I’ve recently returned from my sixth SfEP conference. I wasn’t going to write a post about the conference, because nearly everyone does and they do it so well. But I’d had a thought niggling away at me for days about a way of looking at things, that wouldn’t stop fizzing away in my brain, and I needed to get the concept out there in the period while I relearn how to stumble around the grey non-Aston world (I don’t feel like I’m in Bladerunner any more) in my regular post-conference trance.
Just before the conference I was asked by Denise Cowle, the SfEP’s Marketing and PR Director, to be briefly interviewed on the subject of CPD, along with various other esteemed colleagues. When Denise emailed me the request one morning, literally the night before I had been riffing at length to my boyfriend on the subject of how dreadful I would be on camera were the opportunity ever to arise; about how I might be able to drag myself up in front of a room to speak (I did a lightning talk), and sometimes even begin to enjoy it, but nothing – nothing! – would convince me to speak while being filmed. There would be too much risk of having to listen to my own Radio-4-newsreader-on-an-off-day voice, or having to watch the oddness of my lips contorting around the forced extrusion of words. Plus I’d probably have a weird bit of hair going the wrong way, or bread in my teeth, or say something unbelievably stupid, or belch, etc. So of course, when Denise emailed me, within about 30 seconds I’d emailed back saying fine, I’d love to do it. (WTAF?)
I knew, because Denise told me, that I was going to need to say something pithy about CPD. I mean, I could at the drop of a hat say quite a bit about CPD (unlike almost any other subject), because I actually know a lot about it, having been a past Professional Development Director for the SfEP, and still working as a mentor. And all of what I could say on the subject would be suitably gushing and SfEP-endorsing, but not terribly original. Continuing professional development is a no-brainer: if we don’t keep learning as experienced editors, our skills go stale and we get passed over for more box-fresh versions of ourselves with more relevance. And that’s right and proper. It’s our responsibility to keep up. If nothing else, our mortgage payments depend on it.
But, I thought, there must be something else I could say on the subject. Something riveting and innovative, positively elegiac, packaged in the form of a tiny, beautifully crafted soundbite that would be quoted for years to come by generations of grateful young editors. Something that hadn’t been said a million times before. (I know: retrospectively, this seems wildly overambitious given my previous reservations about saying anything to the camera at all.)
Anyway, it occurred to me while I was at the conference, in the run-up to the interview, that there was actually something different I could say on the subject.
We think we know what CPD is. It’s about ongoing learning. It’s about consuming more information to make us better editors in our field. It’s about brushing up skills we already had, and supplementing them. It’s about staying abreast of best practice. Interrogating our way of doing things, thinking of ways we could do them better. It’s all of these things and more, and there are various ways we can partake of CPD: books, podcasts, courses, workshops, factsheets. Conferences. We consume all these things, and we get the points for doing so, and we tick them off our list. And they’re all good. But, I thought, they can be somewhat two-dimensional. There is something missing if we just get through them, no matter how many nuggets of wisdom we absorb. And it occurred to me that what brings them alive, what makes them genuinely useful, is that extra thing that makes them three-dimensional: how these resources and ideas exist for and are used by others, in context. How they are put into action.
The day before the conference proper I attended a session for SfEP tutors in my capacity as a mentor. And here I saw how things could work and change for the better among an organism made up of like-minded people. It’s been such a long time since I operated as part of a team that sometimes I forget about all the benefits it can bring. I might seem at first glance to be a team player (I am nice, I am polite, I am often deferential), but in reality I’m not at all most of the time, or at least I struggle with it. I’ll listen to everything and then go off and do my own sweet thing, same as usual. This is why I mostly work alone. But I was reminded on that day, by a couple of specific and energising instances of problem-solving as a group, how wonderful it is, how inspiring, to work alongside others and to see how they do things, and for something totally new to all of us to come out of it.
This is what I mean by three-dimensional CPD. This ‘third dimension’ (action) is the magic ingredient that can be missing, and it is this that an event like the conference, or a local group meeting, or even a casual conversation among friends, can provide. A totally new perspective, a new approach, a new way of doing things, that none of the assembled people had thought of before on their own, and that could make things better for all of them in future.
And did I say any of this on camera? No, of course I didn’t. It was enough for me to stand there, and get some words out in between bursts of impromptu furniture removal going on in the background. As a person who was brought up to perform as well as possible yet also as quietly and unobtrusively as possible (you can see how I ended up doing what I do rather than, say, being prime minister), and has spent her entire professional life fighting against that upbringing, that was quite enough of a triumph.
Liz Jones has worked as an editor in the publishing industry since 1998, and freelance since 2008. She specialises in books on architecture and art, as well as a range of other subjects. She’s generally better on paper.