“The ‘what ifs’ and ‘if-onlys’ in life can haunt us, so sometimes the best way to have peace is to take that leap.”
That’s a powerful quote from today’s interview with proofreader and copy editor Margaret Fierstine. She’s speaking from personal experience because, according to her, she waited two years before starting her freelance editing career.
How often have you thought to yourself, I wish I could do that? Or, I would love to [insert your dream here]?
I’m going to be honest and say that I have. In fact, I think most of us have. Sometimes ideas pop into our heads and we push them away as fanciful; other times, an idea really sticks and we have no choice but to act on it.
Keep reading for Margaret’s inspirational story. You’ll learn how she found fulfillment, why she took a chance on herself, and how she landed a job before finishing her training. She also gives us a glimpse into her day! She may have waited two years, but she’s definitely living her dream now.
Can you tell us about yourself? What did you do before starting your freelance editing career?
When I was in college, I was given the advice to get a degree in something I love. So I did. I got a degree in Spanish and English, because I have always loved words and anything to do with language. I enjoyed my courses and did well, but when I graduated I experienced the rude awakening that so many graduates do — I couldn’t find a job that actually allowed me to utilize my degree, unless you consider filing medical charts alphabetically in a doctor’s office a good use of an English degree, which I most definitely did not!
After a few weeks in that job, I decided to go back and get my teaching certification because it was all I could think of to do with my degree. Nobody had ever mentioned editing or proofreading to me before, and I had never really even considered it as a career choice. I taught high school English and Spanish for several years before deciding to stay home with my young children.
My story gets a little long, but I’ll shorten it by saying that my husband and I felt led to homeschool our three children, which we have done for nine years.
I have to say — I have loved this chapter of my life, but I can see that I am getting close to completing it and beginning the next. I tried to fight it for a time, but as clearly as we knew we were meant to homeschool nine years ago, we now know that it’s time to put our oldest in high school next year. Most likely my other two will follow suit in the not-so-distant future.
If I’m honest, I began to sense this would happen two years ago. Sensing the coming change, knowing that my children are growing up, and understanding that in a blink they will be off to college, I started to wonder what in the world I was going to do with myself in that next chapter.
My life has revolved around my family for so long, and I’ve enjoyed every minute, but I realized I had not set aside anything for myself. I live in a small town, and the opportunities are limited. Plus, being out of the real-world workforce for so long left me feeling ill-prepared to enter back into it.
What made you decide to get into proofreading and copyediting?
Two years ago my husband, knowing that I was feeling a little adrift, suggested that I become a proofreader. Eureka! My husband knew something about me that I had somehow missed — I could do what I loved and was gifted at AND GET PAID FOR IT! What a novel idea!
I was embarrassed that I hadn’t thought of it myself. I got busy scouring the internet for any information on my newly chosen career field. And then . . . I let two whole years go by before actually starting.
Fast forward to the present, and I can tell you with certainty that God had a hand in what has happened over the last few months. I had a potential teaching opportunity lined up for the next school year. I was feeling a little ambivalent about it, but I was prepared to head back to the life where I could only take breaks when the bells told me I could. My kids would find a home there as well. But I got word that the school wouldn’t be ready with their plans to start a high school after all, and any plans for teaching evaporated.
I felt like I was back to square one with no idea what my second career was going to be. My husband repeated his earlier opinion as we talked it over and he said something like, “I still think you should be a proofreader.”
A few hours later, I checked my email. In my inbox was a message from Phon Baillie at Edit Republic, whose emails I would still get occasionally but I never read. I opened this one.
At the end of her message, she posed the question, “Are you considering working from home?” Was I? Yes, I was. Actually, I’ve been working from home as my kids’ teacher for nine years, and I really do like it. Obviously, nobody pays me for my work, and the idea that I could actually enter the workforce FROM HOME sounded fantastic! I knew this time that I had to take some kind of action. If I was going to do this thing, I needed some guidance. I needed some instruction and tips from someone in the know.
I signed up for Phon’s free webinar and took notes. The next day, I registered for her High-Level Proofreading Pro course. It wasn’t easy to make that leap, let me tell you. I was full of doubts. Could I actually get paid to do this? Was this course legit? Was I about to blow a bunch of money on some kind of internet scam? Was I even good enough? I actually closed my eyes tightly as I hit the “submit” button for the credit card payment. It was a leap of faith, and I’m so glad that I took it.
Phon’s note: You can watch the same masterclass webinar that helped Margaret launch her freelance editing career! In it, I give guidance and actionable advice on how to start and what steps to take. Click here to watch.
What kind of content do you work on?
Right now I’m working on web content. I copyedit and proofread websites for businesses, nonprofits, and other organizations. I’d really like to work with bloggers and self-publishing authors also, with the eventual goal of working for a publishing house.
What do you like best about being a proofreader and copy editor?
I love everything about it. I love working from home and making my own hours. I love playing with words and fixing errors. I love reading other people’s words and hearing their unique voice ring out. I love working to protect that voice, even as I have to rework sentences for them. It’s all fabulous!
Can you tell us about how you landed a copyediting job for a tech company before you even finished the course?
A friend of mine was helping me get a website up and running for my soon-to-be copyediting and proofreading business. She is extremely tech savvy, and I am extremely . . . not. It got to the point where I felt like I was taking advantage of our friendship, and I went in search of a professional.
I landed on the website of a tech company, and as I read through their web content I was noticing all kinds of errors. Sounds familiar, right? Phon’s earlier advice replayed itself in my head, and I wrote an email pointing out a few of the errors and their fixes. In addition to asking about their services for my website, I asked if they might be willing to write me a testimonial in exchange for a copyedit of their website.
That same day I got an email back from the company, inviting me in for a meeting. I walked into that meeting as an insecure copy editor wannabe, and I walked out as a real copy editor with an actual client. I can’t even tell you how giddy I was! That’s not to say I wasn’t terrified. I was! I hadn’t even finished the High-Level Proofreading Pro course yet, and I had more questions than answers.
I didn’t know who to turn to, so I emailed Phon with my questions on the off chance that someone from her company would get back to me. Someone did get back to me — Phon herself sent me a five-minute long recorded message, answering all my questions and congratulating me on my success. I was blown away! Talk about support and customer service!
I have been working for the tech company now for a month, and I have edited their website, but also the sites of seven other businesses (and counting) whose websites they service. I’ve also been asked to work on some of their internal documents. This will be a client with steady work.
What advice do you have for people who are considering proofreading and copyediting?
If you’re considering it, I would say take the High-Level Proofreading Pro course that Phon provides. It is the real deal. It lays everything out there, even giving tips on the business side of things.
Once you finish the course, you will have all the information you need to make a fully-informed decision. If your decision is to enter the field, you will absolutely be prepared. The investment of time and money is well worth it. Take action! That way you won’t be left wondering what might have been.The “what ifs” and “if-onlys” in life can haunt us, so sometimes the best way to have peace is to take that leap.
What does your family think of your new career and how has it changed your life?
My family is proud of me. I’ve been able to show my kids what it is to work toward something that is simultaneously terrifying and thrilling. Seeing their “old” mother finally reach for her dreams is something I hope they carry over into their own lives.
Can you give us a peek at what your typical day is like?
Because I am still teaching my kids full time, I work in a few hours of editing in the mornings, evenings, and weekends right now. I love this new routine, actually. I enjoy what I’m doing so much, that it doesn’t feel like work, and I don’t dread it the way I used to sometimes dread waking up to teach at the high school.
I wake up early to the lovely aroma of hot coffee, throw on my slippers, grab my computer, flip on the fireplace, and settle on the couch with my mug of steaming coffee beside me.
After my morning devotions, I get about two hours of work in before the kids wake up. From there my days are filled with teaching duties, mom duties, etc., and I typically don’t get back to my computer until about 7:30 pm, although some days I can get in a little bit of work in the afternoon, once school is over and before all the extracurricular activities begin.
So, depending on whether or not I squeezed in some work during the day, I will work another hour or so and then have some time to myself to watch the news or a show or read a book.
It’s funny, because as I read over this “Day in the Life,” it looks hectic, but it doesn’t feel chaotic — maybe because all of the things I’m doing right now are things I truly enjoy. As much as I love spending time with my kids, my computer calls to me throughout the day. And as much as I will miss the kids when they do eventually leave the nest, I will enjoy this new love of mine too. I’m grateful to have it.
Margaret Fierstine is a proofreader, copy editor, and editor based in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. She is a wife and mom of three. Some of her favorite things are drinking that first delicious cup of coffee during morning devotion, hanging out with her family at their camp (the U.P.’s version of a cottage), taking walks with her sweet yellow lab along Lake Superior, and of course, reading. You can check out her website: relianceeditorialservices.com.