experts in our field and because we have dedicated time to focus on a single project to ensure that mistakes don’t happen. Embracing failure is just not part of a freelancer’s remit. However, given that we are all human, sooner or later, a mistake – however small – happens. As freelancers we tend to be rather hard on ourselves. One freelancer on my team recently offered to throw themselves on their sword and leave the project because they had missed a deadline. This reaction seems to be a reflection of the sometimes unforgiving and critical publishing culture, which is brought about by the pressure put on freelancers and in-house editors alike. Whilst it is tempting to be critical, there is, I think, a need to acknowledge that editors are human and to be more philosophical when things go awry. Balancing praise with criticism is also often appreciated. Hard work is rewarded by pay but equally motivating for some is recognition of a job well done.

Finding a safe space to grow: It’s often not an option to admit to an in-house commissioning editor that you don’t know how to use a particular tool. You also may have this sneaking feeling that you know that there’s a quicker way of doing something, but you’re just not sure what it is. This is where your freelance colleagues come in. Many useful ‘how to’ videos and blogs produced by freelancers have got me out of a bind in the past. I’ve also given and received advice on techniques on Facebook groups and during Skype conversations. (I’m just about to try out the SfEP forums, which I know other colleagues have found useful) Although on the face of it freelance colleagues are ‘competitors’, they are also the only people who fully understand and therefore empathise with the challenges that other freelancers face. Freelancers I’ve worked with know that supporting one another is essential because after all, if we don’t, who will?

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