From Unhappy Office Worker To Fulfilled Proofreader
Have you ever felt dissatisfied with your job and wondered if a fulfilling career even exists? If you have, then you know that it’s something that impacts the rest of your life and how you feel about yourself.
In today’s post I interview Jesse Wiebe, a freelance proofreader from Edmonton, Canada. Jesse tried many ways to find a job that was fulfilling. She went to college, saw career counsellors, got job search newsletters . . . but couldn’t find something that was right for her. Until one day when she almost threw a book across a room.
Keep reading to find out how Jesse went from depressed office worker to happy and proud proofreader!
Tell us what your professional life was like before you became a proofreader.
I’m thirty-four years old and have struggled my entire life with what I want to do when I grow up. I have lots of interests, but nothing that I could really see turning into a career. I jumped from one retail job to another, then went to college, where I did really well and enjoyed the program, but decided that the field and the lifestyle weren’t for me.
So I messed around in retail again for a while, until about five years ago when I transitioned into an office job, only to discover that this really wasn’t where I wanted to be. I was having a very hard time with it—I didn’t think I had any marketable skills, and all I could see for myself for the rest of my life was drudging away at jobs that made me unhappy. I was depressed and frustrated.
People’s go-to introductory small talk at parties (“So, what do you do?”) made me want to cry. My boyfriend tried so hard to help—he kept suggesting all kinds of possible careers and fields, but nothing really seemed right to me. I’d seen career counsellors, was subscribed to countless job search newsletters, and every once in a while would go through phases of “Oh, maybe I could do this!”—but nothing helped, and I always ended up disillusioned and right back where I started.
What made you decide to pursue proofreading?
At one point, I was reading a series of books, and this author had a phrase that he used quite a lot. Just two words together, nothing wrong with either one and nothing wrong with the way they were used, but he used them so often, and it was killing the impact that he was trying to create with them. And the frequency of the phrase increased with every book. It was starting to really bother me in the second book, and by halfway through the third, I was ready to throw the book across the room whenever I encountered it. I mean, this was a professional author, didn’t he own a thesaurus?!
So I was ranting about this to my guy, and he said, “You should be an editor.” That stopped my rant short, and I kind of thought, Oh, wait a second. Didn’t you used to want to be an editor, when you were a kid? Somewhere in between cop and movie stuntperson? What happened to that?
And I think what happened was that school just never showed me how, so I forgot about it. The next day I Googled editing jobs, discovered proofreading, and immediately started learning everything I could.
Are you proofreading as a side hustle or full-time?
It’s still a side hustle for now. I’m working towards full-time, but it’s going to take a while. [Jesse completed her proofreading training only a few months ago. —Phon]
It was actually pretty bad timing for me to start this venture—I was halfway through renovating the entire main floor of my first house, which is a lot of work when you’re trying to do most of it yourself and have never done anything like it before. With that on top of a full-time job, I was already a little bit overwhelmed, and I knew I was going to have to be patient and take the proofreading slow.
Do you specialize in a niche or several niches? What kind of projects do you work on?
For the most part, I will take anything that comes, but in the process of learning about proofreading I also discovered technical editing for knitting patterns. It includes general proofreading, but also double-checking all the math, sizing, techniques, and charts, and making sure that any written instructions are clear and easy for a reader to follow. I’ve been a knitter for a long time so this was a perfect niche for me.
What’s your favourite part about being a proofreader?
Being a proofreader. Honestly. The fact that “So, what do you do?” doesn’t make me want to cry anymore. I don’t care that it isn’t my full-time job yet; it’s what I tell people I am, because it means something to me.
Also, realizing that I actually do have marketable skills feels pretty fantastic. When people I’ve done work for come back to me with positive feedback, it makes me feel like, Hey, I’m not just a data-crunching office nobody. I’m actually good at something that’s useful to other people. I’m a proofreader.
What made you choose the Proofreading Pro course?
I’d already read Phon’s book. It gave me so much information, and more importantly, confidence. It made me realize that this was something that I really could start working towards right away, without spending the thousands of dollars and many years of my life that going to university would cost me.
I emailed Phon with a few questions, and she was incredibly supportive—I felt that she really understood where I was coming from and that she wanted me to succeed, whether I took the course or not, and from reading her book I already felt that she really knew her stuff.
Phon’s Note: Jesse also took the free 5-day course, Proofreading 101. It’s an introductory course that will get you started and help you figure out if proofreading’s for you.
How did you gain experience as a newbie proofreader?
Goodreads is a gold mine. I found so much volunteer work through the forums there. There are a lot of self-published and newbie authors looking for either review swaps or beta readers, and even if they aren’t actively looking for proofreaders, they will often say yes to the offer of free services.
I did several full-length novels and even a four-book series. Four books is a lot to do for free, but I’m glad I did it, because working on each book made me refer back to the ones before, and I discovered a few things I should have done differently.
Phon’s Note: Jesse was a hustler from the get-go! She was actively searching and taking on proofreading projects to gain experience while taking the Proofreading Pro course. By the time she was done her training she had a stacked resume with professional experience, testimonials for her site, and happy clients who would rehire her. I think this was a great idea, since she was able to apply what she’d freshly learned to her projects. And any questions she had I was more than happy to answer!
How did Proofreading Pro prepare you for working as a proofreader?
There was so much included in the course, but I’d say that of the two most valuable elements, one was the inside information on the publishing industry itself. What’s expected of a proofreader and what isn’t, where to look and who to talk to in order to find jobs, some explanations of industry terminology, what kind of programs/content/issues you might expect to work on . . .
I have heard it said (and I completely agree) that there is nothing quite like a brand-new job to make you feel like a complete idiot, but having all of this information going in made such a huge difference. I knew there was still a lot that would come with the experience of actually doing it, but I felt like I could hold my own and be taken seriously.
Which leads to the second valuable element, which is confidence! There’s even a chapter on it, and how to deal with impostor syndrome. I know I’m not the only one who has in the past allowed lack of confidence to get in the way of trying something new. Phon understands that, and she really put effort into decreasing the intimidation factor.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start working as a proofreader?
First of all, just do it. Don’t worry about whether or not you can succeed, because you definitely won’t if you never get started. It sounds trite, but it’s true.
Second, educate yourself as much as possible. Learn everything. Read CMOS’s [Chicago Manual of Style] monthly Q&As. Sign up for Word of the Day emails from online dictionaries. Do all the language and grammar quizzes you can find. Read the geeky books on language and grammar (some of them are actually really entertaining).
Proofread menus when you’re out having dinner, and instruction manuals when you buy a new gadget. Feed your inner word geek. (Did you know that the month of March was named after Mars, the Roman god of war, because that was the time of year when military campaigns got underway after the winter was over? Which is why soldiers march! Insert delighted-nerd-glasses-emoji here!)
At the same time, don’t worry if you don’t know everything, as long as you can figure out where to look it up. I looked up “gold mine” for this interview, to make sure it wasn’t “goldmine.” Never stop learning.
Thank you, Jesse! This was a very inspirational interview. I really appreciate how transparent she was with her story, and that proofreading lights up her inner word geek! If you want to find out more about Proofreading Pro, the professional training program Jesse took, you can go here.
Jesse is a craftsy bean with more hobbies than time (especially right now). She lives in Canada with her piper guy, a very small goat-monkey-cat-squirrel-dog (an accidental Chihuahua), a lot of yarn, and even more books. She is pro–Oxford comma, semi-vegetarian, and anti-cubicle, and when the Apocalypse comes, all of her friends will have warm feet.