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Frances Peck

Keeping Up With the (Editorial) Times

As editors, we can never stop learning. Whether it’s to resolve specific questions, maintain a credential or generally stay on top of our field, we have to keep up with a dizzying array of books, articles, blogs, newsletters, interviews, Twitter chats, Facebook posts, webinars — and the list goes on. Ignore that information and we risk being out of date. (Still “correcting” the verb impact, anyone?)

But how do we keep up? And when?

I tend to let things pile up, then binge-learn. Once, after a long stretch of work a few years ago, I’d accumulated such a stack of material that drastic action was in order. I booked off three days, reserved a cheap suite in Whistler, B.C. (it was shoulder season), set the out-of-office message on my email and drove up the highway, to one of the world’s most scenic spots, to read. Other workers go on professional development retreats, I reasoned. Why not editors?

The retreat was in some ways a great experience. I zoomed through new editions of grammar, style and writing books. I read a bunch of articles. I made notes on updating courses that I teach. I took the time to go down those rabbit-holes of online research that I normally resist when at my desk, fearing they’ll eat into my “real” workday.

But the PD retreat was a one-time event. Making it a regular gig seemed impractical. For one thing, it cost money. Sure, I could write off the expense (I’m a freelancer), but I still had to part with the cash. For another, the getaway ate into my time. Blocking off three days is tough if not impossible when you work to deadlines and your projects don’t always unfold as expected. And three days away from email — well, you can guess what that was like. It took me the better part of a day just to catch up.

Binge-learning is still my main approach to PD, but I wouldn’t recommend it. I seldom feel caught up. My to-read list only grows, to the point where the whole endeavour can feel overwhelming.

How do you do it? Have you found a way to continue your education without falling behind on deadlines or sacrificing all your leisure time? Please share your tips.


Previous post from Frances Peck: Perilous Punctuation: The Email Salutation.

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8 Comments on “Keeping Up With the (Editorial) Times”

  • I don’t have a strategy but I’m starting to think a hotel room once a month would be a good idea: escape, pool, 24 hours of intensive reading…

  • Cathy McPhalen


    Frances, thank you so much for articulating this so clearly and honestly! I thought I was the only one with the problem and, in a perverse way, it’s a relief to know that a senior, cool, has-it-together editor experiences it too. You are so right that we need PD to remain competent and interested in our work. I’m not sure how to get that PD list down to zero—perhaps it isn’t achievable if we want to keep learning and developing as editors and as people. The four strategies that sort of work for me are 1) keeping a list of PD opportunities and links organized by rough topic (so I can mini-binge or select just one rabbit hole when I have a short gap in a work day), 2) reading blogs and email lists during breakfast (instead of reading the cereal boxes – my family members are not big communicators in the mornings), 3) limiting my Facebook and LinkedIn time to when I take a spin on my stationary bike (with the bonus of getting me on the bike more often during the day), and 4) taking PD courses with defined assignments and deadlines (which force me to get them done or embarrass myself). Other ideas welcomed happily.

  • Great question, Frances! I find it tricky as well. One thing that helps me is scheduling events: if I register for a conference or a workshop, it becomes a priority, and I find a way to fit it in. But scheduling can be a little more informal, too. My study group when I was studying for the proofreading certification exam was fantastic. We set assigments and readings and met regularly to discuss them. Having a set time and place to meet helped me get the work done on time, but there was enough flexibility that I could skip a meeting if I was too busy.

  • Margaret F. Sadler


    You always seem to catch me in embarrassing positions, Frances: yes, I’m still …correcting? the verb impact. I do prefer affect, though, and think it expresses the intent much more effectively.
    That aside, I’m curious to know which «new editions of grammar, style and writing books… [and the] bunch of articles» you read. As appealing as three days in Whistler sounds, I lean more toward Cathy’s system of one rabbit-hole at a time, as time allows. Your reading list would make it so much simpler for me! 😉

    • Frances Peck


      Margaret, my Whistler retreat was six or seven years ago, so bear that in mind. Also, some of the texts were new to me but not necessarily just published. I had (I think):

      – The Great Grammar Challenge, by the editors of the now-defunct EEI Press
      – Practical English Usage (3rd ed.), by Michael Swan
      – Oxford Guide to Plain English, by Martin Cutts
      – many back issues of Copyediting newsletter (see
      – an untold (and unrecorded) assortment of online articles

      Great suggestions so far, everyone. I never thought of PD at the gym!

  • Margaret Shaw


    Frances, I’m so glad you brought up this ongoing challenge! I’m going to try some of the strategies that you and others have mentioned, and I would add that some books and articles are fun or interesting enough to qualify as bedtime reading. The Elephants of Style by Bill Walsh is one example. It’s one of three writing/editing-related books on my bedside table at present (along with other genres, I hasten to add!), and I dip into these three from time to time when the mood strikes. Also, when my husband and I have long drives, he prefers to drive and I prefer to read in the car, so that’s another place where I sometimes do a little PD.

  • Hi Frances,

    Your post gave me a good chuckle! I’m easily overwhelmed by the wealth of material online, and so I tend to read books on writing and editing. Right now I’m reading The Complete Canadian Editor by Leslie Vermeer (Brush Education, 2016). It’s an overview of the publishing process and the editorial roles at different stages. The book is written mainly for editors who work in-house or who want to do so, but I find it fascinating to read as a freelancer. I’ve never worked in-house and never will because of where I live (and my age), and I’m very curious about what goes on. I’m a slow reader because I don’t have much «reading energy» left over after editing all day, but I keep at it. I’ve had this book for about two months and I’m only on chapter 6! I also set myself the task of reviewing books on my blog, My posts are infrequent, but I find that reviewing books gives me an added alertness as a reader. For PD I also go to seminars or attend webinars, participate in Editors Kingston, and talk with colleagues. Editors Canada has been a terrific source of PD. I love the idea of a weekend retreat!

  • Frances Peck


    Thanks for sharing your reading recommendations, everyone, as well as your methods of squeezing learning into your schedules. There are some creative ideas here. Interestingly, the enthusiasm some of you have expressed for the retreat idea is making me rethink that option. My time in Whistler did, after all, feature a couple of gorgeous short hikes (important to unkink the reading muscles) and a splendid drive. Maybe it’s time for…retreat redux?

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