Lessons learned at an editors’ guild conference

I’ve just attended the 30th anniversary conference of the Professional Editors’ Guild (PEG).

The virtual event spanned one-and-a-half days (May 31 to June 1, 2023), and was attended throughout by over 100 people, many from South Africa and some from overseas. And it was more interesting and more inspiring than one might expect a gathering of editors to be.

Here are my takeaways.

Highlights of the Professional Editors’ Guild (PEG) 2023 conference

That heading I’ve just written is the result of an outstanding session I attended. Melissa Davidson’s talk on editing for accessibility was a masterpiece of its kind: the presentation was engaging and lively, she had a colleague read out some of the slides (meaning two voices were heard instead of one) and there was audience participation throughout.

And the topic was so clearly covered! It looked at ways to increase the accessibility of text in Microsoft Word for readers who have difficulties of any kind in reading a screen. The first item on the list was to make headings in text descriptive: tell your readers exactly what’s in the next section, Davidson said. And so I have.

Other highlights:

The conference was kicked off by a keynote speech by a luminary of the editing profession, Louise Harnby. Her mantra for editors goes like this:

Speech: editors should get out there and use the power of their voices to make their work and brands personal. Podcasts are the thing.

Teach: editors should find ways to teach what they know to other people, perhaps in online courses.

Reach: be a really helpful editor, Harnby said. Make connections, attend events, write useful blog posts or make resources like PDFs and booklets.

The teaching theme was picked up on by Tiffany Markman, writer and speaker, who said teaching others what we know is a good way to deal with our own insecurities. Her other suggestions for dealing with imposter syndrome included avoiding comparisons and stop making lists of what “should” be happening.

She also echoed Harnby’s admonition to think in ones. Just do one thing at a time, rather than being overwhelmed by a long to-do list. That came up in Dave Henderson’s presentation on branding in which he urged people to take action – any action: do a video pitch, make one social media post, keep track of what people say about your brand (Tiffany had something to say about that too: remember the good stuff people say about you and move on from the bad).

Thoughts from the conference on artificial intelligence

I attended sessions that talked about the impact of generative AI on the editing profession, but in fact the topic came up again and again in sessions on apparently unrelated topics.

The general consensus was that AI tools like GhatGPT or Microsoft’s Bing AI tool should be viewed with curiosity rather than fear. The role of human editors as curators, fact-checkers and gatekeepers came up again and again, and the need to reach out and make connections as humans wove its way through these discussions too.

Read: My take on the impact of ChatGPT on writing

How editors can use data to keep themselves sane

Two presentations by Maya Berger and Dr Linda Pretorius detailed ways in which editors should track their own data in order to avoid overwhelm and burnout. Some suggestions:

Time tracking: Both Berger and Pretorius recommended that editors track how they use their time. Pretorius said her time tracking app and the five years of data it provides have helped her to understand her working patterns and be comfortable with ups and down over time. Berger recommended that time tracking should take account of holidays, weekend work and sick leave too: these are key indicators of burnout.

Analyse the data: Berger suggested several ways of looking at data to make sense of our working lives. The obvious one is correlating time with money made, but she also suggested analysing time spent on training and learning (CPD hours) and analysing whether they had an impact on revenue.

Key takeaway from the conference

Louise Harnby said it all: Take everything you are and can do, and use it! In other words, the best thing any editor can do in times of uncertainty is to take stock of what they offer, and then set forth into the world in the fullness of their humanity.

Main picture: Chris Montgomery, Unsplash

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  1. Thanks for the mention Renee!

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