Archive for education

Fall round-up: events + groups

leavesHello, everyone! It’s been a while, but Editfish is back in action.

I’m kicking off October with a round-up of resources and events, since I keep hearing how much you like these. If you’ve come across something that may be handy to other editors and writers, please share in the comments.

Steven Pinker at the Toronto Reference Library

On the evening of Oct. 24, bestselling author Steven Pinker is talking about his new book, The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, at the Toronto Reference Library’s Bram and Bluma Appel Salon. The event is free, but you’ll need to reserve a ticket. (Can’t make it? The library often shoots videos – check the website later.)

INSPIRE! Toronto International Book Fair

Toronto is getting a brand-new book fair, coming up Nov. 13 to 16 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. The schedule is jam-packed with author appearances, workshops and cultural showcases. Tickets cost a very reasonable $15, with free re-entry; writers’ workshops start at $45 and include admission to the fair.

PWAC Twitter chats

All writers are welcome to take part in a new series of Twitter chats hosted by the Professional Writers Association of Canada. The free chats are planned for the first Thursday of each month at 11 a.m. (starting Oct. 2; follow hashtag #PWACchat). A short podcast or video serves as a starting point for the discussion – this week’s focus is a video by Steve Slaunwhite about copywriting techniques. (Disclosure: I’m the president of PWAC Toronto Chapter.)

Ladies Learning Code

Not just for ladies, this not-for-profit group makes learning to code fun and accessible. Courses are available in several cities across Canada. If you’re looking to build your computer skills (for example, learning HTML or CSS, or how to use Photoshop), check out the schedule.


I just learned about this from another freelancer, writer/photographer Corbin Smith, at PWAC’s recent Culture Days event about freelancing. Hacks/Hackers is an international grassroots journalism organization with a mission to create a network of hacks (journos) and hackers (technologists) to reboot journalism. It hosts meetups, workshops, demo days and more. Canadian chapters include Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.


Renegade books for Kindle

Just a quick note to let you know that two of my favourite freelancing books, The Renegade Writer and Query Letters That Rock, both co-authored by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell, are available for Kindle at $3 each. The authors are running a sweet contest (Tuesday, Feb. 26 only).

Free courses for creatives

Just a short post to tell you about creativeLIVE, which I just heard about from a freelance photographer friend. Like the resources I mentioned in my Sept. 21 post about continuing education, this website provides online training. Its main focus: business courses for creative professionals. Recent offerings include “Smart PR for Artists, Entrepreneurs and Small Business,” “WordPress for Photographers” and “Designing for the Social Web.” Watch live for free, or pay to access past presentations.

Back to school ― any time

“The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne.” ― Geoffrey Chaucer

In Toronto, we’re spoiled when it comes to continuing education in journalism, publishing, communications and creative writing. Several universities, colleges and professional associations offer courses ranging in length from a few hours to a few months, on everything from grammar basics to launching a magazine.

I’m a continuing ed junkie. In my 20s, I was always enrolled in courses related to writing, editing or public relations at Ryerson, George Brown or the University of Toronto. Some were more useful than others, but I always came away with new skills and a deeper appreciation of the subject.

Whether you’ve recently or not-so-recently finished your education, you might be wondering if taking more courses is worth the time, expense and effort. I think the key is doing your research—finding a learning opportunity that fits your personal goals and your schedule, whether it’s a one-day boot camp or 14-week copy editing course. Be realistic, pick something you’re really interested in, and think of it as an investment in yourself.

You don’t have to wait for a school semester to start. Boost your industry knowledge any time with online offerings from Poynter’s News University, Magazines Canada and MediaBistro. Or dive back into the world of academia—you needn’t limit your learning to topics directly related to your day job. One of the most exciting new players is Coursera, a “social entrepreneurship company” that has partnered with 33 universities, including Ivy League schools and a few Canadian institutions, to offer free online courses on everything from game theory to social network analysis. Other sources of free university-level lessons: YouTube EDU, iTunes U and institutional sites like Open Yale and edX (which includes MIT, Harvard and Berkeley).

Taking courses is as much about meeting people as it is about gaining knowledge. Your classmates and instructors become part of your extended network—and that’s especially helpful if you’re just starting out and don’t have many contacts. In the small world of magazines, you’re likely to run into people again, maybe years later. You might also end up teaching a course yourself—never say never.

Can you share any free online learning opportunities?

Links on language

Image of piled-up wordsDid you know that the U.S. government requires its agencies to use plain language when communicating with consumers, businesses and other groups? The Plain Writing Act came into effect in July 2011, and the first-year report card is out. The Dept. of Agriculture scored highest, and the Dept. of Veterans’ Affairs flunked big-time.

There is no single prescription for plain language; in general, it’s language that’s easy to read, understand and use. Learn more from the Center for Plain Language, a non-profit organization whose motto is “Plain language is a civil right.” You can also visit Plain Language Association InterNational—founded in 1993 by a couple of Canadians. And if you’ve got an hour of down time, do an online plain-language course from the Federal Aviation Administration (random, right?).

Here at home, we have the Language Portal of Canada, which offers a wealth of tools, guides, dictionaries, databases and quizzes. The Translation Bureau website has recommendations for translators working with English and French, including how to handle web and Twitter terms. TERMIUM Plus, the government’s terminology and linguistic data bank, provides 17 tools for writers. These include The Canadian Style, a guide to written English in the Canadian context, and HyperGrammar2, a self-teaching tool for better grammar and punctuation. And, last but definitely not least, bookmark A Way with Words and Images, a concise guide to fair and accurate portrayals of people with disabilities.

Can you recommend any language-related websites? Share the links below!


Take-away tips for freelancers

Conference name badges
My brain’s still buzzing with the good advice I picked up last month at MagNet 2012 and the Editors’ Association of Canada (EAC) conference in Ottawa. Here are five tips that stood out.

Pitch stories to custom publications. I already work with custom pubs, but “The Lucrative World of Custom-Fit Publications” at MagNet showed me that there’s a lot more opportunity here than most freelancers realize. Panellists Arjun Basu, Joseph Barbieri and Brian Borzykowski say that few writers approach custom publishers, although pitching and writing for custom is very similar to working with consumer mags—and it pays as well or better. To find markets, start by checking out the Custom Content Council.

Get creative with display copy. Jim Sutherland’s MagNet session “Display School: Bringing Readers to the Text” inspired me to be more adventurous with heds and deks. Instead of a hed with a straight-up approach, would a question, quote or declaration work? How about a sentence or even a list? And don’t neglect your deks; Jim pointed out that they’re an “astonishingly versatile and effective means of communication,” not just filler between heds and body copy. Another great tip: “Wit is welcome even when humour is out of place.”

Target hungrier markets. Ed Gandia’s “How to Land More and Better Clients in a Crowded Global Market” was one of the most popular MagNet sessions for writers. Sage advice: Consider where budgets are shifting—every project in an organization is either “urgent,” “important” or “nice to have,” and when finances are tight, it’s the first two categories (usually projects that generate revenue or profits) that get the green light. Focus your marketing efforts on prospects that are well positioned with “urgent” and “important” products, services or information. Gandia is also offering a free online course for freelancers.

Collaborate on a corporate writing guide. Here’s a project that corporate writers and editors can pitch to steady clients: developing a guide to help employees keep communications consistent, clear and concise. Rhonda Helman, editor at Farm Credit Canada, made an excellent presentation about corporate writing guides at the EAC conference. My four favourite tips: get the support of managers by understanding what they prefer and why; ensure that the guide is a collaborative effort and that everyone involved stands to benefit; keep in mind that the guide is a work in progress; and never underestimate the power of your expertise.

Spruce up your speeches. I enjoyed “Go From Ho-Hum to Humdinger,” a presentation by speechwriter and trainer Wendy Cherwinski of Echelon Communications, at the EAC conference. She offered several practical tips, such as: write the way people talk (including contractions, idioms and sentence fragments); use highlighters to check your use of pronouns, verbs, transitions, etc.; 100 words is about one minute of speaking time; and take advantage of tools such as the Flesch Reading Ease Scale to measure readability. For more tips on speechwriting, sign up for Cherwinski’s free e-newsletter, Pen & Podium, by emailing

Reading list for freelancers

Stack of books about writing and editingI often meet with aspiring freelancers to talk about what it’s like to be an independent editor and writer. After we meet, I email them a list of books on various aspects of the business. Here are my favourites. (A couple of these may be out of print, but try the library.)

The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Success by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell

Query Letters That Rock: The Freelance Writer’s Guide to Selling More Work Faster by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell

How to Write Irresistible Query Letters by Lisa Collier Cool

Secrets of a Freelance Writer by Robert Bly

How to Make Money Writing Corporate Communications by Maryclaire Collins

The Copywriter’s Handbook by Robert Bly

The Subversive Copy Editor by Carol Fisher Saller

And for those of you interested in writing fiction (and anyone looking for inspiration and motivation), I recommend anything by Natalie Goldberg; Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott; If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland; and On Writing by Stephen King.


What are some of your favourite books about editing, writing or freelancing?

Starting Up and Setting Out: A seminar for editors

Are you an in-house editor who’s thinking of going freelance? On Saturday, Feb. 4, I and two other freelance editors are presenting a half-day seminar titled “Starting Up and Setting Out,” part of the Editors’ Association of Canada’s professional development series. Find out if freelancing is for you, as well as how to land clients, market your services, and much more. Deadline for earlybird registration is Jan. 28. Full details on the EAC website. Thanks to the organization for inviting me to be a panellist!